Just a quick post, but I’m about 10 minutes out from Center for Discovery! I have all kinds of emotions and fears, but residential is what I need. Not sure when exactly I’ll have a moment to blog, but see you until then!
I’m feeling vulnerable and raw, so here goes. This picture is real life right now. No filter, no editing, no posing to make things seem better than they are because it really has been a shitty time.
It’s not quite 6 am. I have been up basically two days straight, minus a few broken hours of sleep Monday night. I have barely eaten with all of the stress I’m under. I am studying for my exam at 9 and attempting to work on a week overdue essay. I still have one more exam tomorrow and the task of moving out my entire dorm by 4ish.
I question myself constantly: how did I, a once straight-A, hardworking, enthusiastic, and successful student come to this point? The answer (almost solely): my eating disorder.
I always assumed that nothing could possibly get worse than Fall of 2015, before residential. I struggled hard my first semester at Calvin, but I gained so much momentum in recovery through treatment. Things went well up until the end of this past Fall; then enter IOP and groups, improvement, and once again relapse. I have never been so low on motivation, dealt with this amount of stress, had my depression and anxiety affect me quite this way, or relapsed so significantly so fast. This combination naturally compounded into a miserable experience, particularly the last 2 months or so.
I am surviving and that is it. I feel like giving up most of the time. My behaviors, thoughts, lack of following my mealplan, etc have lead to a pretty desperate situation. I had two choices: gain motivation and stay outpatient or enter a higher level of care. Nothing seemed to help where I was headed. Everything only intensified, leading to pretty drastic (to my treatment team) weight loss. Last week we made an agreement that I reluctantly obliged to: lose absolutely no weight through the week/in the future or I would be forced to have a phone session with my mom. Monday that’s exactly what happened.
The conversation itself didn’t end terribly. She was upset with my lies and hiding everything, but also offered her support. We mentioned a higher level of care, but she did not know I had already contacted CFD and found answers. Through the remainder of therapy and my dietitian appt my concern only grew. It clicked that even with my mom’s support I no longer felt confident in my recovery. I made the decision that afternoon to return to residential. I called her that night and began the truly difficult conversation.
Residential feels like giving up in ways. I hate knowing I need more help.. The one thing that has brought comfort is the support from those at treatment. My therapist and dietitian both are happy with my decision, although they wouldn’t make it for me. Group was also very affirming today. It is the right choice. There will never be a good time to go away for treatment, but this is my time. I am too exhausted, too sick, struggling way too much to function. It’s time to put recovery first and begin to break free once again.
Some of this may seem pretty darn ridiculous. This is because many people’s expectation for eating disorders is just that. I want to explore the general, uninformed thoughts of what someone with an eating disorder is like vs the reality of eating disorders. My hope is that this can help distinguish what is the truth.
- you look like a walking skeleton
- Eating disorders have no weight or size limit. Have you ever heard of BED, OSFED, BN? None of these disorders are defined by weight (and anorexia to an extent can be the same). You could be severely underweight or obese and still your struggle is valid.
- you believe you’re extremely fat
- Feeling you are fat definitely can be a factor of having an ED, but isn’t always. For example, one study found nearly 50% of “normal” BMI women believe they are overweight. Not even close to all of these women have eating disorders, and not everyone with an eating disorder even struggles with this belief.
- you order only salads and other”clean” foods
- Under the premise of judging mental health based on foods people eat, every vegan or vegetarian would be labeled as an ED patient. Heck, tons of people have salads daily simply because they enjoy them.
- you are an upper/middle class, white, adolescent or young adult woman
- So, in order to debunk the myth about who can have eating disorders, let me give you a sampling of who I’ve met in treatment: adolescent and young adult men, people of color, a 70-year-old woman, children from 8-12, people with lower-income, middle-aged men and women. Hopefully, you get the point.
- you are a vain person
- The fact that some believe vanity is central to an eating disorder kills me. This has nothing to do with thinking you’re better than someone else or putting yourself up on a pedestal. For the most part, people with EDs tend to think very little of themselves.
- you choose to have one
- If I chose to have this eating disorder, that means someone would choose to have cancer, Parkinson’s or kidney disease. It’s clearly just for all of the wonderful attention we receive.
