300th post!

I cannot believe that my little journal-like blog I started over 3.5 years ago has grown to where it is today. I never would have imagined I would reach 300 posts or have readers who weren’t just my friends. I’m proud of my piece of the internet and all I’ve done here.

Since this is a huge milestone, I want to take a fun post to talk about some different little-known facts about myself, the blog, etc.

What’s in a name? It took me a while to decide what to call my blog. I wanted something that signified I was taking steps in the right direction and that this would be my journey. Rewind to fall off 2013, the first time I ever saw a therapist. She was not trained in eating disorders, but when it was becoming apparent my food struggles were more than she could handle, we began looking for another option. In the interim she recommended a book to me that deals with MH/eating disorders: Reviving Ophelia. I never read the book. I looked up the synopsis on Wikipedia and called it a day. I forgot all about the book, until I realized I LOVED the sound and idea of Reviving Emily. And so my blog was named, inspired by a book I had never even opened.

In the beginning, my blog wasn’t a true blog (in the sense that it is now). I started out on Tumblr, which was a very interesting experience. I liked that you could reblog things and also create your own content. It was there that I began test writing. I quickly noticed that I was happiest when I wrote. I made the switch here and I am so grateful for the opportunity.

My biggest blogging regret doesn’t have anything to do with spelling and grammar errors, posting things I didn’t have passion for, or taking breaks. What I do struggle with is not starting this sooner. My first post was within a couple days of discharging from FV round one (PHP). I wish more than anything that I had physical proof in writing of how things went each day. The little things help me feel normal. At the same time, I was going through a ton in PHP. With it being my first form of ED treatment ever, I was constantly overwhelmed. I probably would have had 0 energy to manage writing anything other than journal entries.

I only know of a few people in my every day life who read my blog. It’s so weird but cool knowing there are people all over the world who visit. I love looking at what countries everyone is from. I’m not attached to the numbers but it does show me that I’m reaching others and a little bit about my readers.


Fun facts about me!

  • my favorite color is teal and a dream is buying a teal colored car because it would be glorious
  • I have slept in my hammock around 50% of nights for the past year
  • I love everything about Michigan and living here (minus the snow/cold/winter as a whole)
  • I am slightly/totally obsessed with baby names
  • I think my love language is probably quality time, but one of my favorite things is to give people close to me little gifts or letters or anything like that
  • Ludington is the only place I’ve ever stayed more than a  week a year outside of my house other than when I was in treatment
  • I like visiting big cities but I don’t think I could live in one
  • I cannot stand American chocolate
  • I’m terrible at updating my story, etc that takes up a TON of time. One day, hopefully. My goal is to do it by June, but we shall see how that goes.
  • I will watch basically any crime show ever – from true crime to SVU
  • I have this great habit of avoiding things simply because I don’t want to deal with the consequences, not because I genuinely would choose the healthier option
  • I dream of owning lots of animals including some exotic/uncommon ones like more chinchillas, a llama or alpaca, prairie dogs, possibly a sulcatta tortoise if I ever live somewhere warm, mini horse, or a large parrot
  • As a kid I was always into bugs, snails, slugs, salamanders, frogs/tadpoles, and any other outdoor critter I could find
  • My favorite yoga pose is warrior 2. Others I like include cobbler’s, crow, plow, all the other warrior poses, boat, and anything that includes some sort of twisting.
  • I have never been to the UP (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) other than crossing the bridge and turning around. It’s definitely on my bucket list!
  • I’ve been writing since I can remember (stories, some poetry, journaling, now blogging). In late elementary school I wrote a short “book” about a woman who got drafted to go to Iraq and had a letter signed by George W. Bush. She was pregnant with twins so he sent another letter saying she could have an extension for a year and I don’t remember the rest haha.
  • I really wish there was some app of something that could keep track of your thoughts somehow. I always nd up getting the greatest ideas while I’m driving and have no way to write them down
  • I can be super sentimental about the weirdest things. I may or may not keep a couple hair nets from residential in my purse/hoodie/recovery corner…
  • I am currently 92% likely to pass the NCLEX based on which sections of prep we’ve learned about!
  • I can’t stand typing notes. My brain remembers so much better if I organize and write down the information myself. I also love taking notes in any treatment groups

