Comparison is the thief of joy

“I wish I was more like her.” “She only went to treatment x times, why am I still here?” “I’m sicker than you because xyz.” “I wish I could go back to how I looked 6 years ago, before starting recovery.” “Is he thinner than me?” “You must be bulimic right? You don’t look like most anorexics.” “Why is her meal plan smaller?” “Why can’t I eat like him?” “I’m eating better to make up for yesterday.” “I’m the smallest/largest person in this whole place.” “What if I end up like chronic ED patient x?” “I’ve been to more/less treatment centers than everyone else.” “Why is her weight so much less/more than mine?” “My life isn’t tragic enough for me to end up here.” “I should be in such a different place than I am now.”

To these thoughts and many more I’ve had/heard: SHUT (the fuck) UP!!!

Eating disorder recovery is tough shit. Believe it or not, comparing ourselves to our past, where we “should” be, other people’s body/recovery/”sickness”/etc, on and on and on is NOT healthy. In fact, it really just keeps you in that lovely ED mindset. These disorders love comparison. They live for it. Letting go of comparison is not easy but I believe its so essential to recovery.

I’m a work in progress in this area, but I want to share some steps I have taken to help inspire anyone else facing it as well.

  1. Focus on the present moment. Seems obvious I guess but also, it makes a whole lot of sense. Spending your time worried too much on the past or future takes away from where you are in that very moment. Does it really get you anywhere other than stuck in various comparisons?
  2. Get self-centered. Sounds weird, I know. Technically all recovery should be centered on YOU, but this especially. If you put on blinders and try not to worry so much about where other people are, what they’re doing, how they look, etc, then you have more time to worry about yourself. You should be our own priority when it comes down to it.
  3. Stop shoulding on yourself. This could be a whole post for another day, but it so relates here. The second you mutter should or its cousins could and would you have a comparison that most likely is demeaning. Don’t even consider them part of your vocabulary.
  4. Let go of expectations. Expectations aren’t always a good thing. When they’re self-directed it can cause plenty of negative thoughts if not met. Especially in recovery our expectations aren’t always feasible or realistic. Slipping, relapse, shitty days, and a million other things get in the way. That being said, throw your expectations out the window! That way you will find neither disappointment nor excitement but deal with and accept everything as it comes.
  5. Find the good (and bad) in where you are now. Most of the time, comparisons come because you feel inadequate or superior in some way. If you take a second to evaluate where you are in that moment, listing both the good an bad, it can help prevent any comparative talk.
  6. Take a deep breath, repeat after me, tell the thought to go away. As you begin to have these thoughts, you can still stop them! First, breathe, and just breathe, or a bit. Next, repeat the mantra “comparison is the thief of joy.” Silly, yes, but saying something enough times at least partially makes them true. And finally, tell that thought to shut up (or whatever language you choose)!

*this post dedicated to my friend who is currently in the hospital*

Life After Residential – 1 month out

Well at this point I can definitely say it feels simultaneously like I was in treatment an hour ago and also that its been years. Today I will be sharing my accomplishments, set-backs, and what I’ve learned.

Accomplishments:

  • Followed 99% of meal plan
  • Use skills at least once a day
  • Attending social events at college
  • Finished interim and did well
  • Handling all of the change (dietitian, school, coming out of resi, therapist)
  • Using exercise in a good way
  • Surviving first sickness in recovery
  • Working on asking my needs to be met
  • Haven’t died of hypothermia yet in the not-California temps 🙂

Set-backs

  • Home life = meh
  • Not sleeping well
  • Finding it hard to get out stress
  • Body image making it hard to eat
  • Not good with boundaries

Life is full of surprises. Cliche, I know. This month of my life has been so messy. There have been lots and lots of blows. I was shielded from it in treatment. At the same time, the little unexpected joys make this worth it.

I have to put ME first. Okay so this one I’ve learned but have not put into practice. I realized that doing things for others and putting my own safety or recovery at risk never should happen. I deserve to say no.

College doesn’t have to be the same as last fall. God was I worried about this. Entering into the same place where I was on the path to dying is hard. Being in hose dining halls, with complete exercise access, and without supervision can be tempting. I don’t want that life back. I look at pictures and I see an already dead girl. I am worth more.

Not all ED effects will go away. My cognitive function, my brain, the reason I was so good in school, even following a conversation, they’re all difficult now. I’m not starving! This should be going away. I have to prepare for the worst thought and right now its where I’m at.

Its less shameful not hiding it. I am always worried how someone will react when I tell them about my ED. I’ve gotten a range of responses, mostly good, but the anxiety is usually most overwhelming. Since posting on FB and talking openly if need I feel so much better. I tell the parts of my story and move on. I try not to care what they may think.