- you just don’t eat
- Finally, the “you just don’t eat” argument. Quite obviously, no one will survive if they literally eat nothing for an extended period of time, so that’s automatically false. Adding onto it, this assumes that the only/easy way to have an eating disorder is by starving.
This first list is either outside focused or under the assumption that mind-reading is possible. News flash: no one has special mind-reading capabilities and can look into a person’s head to determine if an ED is present! An eating disorder is so much more than what you eat or look like. to me, the last three statements
- you are a person
- WHOA. So I’m telling you that just by being alive you can have an eating disorder?!? So weird, because you probably thought you must have some sort of obvious signs, maybe even a big blinking light. That would help.
- you have ANY disordered eating patterns (ex: binge eating, eating in secret, eliminating all “unsafe” foods, purging..)
- That’s right, folks. There is more than one disordered eating habit. The list here isn’t even comprehensive. Essentially, if something seems extremely out of the norm, it could be a sign of a subclinical or full-blown eating disorder.
- your everyday existence is ruled by thoughts of food, behaviors, exercise, body image, calories, etc
- Eating disorders are not something that only happens at meal time, while exercising, and as you look into the mirror. It encompasses your whole day (an average I’ve heard is around 12 hours a day!). Got a test tomorrow? Whatever you are studying will have the lovely background noise of the ED whispering or even screaming at you.
- you have a body
- Yet another mind-blowing fact. You only need a body? It doesn’t have to be a certain size or shape?
- you have mass
- Going along with what you look like, the amount you weigh is another false determinant for the presence of an eating disorder. EDs happen all across the BMI chart and a vast majority are in the normal-overweight range. (Another tidbit: BMI = bullshit meaningless information because it cannot begin to tell you a person’s health level.)
- going into the kitchen creates a huge amount of anxiety
- This is something that is pretty much a given. Whether you deal with binge eating, restriction, or anything in between, eating is a fear in some way. Since food is prepped and stored in the kitchen, it becomes a room full of all the anxiety.
- you have different physical symptoms due to a MENTAL illness
- I find this last one to be of utmost importance. No matter what someone may look like on the outside or even through their actions, you will never be able to tell what’s going on within. This is not a physical struggle, even though there are often physical results of the behaviors. So many people in this world have invisible illnesses – both mental and physical – that can only be seen by looking below the surface. You have to realize this when dealing with eating disorders as well.
I hope that this can serve as a (somewhat sarcastic) guide for those who aren’t quite sure what eating disorders are and aren’t. I hope that you have a few takeaways from it:
- Physical symptoms of anorexia are all too often used as a reference point in deciding whether someone has an eating disorder.
- It is way too easy to believe you can read minds and use this magical power to determine whether someone has an ED. News flash: mind-reading is impossible, even when someone shows *all* of the signs you know of.
- Eating disorders look different on everyone. A person of any gender, size, socioeconomic status, race, age, BMI, etc can be struggling. Never assume elsewise.
Thank you so much for reading! Do you have any others you would like to add?
This coming summer will mark 3 years since entering into my first eating disorder specific treatment. My story has included over a month of partial, countless therapy sessions, outpatient dietitian, a week inpatient, 5.5 weeks residential, outpatient groups, and 2 months IOP.*
I experience hopelessness, guilt, shame, etc blah blah. These feelings have only intensified as I’ve heard talk of residential again. I have an overwhelming sense of failure. I’ve spent thousands of dollars and hours in different treatment settings. Would going back negate all I have accomplished?
It’s enough of an eternal battle I experience on the daily; however, things only increase as the judgments/opinions of others begin to seep in. I love my parents, but they do contribute. Whenever I have told them about stepping up my care, the looks on their faces kill me. Even if they were to say nothing (which is absolutely not the case) I would still be able to tell. It speaks disappointment to a level beyond anything else I’ve ever done. This Fall, I only stepped up to IOP/groups. I didn’t go away, quit school, etc, etc, etc. This still was hard for them to accept. On top of them, I will get the same signals from others who know of my journey. I find it almost a “not again” type of vibe.