And that’s all! I appreciate every single person who has read my blog. I feel pretty honored that I’m reaching others and (hopefully) making some small impact. I’m not sure if I’ll make it to 300 more posts, but either way I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon 🙂

First encounter with anorexia

I was first truly introduced to mental illness as a whole when I was a sophomore in high school. I took a basic psychology course that included probably two weeks about psychopathology. I found all of it incredibly fascinating. While going over generalized anxiety and depression, I wondered if I might struggle with them too (but that part is a story for another day). We had an assignment alone or in pairs to explain the diagnoses we studied to the class in some sort of presentation. I didn’t know it at the time, but one of these still is significant looking back.

Two of my classmates pulled up their PowerPoint. In big letters were the words “anorexia nervosa.” I think I had probably heard of eating disorders at that point, but I knew nothing about them. I intently listened in. I don’t recall many of the details now, but one part has stuck with me. There was an animation with a girl looking at her body in the mirror as larger, then zooming out to find she was actually emaciated. I was somewhat shocked by this. I also understood feeling that way about your reflection.

I was born with pectus excavatum, a deformity of the chest wall where the sternum is sunken in. I began to feel self-conscious about it when I was just around 5 years old. It was the first time I ever hated my body. I had surgery to correct it in 8th grade, but it both semi-helped and hurt me. I gained weight very quickly due to less stress on my heart/body post-surgery. My disgust with my body shifted to the weight I had gained. It felt pretty terrible to be forced to buy new clothes when I was the same size for so long.

All of these feelings and the whole PE experience meant I felt connected to the girl in the video. My thoughts weren’t entirely distorted at that point, though. I would consider them pre-ED thought patterns. I disliked my body. That was the case for over half my life and my “normal,” so it didn’t concern me. I wanted to lose the weight I had gained and go back to the comfort of my old number. I probably spent a little more time staring at my reflection than I should have. In my mind, nothing about this was unhealthy or wrong. Most girls I knew would say things negatively about their appearances sometimes. It was completely the norm.

Even as I compared my struggles to someone with anorexia, I never imagined that would be my life in less than a year after seeing the presentation. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if I instead took the class junior year. Would I have recognized the red flags then? I actually did take AP psychology which contained a mental illness unit, but that didn’t give me the same shock/connection to anorexia like before. We glazed over the diagnoses. This only increased the belief that I was fine and an eating disorder definitely can’t be something I struggle with.

If I could go back and talk to 15 year old me, I would tell her to pay attention to mental health and well-being, look for help if she needed it, remember what symptoms can show that it’s not all okay, and share about her body image even if it doesn’t seem as severe as the girl in the video. I would give her a hug and tell her she was loved through the silent struggle. I know that none of this could have prevented me from slipping into anorexia, but I think even the awareness would have changed how long I went without treatment. It’s also a little surreal to realize that around 6 years ago I knew pretty much nothing about eating disorders when it’s now taken over much of my life.

Compliance is an odd thing

In my recent post, I talk about being “that person” and the lengths I’ve gone to in order to make sure my struggle isn’t seen. Thursday, I realized just how much compliance ties into this.

Art every Thursday has followed the exact same pattern for nearly a month now: work on art projects for an hour, be reminded about needing my supplement at 2, pour into glass and show empty container, drink the damn thing, show empty mug. I’m used to it. I expect it. I do it without a peep.

I was pretty surprised last week when the art therapist thanked me for being so compliant with doing my supplements. I really don’t think I deserve recognition for this because I so strongly feel I need to do it. There’s not even the option of refusing for me (related mostly to being “that person” and perfectionism in general). Honestly the fact that I legitimately do have a choice is super foreign.

This wasn’t fully the case when I was first put on weight gain protocol. I argued and wanted to refuse. I would sometimes sit with a supplement in session for nearly the whole hour, not even looking at it. I eventually gave in because being told to leave IOP is slightly scarier than taking a supplement.