I need to share my story. I am so itching to speak about it! I feel like I could help other while also giving me a reason to keep going. No one should have to feel alone in this. I also really want to lead a group or something like that soon.

Today is going to be a great day! Today I will focus and think clearly because I will nourish my mind. Today, I will remember that I am stronger and smarter than I think. I am not my eating disorder. Today I will flourish.

This is what dreams are made of.

Two months ago, I sat in residential with the assignment of writing my goals for treatment and the future. I had so many hopes. I would have been absolutely elated if only a few ever came true.

College was something I so desperately wanted to change. I lost all of my fall semester to the eating disorder. I didn’t get to build friendships, learn deeply, or simply have fun. My days were centered around food, restriction, deceit, and exercise. I honestly don’t know how I managed to go as long as I did. My hope was to one day experience college for real. I dreamed of staying up with friends late at night, engaging fully in my learning, enjoying random food, and being totally carefree.

Well, tonight and Saturday night I checked off part of that dream. Saturday I went skating with the floor at 10 pm and then out to get donuts and hot chocolate(!!!!!!!). Tonight, my friend and I spent our bonus bucks and drank hot chocolate together.

Never did I think back at CFD that I would have been able to do this by now. I allowed myself to enjoy the time with friends. I didn’t freak out even a little over the spontaneous food (and one fear food). Just like my other friends that were with me, I ate and drank and soaked up every moment.

Sometimes progress in recovery is big, but often its the little things. Warm drinks, good company, and a little hot chocolate with sprinkles.

My BRAIN is sick.

My brain is sick. My brain is sick! God dammit, my BRAIN is sick!!! 

I want to scream this from the mountaintops. Maybe that could stop some of the nonsense people spew at me and my fellow recovery warriors day in and day out.

I am weight restored. I have followed my meal plan since the day I entered treatment. I am out of residential. I no longer exercise compulsively. I am not physically sick enough to need a feeding tube, be in the hospital, require urgent care, have daily blood draws.

The above makes others believe I am doing wonderfully, amazingly, fantastically awesome with all the rainbows, unicorns, and glitter. They see me and just know instantly that my eating disorder must be – poof! – gone. They compliment me on how great I look, boast how proud of me they are. They walk away assured they’re right. After a few weeks or months they forget the eating disorder ever existed in the first place.

What they can’t see, and sometimes won’t see, is that anorexia is still here. In fact, it may be here for a very long time. Some effects will last my whole life. It is not making itself known in my behaviors and physical appearance anymore, but my mind is in its control regardless.

The obsession, body dysmorphia, irrational thoughts, they all began long before I ever restricted my first time. In fact, by the time I actually started using behaviors I was fully in its grips. Once the weight loss became dramatic, when others finally noticed, I’d been dealing with the mental effects of anorexia for a very long time. This is because my body was never sick. I wasn’t simply behaving in a maladaptive way or following some extreme diet. No, my brain is and always was, the part of me that is sick.

Please, before you take a look at me, or anyone recovering form an eating disorder, remember that. Remember that outward appearance and actions can never explain what is on the inside. Remember that the brain is the last thing to heal and the first to become damaged in the first place. Before assuming everything must be okay now realize that it probably isn’t and we are still fighting against the thoughts every single day.

My Residential Experience – Day 1

Today marks two months since I was admitted to Center for Discovery, so I figured this was a perfect time to begin talking about my experience in more detail. I’ll be including pieces of my journal entries and anything I felt was important during my time there. It may get hard, confusing, saddening, joyful, frustrating, and silly. This is real and raw. This is my residential story.

I was admitted into CFD on November 19, 2015, but the story to get there began 6 days earlier. I was exhausted from searching and contacting so many different treatment centers. Every single one was a dead end in some way: long wait list, insurance wasn’t accepted, huge and impersonal, on and on. I decided on a whim and last effort I would contact the one Sheri had emailed me about, Center for Discovery. I sent and email and waited. Not even ten minutes later I got the phone call that would change my life forever.

Not only was the lovely admitting lady at CFD giving me a chance, she vowed to fly me out and have me admitted by the end of the week. I was overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude. I finally had hope, although fear accompanied and nearly overshadowed it. I spent the  next few days preparing mentally and packing. Early the next Thursday my dad dropped me off at the airport.

The first flight felt much longer than two and a half hours. I grew more anxious with each passing minute, plus a rather irritating kid was next to me eating the whole time. My layover in Denver was pretty short and since I was so into my ED despite choosing to go to treatment, I didn’t eat a thing. If the first flight felt long the second was an eternity. I was actually shaking a little by the end of it. I really didn’t want to get off the plane at all. I knew my life was about to change. I wasn’t going to come back from California as sick as I was. Although I wholeheartedly wanted that with most of my being, part of me wanted to turn around and head back to my same sick life.

