(So many) tears of happiness

Last Thursday, I happy-cried the entire 50 minute drive to my school before IOP. I could stop for no more than a minute, then I would get thinking and waterworks started over. It seems pretty weird, right? What’s so amazing about a quick errand to school before going to eating disorder treatment for the day? The answer: everything because today, I picked up my scrubs and equipment for nursing.

If you would have looked at me a year and a half ago, as I dropped out of my first semester of school, there’s no way you could have seen this day coming. A year after that, I once again had to take time off school, this time just a J-term. Then came the absolute worst semester possible. Looking just at my academic performance and participation in school spring term, no one would think I could be allowed into the nursing program. Here I am anyways.

The first couple weeks at residential were brutal for many reasons, a main one being that I didn’t have my final grades in yet. I was accepted into the nursing program, but I had no clue if that was jeopardized or not. I was not proud of the semester and this kept me up at night. I was a wreck. I went over every moment, every mistake from the previous 4 months. The day I logged in and saw my GPA was one of the happiest since receiving my acceptance letter. I had hung on, but only by around a tenth of a point.

I am not ashamed. I never thought I would be saying that; however, I cannot keep focusing on what I’ve done wrong. I’ll admit, I’ve been a terrible student for a good chunk of my time at Calvin. That isn’t all on me though, because I wasn’t really there. Instead, my eating disorder was in control. I have spent too many years trying to live with the eating disorder when I only end up barely surviving.

I am proud of myself. I am proud of my recovery. Without this hard work I’m putting in now, there’s no way I would be starting classes in 3 weeks. I don’t know where I’d be. What I do know is that I’ve spent too many years trying to live with this disease. Now is my chance to change that, and treatment this summer is only the beginning.

I am going to become a nurse. It still feels surreal, and probably will for a while yet. I thank God everyday for all that has gotten me to this point. I know this is my calling. I almost lost the opportunity, but I am never going to stop fighting to make my dream come true.

Long, long overdue update.

I really hate not blogging for so long (besides one off topic post), but I also needed a break. I’ve been spending hours upon hours of each day living and breathing treatment. 4.5 weeks in residential, another 3.5 in PHP, and now I’m back at IOP. It’s exhausting, to say the least, but now I am finally ready to explain the last 2+ months.

I left for residential on May 25th. Thankfully, I was able to once again be admitted into the same SoCal location as before. It felt like returning home. Around half the staff is the same, so I immediately received half a dozen hugs. Knowing everything about the program meant a hell of a lot less anxiety compared to last time. At the same time, I had plenty of worries about the other girls. The time before brought some not so great drama filled days, so I desperately wanted to avoid that. I was blessed with 5 of the most amazing women I have ever met. They made the experience better than I imagined. More importantly, though, was the staff and what happened because of them. My therapist was a perfect match. She gave me the confidence and safe space to speak about the most shameful memories and past that I’ve never talked about before. She listened and believed me. She comforted me, inspired me, pushed me, and supported me. I could not be more grateful, so I still update her now. One counselor in particular was a complete blessing to me. She’s a strong Christian and compassion just oozed out of her. I also shared some of the same things I did with my counselor, and actually with her first. There are about a million more things I want to write about regarding resi, but I’ll save that for another post (or 20 ūüôā ). For now, I’ll just end with the fact that I learned more than I thought possible. I knew I would change, but I guess I just didn’t expect it as much as I should have.

I discharged from CFD on June 26th. I panicked when I first found out the date around 10 days prior. Suddenly, going home was actually on the radar. An immense fear of the same environment came over me. I felt stronger, but not enough to handle everything so soon. We had always planned on just starting IOP three days a week after. That Monday before I brought up the idea of heading to ERC’s Chicago PHP program. It was a huge risk to go there, but ultimately it’s what was best. After spending under a day and a half at home, I was off to Chicago, with the support of my treatment teams from CFD and home.

I struggled immediately after admitting to ERC. The program was completely different than CFD: three times the size, therapy just once a week, a new mealplan I¬†hated. Those first almost two weeks were miserable. I had pretty much given up hope of gaining anything. I wasn’t open in the least bit. Something changed in me, and suddenly I wanted to work hard again. I took notes and participated and challenged my ED 24/7. I realized that the chance to come was a privilege. I could have been home, but instead I worked hard to get more treatment. My original plan was just under 3 weeks of time. I used money as the main factor in why I couldn’t stay. The team didn’t buy it, and offered financial help to keep me longer. I accepted. I ended up getting more out of the last 2ish weeks there than I imagined. I settled in, made friends, worked hard. I again am grateful for the opportunity to stepdown instead of coming straight home. I left the 24th with even more growth under my belt.

I started IOP the day after my discharge. Now I’m there twice a week for the full day and therapy 2 days. It’s been almost two weeks and I’m mostly used to being home. This certainly isn’t easy. Adjustments aren’t my favorite, and here I am with some huge ones. I am just beginning to mourn leaving treatment. I am “treatment sick” terribly. I miss it all: the support, staff, girls, safety, weather, adventure, challenges, essentially just about everything. This may be the hardest part now. I am figuring out how to do it (mostly) on my own. I want this. I need this. I will put all that I’m able so I can finally live.

It’s just over 4 weeks until nursing begins. This last bit of summer needs to have the same amount of effort as the first 10 weeks. My life, my future, and my freedom depends on it. Spending all of summer in treatment wasn’t anywhere close to what I had hoped going into it, but this has given me a fighting chance and a will to live. I am blessed.

Two Letters

Dear Body,

I hate you. I have never felt more disgusted by all that you are. You have grown too large for me to handle. I cannot hold back the tears at any glimpse of you. I am not allowed and have no desire to learn how much you weigh. I know that it is far beyond what I could ever be okay with. I can feel myself packing on the pounds and fat every second. I feel the intense need to fix you. If only I restrict and exercise. Then, I can fit you better into my definition of good. I honestly would give just about anything to shrink you down to something I am comfortable with. Maybe that could mean being happy with you. Anything is better than having my disgust for you overrule my day. Please just be willing to let me fix you.

The Disordered Emily

 


 

Dear Body,

I am learning to appreciate you. I have never had such a difficult time in doing so. You feel too large to handle. The dysmorphia means that mirrors or any glimpse of you only brings tears. I am not allowed to know how much you weigh and I have no desire to. I know that number would only threaten my recovery. It feels like I can tell that you keep growing larger, but this is only one of Eds tricks. Ed wants me to focus my life on fixing you. I refuse to go back there because it won’t help anything. Shrinking you means shrinking my spirit and all that is me until I am just a bag of bones. I will never be happy uwith that mindset. I can work through the disgust I feel now. It won’t last forever. I am so sorry for trying to fix you for so many years. Instead, I will work on acceptance of where you are.`

The Real Emily

Goodbye for now!

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!

Where I’m at – end of exam week 5/17

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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.

 

You might have an eating disorder if… (stigma v reality)

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.

Stigma

  • 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

Reality

  • 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:

  1. Physical symptoms of anorexia are all too often used as a reference point in deciding whether someone has an eating disorder.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

Why aren’t you healed yet?

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.*

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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.

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*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.