What is this all telling me? There is something inherently wrong with me. I am a screw up. I will never get better. I am going to be one of those people who dies. I will never amount to anything. I am and always will be “the girl with the eating disorder.” People will see me as needy and helpless. My friends will give up on me. This list could continue all day, but I’m sure you get the idea.
The combination here drives home my own ideas while also combining them with the new ones. If I feel this way, I can just give up. Why would I need to fight Ed if it would never improve anyways?
My recovery is going to take time. I cannot begin to listen to other’s opinions here, for that will only bring about more shame. I have no idea how much longer I will deal with this, how many treatment centers I will go to, whether I’ll be on medications for the rest of my life. It could be another 6 months, but maybe 5 years. No matter what that length of time may be, it isn’t something I can afford to feel badly about. If there were a magic pill, you bet I could have taken it years ago so I could be recovered and good to get on with my life. While everyone in recovery would pay good money for it, such a thing doesn’t and will never exist. Instead, I have the job of being a badass against the eating disorder every single day and fighting to get my life back. I will. Someday, I will. It is not impossible just because I am not there today.
*I realize that my struggle may not be as “chronic/severe/bad” as others (or perhaps I am “worse” than some. Either way, it is my own and I am not willing to make comparisons.
It has been forever and a half since I’ve done one of these, and I really like being able to give a little update on life, things going on, etc.
- I LOVE YOGA. It is the one time where i can fully let go of thoughts, relax, strengthen my body (especially my crappy EDS joints!), and overall increase my mood. I often don’t have time until night, but whenever I can do it earlier the rest of my day is just a little more positive. I am going to work hard to stay healthy and still be able to practice.
- I am lucky to have some really great support people. Of course, there is my person. She has been there for years and I cannot say enough about how much she matters to me. I love everything about our relationship, and also that she is helping me stay accountable. I need that now. I also have some very sweet girls I met through treatment. They are truly wonderful and we are always there for each other.
- Will I ever actually be free? This thought has crept in as I continue down the path of being halfway into recovery and towards a major relapse. I learned recently that the average length of treatment before full recovery is 8 yrs. I don’t really know quite how accurate that is, but if it is true that would mean I could still have 4 yrs left. I don’t want that for myself. To be honest, it makes me question whether recovery is really worth that. Oh pessimism is fun.
- This semester has been pretty terrible. I have struggled more than ever and I’m exhausted. This whole relapse/heading backwards has made even getting up to class exhausting. I have racing thoughts about finishing up classes, wonder if I’m really just a failure, etc. Most of all, I am now very concerned with what happens after school. Will I be able to hold up this “I’m fine” act when I’m there 24/7? How terrible would it be if my parents find out? Will it be a bad environment? So many questions with not many answers.
- Frustrated. Everything has been hard. I have butted heads with my entire treatment team. They try to convince me I need to change xyz and I (or Ed) counter that it isn’t necessary and I am fine. I’ve gone against what they suggest and it is basically one huge mess. Part of me wants to change that, but for the most part it just continues on. Also, there are many stressors at home, which I get pulled into at times. That stinks because half the time I am not even there to experience it first-hand or it isn’t in my control.
- Overwhelmed by: school, family stress, more school, amount of food I need to eat, ED thoughts and urges, amount of pressure on me to do “what I need to do,” summer ahead, uncertainty over the need for treatment, scheduling, working, keeping up with everything, and more that I cannot think of at the moment.
- Fearful. The last month has brought some heavy sessions with realizations. There is something wrong here. I’ve had clarity when it becomes easier to use restrictive behaviors than it is to just eat the food (for example hiding/throwing out food all of the time, skipping meals when no one is watching). My exercise sometimes feels a little out of my control. The fact that I don’t feel all that able to stop is also concerning. Most of the time I coud care less, but those moments I actually find myself agreeing with my team (just a little, though).
- Stressed. School is the main/huge one. I have an uphill battle for the next 2.5 weeks again, but then it is finally over. I cannot wait for that sigh of relief. That will not be the end of my stress, however. My treatment team is adding pressure as they see me slipping (R actually used deteriorating today in session). That’s hard to deal with. I feel if I don’t do what I am supposed to I’ll just be strongly encouraged to seek higher care. It is constantly in the back of my mind.