God sent an angel, AKA the the best house manager/one who keeps everyone afloat, R! Talking with her while waiting on my luggage helped calm my nerves at least a tiny bit. I immediately really liked her. She was funny and welcoming. We spent the whole half hour ride talking about different things, and she pointed out some landmarks along the way. I was amazed by the beauty of San Diego, and also grew more comfortable speaking with her. By the time we got to the house it felt less like I was going to prison and more like I would be at a home where people truly cared. She answered so many of my questions and calmed fears. I am forever thankful for that first hour after I landed.

Once we arrived at the house I was given a quick tour. I remember immediately thinking how lucky I was to be in such a homey and beautiful place. Every staff I passed gave a warm welcome. I was absolutely terrified of meeting the girls so I tried to hide from them as we passed by the milieu. Weird, I know, but I was certain they would hate me or that I’d be way much larger than them or any number o things that could go wrong. I think part of that was how some people at FV were. I didn’t want to deal with a situation like that for a whole month. Once I got through the tour it was time for all the assessments. I also gave up my cell phone and personal belongings so they could be sorted through.

I remember being very overwhelmed that first day. It felt like never-ending assessments with all of these people I wasn’t sure whether to trust or not. My ED was screaming the whole time that I needed to walk out the door. Those first couple hours at the house were scary. I began by meeting with the nurse, S, and Dr. S, the MD. I loved S right away and felt a little better. Dr. S was really nice as well. Next came a meeting with my therapist C, which wouldn’t have been too bad if not for the fact that they made me eat snack during it. I got to choose anything to eat (not a luxury in the ED world!) and I nearly broke down just from that. I ended up with a granola bar and spent the entire hour nibbling at it. It was only the second thing I’d had that day. I liked C, but I was consumed in the ED so I didn’t feel so great while we talked. All I know is that we managed to get through all o the questions and I was sent to the next person. The dietitian N was next. I immediately liked her, until she explained the meal plan. They work off an exchange plan where you’re able to split up your exchanges any way you please throughout the day, minus dinner which has a pre-decided entree and sides. It was so different from anything I’ve had in the past. I HATED it. I cried and struggled to plan even the one day’s worth of meals necessary. Luckily she was patient and helped me out. After N, I was done with assessments for the day and was able to go into the milieu and meet the other girls. Cue anxiety!

I didn’t actually sit down again until dinner. It was kitchen skills night which meant we got to help in the kitchen. I was put right in and began chopping veggies. That was a great intro because it allowed me to be around the other girls without the awkwardness of sitting there with nothing to say. The diet tech that night was also so peppy and friendly that I felt at ease. Dinner wasn’t terrible at all! I thought I was going to die beforehand, but it went fine. I really enjoyed that we ate family style with staff. We had conversation the whole time which helped with my strong ED thoughts. The meal went much better than I thought. I was supported and explained anything I had questions on. After dinner was free time in the milieu.

Thank Jesus for how amazing LK and RB are. I couldn’t have asked for two better girls to start treatment with. They answered my questions and offered support. We watched some good crime shows, laughed, and got to know each other that night. Looking back now, I am so thankful there were only three of us my first week and a half. It was so calm basically the entire time. We each had our own couch (its the little things :P), got along perfectly, were supportive of each other, and became close. If I was instead thrown into the chaos and craziness of 5 people who were neither stable or able to get along like my last week there, I would have ran right out.

I met and got to know one of my favorite staff members overall after dinner. T was the nurse for second shift. If I wasn’t sure that the staff at CFD were amazing before, she sealed the deal. I needed an EKG but we ended up spending a good half hour talking back in the med room after. She is one of the sweetest women I have ever met. She truly helped me relax and feel comfortable. At that point, without meeting even half the staff yet, I wrote in my journal that CFD has the best staff ever. Oh how much that statement would come true during my time there.

I went to sleep that night smiling and thanking God. Yes, I was at a treatment center for an eating disorder that I wasn’t so sure I needed to get rid of. Yes, I was about to embark on the hardest journey of my life. Yes, I was thousands of miles away from anything I knew. Even so, I fell to my knees, in tears, in awe of the blessing I had received in coming to CFD. I knew I’d made the right decision, both in seeking treatment and choosing this place to come to. It was the first time I realized that I would come home changed for the better and that I truly wanted that for myself. I cling to these hopes with all my being to this day.

Life After Residential – 2 Weeks Out

Wow wow wow! I’ve made it two weeks, which at one point seemed impossible. This time outside of CFD has allowed me to practice what was taught and also learn even more.

