Coming to you live from San Francisco

After a long blogging hiatus, I am making my comeback!

From…SAN FRANCISCO!

After five long years, I have finally made it to my final semester of college. I’ve already “graduated” – had my ceremony, walked across the stage in my fancy cap and gown, and got the hell away from Gordon. Now, I’m finishing my last semester of college in San Francisco. I’m living in a giant house across the street from the Panhandle (an extension of Golden Gate Park) with 24 other people.

I’ve been here for almost two weeks now, and I can already tell this semester is going to be full of adventures. Here’s a list of some of the things I’ve experienced in San Francisco thus far.

  • Witnessed a car crash in an Uber on the way to my AirBnB from the airport.
  • Became friends with my awesome AirBnB host. I now walk his beautiful dog Luna.
  • Went on a “walk about” with my housemates. We walked 7.7 miles through Bernal Heights, the Mission, the Castro, the Haight, and finally back to our house in NoPa (5 of the different districts that make up the city of San Francisco. See map for more details).

  • Served lunch for 1500 people at St. Anthony’s dining room, and had the privilege of eating lunch with a wonderful man who gifted me with his story. He moved to America from Fiji and has since been a nurse, a real estate agent, and an Uber driver, but due to the cost of living here in San Francisco, is currently homeless.
  • Interviewed and was offered a practicum placement at Eviction Defence Collaborative. Made an attorney cry with my answers.
  • Attended a very cool, historic United Methodist church called Glide, and reconnected with my wonderful friend Amnoni.
  • Interviewed at Sojourn Chaplaincy at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (I really want to do my practicum here). Following the interview, I went to the cafeteria to check out the vibe of the place, and a man started screaming about how he wanted to execute us all. Definitely thought I was going to die that day, but made it out alive. I just kept thinking about how cliche it would be to die in a mass shooting in a cafeteria. Thank God no one got hurt.
  • Witnessed a man pooping in a bus stop. I hear it won’t be the last time I see that.
  • Met a cool Ethiopian man who’s a chef at a Vietnamese restaurant on the bus. We started talking about housing prices in San Francisco, and he told me how he’s living in a rent controlled apartment and is scared because everyone around him has been getting evicted. He invited me and my friends to come eat at his restaurant and he will introduce me to Vietnamese food. Will be doing that soon.
  • Saw a large, bald, heavily tattooed man walking downtown carrying a very small dog in a pink tutu wearing a tiara. Wanted to meet said man and dog, but they disappeared around the corner too quickly.
  • Interviewed at Larkin Street Youth Services. It’s such a comprehensive program for at-risk and marginalized youth here in San Francisco. Also a strong contender for practicum placement. It’s in the Tenderloin – one of the most impoverished districts in the city – but there are so many really great social service agencies meeting the members of the community where they’re at and providing really practical services for them. At the Larkin Academy on the lower level of the building, they’re currently in the process of building a recording studio for the youth to use.
  • Smiled at a man in the Tenderloin. He was walking towards me looking very intimidating and looked me in the eye. I smiled at him. He stopped and stared at me, then his whole posture changed. He stood up straight, smiled back at me, and stated, “You just made my day. It’s been too long since someone has smiled at me. Thank you.” I watched him as he turned and walked away. He was standing tall with his head up. I guess it’s true what they say – you never know how much a simple smile can impact someone’s life.
  • Had coffee with a super cool pastor of a super cool church. Haven’t actually attended the church yet, but will definitely be checking it out on Sunday after I go to Oakland Pride.

I never know what a day is going to hold. I’m learning to expect the unexpected and to be open to new experiences at all times. I’m learning once again to embrace difference without judgment, and to pay attention to populations that are too often overlooked. I’m learning that there is no better place to be an emerging adult than right here in San Francisco – where everyone else is learning as they go too.

I’m not going to say the transition has been super easy. I’ve definitely felt quite depressed. I’ve chosen to go gluten free while I’m here in San Francisco to see if it helps with my autoimmune condition and inflammation, and that is pretty triggering as it brings up associations of restricting and eating disorder behaviour, but I’m managing. I’ve had a hard time feeling secure in my identity here at the house, but I’m gradually opening up to the people around me and realizing that safe people do exist in the Christian college sphere. Not everywhere is like Gordon, so that’s nice.