- Distrustful/skeptical. I like my team, I really do. I actually just saw the new dietitian today (treatment update in a post soon) and she seems like a great fit. A no-BSer
which I probably maybe need.No matter how much I like them, it isn’t going to change the level of skepticism, distrust, and disbelief I have. They tell me I am worse than I believe, that the “goal weight” I have is unhealthy, that I’ve lost weight. I cannot process any of it as truth. It has led to some back and forth about the issues.
- Excited. Nursing classes are getting closer every second (127 days!) and I could not be more excited. I’ve waited forever to finally begin the classes that I’m passionate about. My shots are up to date, uniform and equipment ordered, drug test completed, and I basically just have some paperwork left to do. This is the one thing that motivates me the most because I won’t give up this dream. I am going to be a kick-ass nurse.
- My 27th EKG of the past 3 years (slight exaggeration, ha!) was this past Wednesday. In theory it really shouldn’t be abnormal. We shall see. A new medication has resulted in my resting HR going from 80-100 avg down to 55-70. This is way out of my personal norm. I probably was in need for one anyways. Positive note: it’s hilarious talking to other ED friends about how normal it is for us to get EKGs, blood draws, etc. My brother, on the other hand, has had 1 or maybe 2 blood draws ever. #edproblems
- Lovely meal plan changes. My meal plan has been the same since I started IOP in December. I also was following CFD’s exchange rules from that point onward. Not anymore. R decided to switch me to the FV exchange/meal planning style (which I HATE with a passion) since she is concerned with me getting enough of certain exchanges per meal. Also, it was increased which only has made the transition harder. She decreased it at our final appt last week (thank God because I no longer feel like such a failure) but also made some rules that I’m not happy about. K, my new dietitian, modified the rules a bit more today. I don’t like change so it would be great if that doesn’t happen again anytime soon, okay? Gah
- IOP->groups. This actually happened a few months ago during my break from blogging. I did full IOP from December through the end of January, then attended all groups plus one full day of IOP for the next month, and slowly tapered a bit more to get to where I am now: process groups Tues/Thurs, therapy usually on Monday morning, and now my dietitian appts should be right after therapy. It still is quite a bit, just no meal or snack support. I am very thankful I have the time there still. Unfortunately, I don’t think they will just move me up to IOP once schools done, if higher treatment is deemed necessary.
- Mocking (aka hammocking). It is one of my favorite pastimes ever, and it’s really nice that I finally can go outside. There’s something special about being in nature and a really comfy position. I actually had my smaller hammock set up to sleep in for around a month, and I plan on doing the same this summer. It’s good for the soul (and my painful joints) 🙂
- Two words: diet culture. At this point, I am pretty desensitized to the whole deal, and most of the time ignore it. There are moments I fall into the ideals, but I’m more so plain disgusted by it all. I also worry for others who constantly see this as truth. Imagine all of the kids who are going to grow up believing that they need to alter their appearance, that any fat is too much, with restriction or some magic pill being the only way to happiness. I just want to scoop them all up and tell them how little their appearance or weight actually matters. I also want to slap any people responsible and tell them what obsession with weight loss, etc can do. A rant will be coming your way soon; I’ll link it here when I’m done fuming and can actually collect my thoughts. Preview: it’s a disgusting book I found at Meijer, sitting right near some things for kids.
- R leaving. The first thing Dr. C said when I told her R would be leaving was “Well you must scare off all your dietitians.” Okay, she has a point. My first school dietitian left while I was in treatment, then failed to notify CFD which means I went with none for a good month and a half. Next L left while I was doing IOP (so I didn’t get to say goodbye either 😦 ). And now R is done and I only had her as mine for maybe 2 months. What a wonderful journey as someone who hates change AND has already had an entire switch in treatment teams the past 5 months. At least K doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon?
- Rock climbing. So I thought I was cool about not being able to do one of my most favorite activities in my time at Calvin. I mean I have yoga, which I love just as much. Yeah, that changed when I saw all the climbers as I was heading into my appt with Dr C. I asked her once again and cried a little in the bathroom after she gave a firm “no.” I suppose there’s next year?
And that’s all for now! Getting back into blogging more has been wonderful so far 🙂