I can do this on my own!!! Why yes, this needs exclamation points. Part of me totally believed I would walk out of CFD and fall flat on my face. I doubted I would last longer than a few days without freaking out and using behaviors or maladaptive coping skills again. It hasn’t been perfect , of course, but I can honestly say I’ve done really well!

Skills work. Oh gosh, I never thought I’d say this. All those dumb skills I hated before in different treatments have become my best friend. I loved the DBT corner at residential so much that I created one here. I have kinetic sand, wax melts, lentils, frozen oranges and clementines, scented play dough, coloring books, stress balls, my recovery buddy, and essential oils. I use them at least daily, usually more. Just ten minutes ago I got done playing with the kinetic sand. Its funny because using skills has become something I do without thinking. I love it and I’m really glad they forced us to try out skills at CFD.

I can transform how I act in different situations. One of my biggest fears coming back to the real world was how I would react to being in the exact same places as when I was sick. All parts of my life were intertwined with the ED before. Although slowly, I am transforming what these things mean to me. Yoga isn’t about burning calories anymore; I do it for well-being, enjoyment, and healing. Going to the dining hall doesn’t mean getting some small variation of the same restrictive meal. Instead I reach for variety and what I want in that moment. Weekends at home don’t have to be full of restriction and lies. I spend the time enjoying my family.

I’m not where I was, and that’s a GOOD thing. Its easier for the ED to take control an begin comparing where I was and where I am now. If the ED thoughts had their way, I’d be on a one-way train to relapse and, maybe this time, death. I am not giving in to my disorder or any negative thoughts it brings. I am healthier, happier, more alive, closer to the real me, a better friend and daughter. Yes, I’m not as skinny as I was, but I’m also not living such a miserable existence anymore either. I am giving up this disorder to get everything recovery can give me, and that should be celebrated.

Part of my heart will always be in California. A good portion of my time after CFD has been spent mourning the time there. I still miss it. It was the best experience of my life, so it makes sense. I will always have love for those people, the adventures, struggles, challenges, successes, weather (really really miss that since its currently below freezing and snowy!), inside jokes, growth, all of it. I’m convinced I will be back, and the next time not as a patient. Until then, I can remember it all fondly, give staff updates, and keep in contact with my lovely friends.

Week 1 at college

Today marks the end of my first week back at school. More than anything I’m relieved that its over. I know, not the best reaction but its a hard situation.

I was fearful moving back into Calvin. This was a place where I had previously only been sick, and very sick for most of my time there. Stepping onto campus gave me flashbacks to last fall: fainting episodes, overexercise, isolation, failing grades, emptiness. I didn’t get a college experience last semester, instead I was slipping more towards death each day. No matter how solid my want to recover is now, I still worried that just being on campus again would send me slipping. Thankfully I was (mostly) wrong.

I’ve definitely had more ED thoughts since coming here. I can’t go anywhere on campus without being reminded of the “before,” the old me, the sickness. At times it is almost enough to make me flirt with that lifestyle again. What I can realize now is that all of those euphoric images I hang onto from my darkest days were false. I wasn’t happy, healthy, or anywhere close to flourishing. Recovery this past almost two months, on the other hand, has gotten me much further.

So yes, there have been some hard times. I anticipate even more in the coming weeks. The difference between now and back then is that I am working hard not to give in to ED or any negative thoughts. One of the things that has helped me the most and I never believed in before is my skills. I have employed basically every one CFD taught me that I had available: deep breaths, thought stopping, though records, reaching out to support, affirmations, stress ball, frozen orange/clementine, lentils, scents, and general distraction at times. Thanks to my own hard work and these skills, I haven’t had any behaviors or restriction at all!! I am beyond proud of myself and I deserve to be. I took a scary and stressful transition while being just out of residential and proved that I could handle this.

Beyond the eating disorder (now that I can finally focus on anything other than it), I am finding my place here. I really enjoy my interim class so far on eugenics and genomics. Its a challenge with the amount of reading and work packed into each day but I am welcoming the opportunity to learn. It almost feels like I wasn’t gone at all when it comes to my friends. I’m honestly surprised they didn’t forget about me. I’m so excited to form even more relationships and deepen those I have. I went rock climbing yesterday and truly enjoyed it even though I was really rusty. I feel like its going to be both physically and socially engaging as the year goes on. I plan on stating up my yoga practice very soon and I’m hopeful that with good intentions it will become a great outlet and way to appreciate my body. Lastly, and most importantly, I am working on my faith. Its a process that the ED once again nearly destroyed, but I know God is capable of building it back up. Overall, I am going to be a well-adjusted, involved, and more joyful college student this time around.

Here’s to a second week of learning, self-compassion, and fun!