I am living outside of my comfort zone here, but I’m in good company.

Stay turned for more of my adventures in San Francisco!

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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’s A New Year

2014 was a messy year for me.

It was one of the most difficult years of my life, and I don’t say that lightly.

Be Brave was my mantra through the year. It might me through many seemingly impossible situations.

Be Brave was my mantra through the year. It got me through many seemingly impossible situations.

I rang in 2014 by binging and purging as soon as Demi Lovato got off stage on the E Canada NYE special. Shortly followed by a week of hell trying to get myself to treatment thanks to a polar vortex that was sweeping the continent. Once I finally got there, I spent the next six months of my life in various levels of care at multiple treatment facilities. My life consisted of three meals and three snacks a day, hours and hours of group therapy, weight gain, new diagnoses, family work, insurance woes, and a crapload of radical acceptance.

I experienced profound loss – with thirteen people whom I cared about at one point or another in my life passing away over the course of the year. Grief takes a lot out of a person. Just when you think it’s passed, another wave hits. Sometimes I still read a post or see a picture and burst into tears. For years, I had put all my grief in a box on a shelf and kept it there. That box was blown to shreds and I felt like I was drowning. I’m just starting to feel okay again. The waves of grief come, and then they go, and that’s okay. But…it’s messy.

2014 was a year of identity issues. By that, I mean that everything I thought was true about myself and my future has shifted and for a very long time, I felt cracked, broken. I felt like trying to get better just made everything worse. I was in constant pain, and utterly confused about who I was and what certain things meant about me. I was wrong in every way possible. Just when I began to maybe possibly kinda like myself again, the bandaid was ripped off and the wound was ripped open again. I hated myself more than ever. To be honest, I still sometimes do.

The funny thing is, I think it’s the messiness of it all that made 2014 the best year of my life as well. 

Love that I have a healthy relationship with my family right now. It's taken a lot of work, but I love them so much!

Love that I have a healthy relationship with my family right now. It’s taken a lot of work, but I love them so much!

Despite the chaos and the grief and the shame, I accomplished so much. I completed a full step-down in treatment, which made all the difference in the world. I turned home into a safe place. I repaired old relationships and built new ones. I feel things now. I have realized that people love me not because I’m sick and broken, but because I’m simply worth loving. I’m well enough to volunteer in the nursery at my incredible church. I’ve learned what it means to be loved in a way that I least expected.

This year, I learned that it’s better to be known as the girl who loves brave purple chevron penguins than the one who’s too wrapped up inside her own head to pay attention to other things. This year, I found myself working in an office at my school where I feel appreciated, but I also feel competent and I’ve been able to actually see events that I’ve helped to plan run smoothly and effectively. This year, I stopped introducing myself as the girl with the eating disorder and started entering into new situations as Alexis – plain and simple.

I’m proud of myself for the way that I’ve risen up to each and every challenge that I’ve come up against this past year. I am proud of myself for letting myself not be okay. I’m proud of myself for allowing myself to be okay. For allowing myself to love and be loved. For allowing myself to feel a wide spectrum of emotions. For creating new patterns. For honesty and resilience. For learning to internalize an attitude of celebration and gratitude. I’m proud of myself for getting to the point where I can be proud of myself.

Spent Christmas at Disney! Hollywood Studios was awesome!

Spent Christmas at Disney! Hollywood Studios was awesome!

I rang in 2015 on a family vacation to Florida (two of which I missed out on last year because I was stuck in residential). I went swimming in the ocean on New Years Eve, ate dinner with my grandparents, aunt, parents, and brother, played cards, and watched the ball drop on TV. It was a drastically different day than last year, and for that I am grateful.

I would say that I hope 2015 is a better year – but honestly, I think my biggest hope would be that I continue to embrace the mess that is life. After all, that is when the most growth occurs.