I’ve come to a point of acceptance. I know every Tuesday and Thursday will most likely bring a supplement. I can pretend all I want that it won’t happen or give into Ed’s promise that I certainly gained 5 pounds over a couple days. That’s BS and I know it. I hate this more than anything, but I’m starting to think that maybe my team is right. What if this truly isn’t an okay weight for me? What if this magic number in my head Ed has truly is unhealthy? It’s hard to know at this point. That means I have to blindly trust the process and my team (not an easy feat by any means!).

Does all of this mean I’m making progress? In some ways I think not. Compliance isn’t something I’m choosing because I agree with it. I deal with the supplements, even if the only reasons behind it include not being “that person,” putting on a brave face, avoiding being kicked out of IOP, and appearing to be a perfect person in recovery. Still, these reasons aren’t entirely strong enough to make supplementing my only option. I’m not being threatened to go inpatient or something. I could choose to refuse every single one and not care about treatment at all. I do care about my treatment, though. I don’t always feel like working on recovery, but I show up. I do the hard things. Right now, that means supplementing and every time I’m compliant can be seen as a small step in the right direction.

Hair

I’ve been debating typing out this post. I haven’t really talked about it much either, because I feel like I’ll be seen as vain. If not that, maybe that falsely stereotypical perception of people with eating disorders – that we’re all obsessed with our looks in a way that’s self-absorbed. Yet here I am, writing it anyways. My blog is a place of authenticity and vulnerability. I think it’s important that I stretch myself and share how I’m feeling. Maybe it will even help connect to someone else.

The main part of my appearance that I’ve ever liked is my hair. I love how long it has been for the last 7 or 8 years. Mine is unique in my family since it’s much lighter than my parents and brother. It has a nice wave to it. I don’t think it’s the most fabulous hair ever or even close. I certainly don’t like some aspects, like how it won’t hold a curl. I pretty much have no clue how to style it. I still get caught in the comparison game, just like many other aspects of myself and appearance. This is simply one of the few parts I can look in the mirror and feel okay about. That’s changed now.

I want to cry every time I go to put my hair up or brush through it with my fingers. Looking in the mirror is hard for a whole new reason now. My hair is falling out more than it has in my entire time battling an eating disorder. In the mirror I see the thinnest hair. When I make a bun it’s incredibly small considering my hair comes halfway down my back. If I put it up, I watch it separate apart some so you can see my scalp. All of this has truly brought me sorrow lately.

know my hair can and will grow back over time; however, it’s not going to happen until I provide my body with enough nourishment. No amount of biotin or special shampoo is going to fix it. I’ve tried to do damage control this way but it just isn’t working anymore.

This isn’t some easy fix. Replenishing my body could happen in a short amount of time (like in residential), but I won’t see any change for a long while after that. I can’t just eat well for one week and expect it to make this better. That’s terrifying.

Oddly enough, this is a reason to recover. I want to feel good about how I look in one small way. Feeling more disgusted than usual when I look in the mirror is only hurting me. It’s also the one way to like my reflection in the mirror that comes from recovery, not staying in the ED.

Thinking about this situation has given some insight. I tend to ignore many of the physical symptoms most likely associated with the eating disorder, but my hair is not one I can escape. It is proof every single time I see my reflection. It is a reminder that things seriously need to change. I want to be disgusted by it because that means I’ll have motivation to change. Hair may seem trivial compared to everything else I need in recovery, but it counts. At this point, any way possible I can get inspired to fight the ED is a good one.

I am not a great friend.

No, this is not a self-depreciating post. Instead, I am objectively focusing on the facts and reasons why I could be a much better friend.

When I think of the qualities I would like in a friend, I go to past or current relationships and what made them meaningful. One of the most important aspects of friendship to me is that we are there for each other: to listen, give advice, motivate, and sometimes provide tough love. I don’t want to feel like I’m always taking, nor do I enjoy feeling like all is being dumped on me. There’s a balance that allows for a healthier friendship where each person is cared for. Another quality I value is honesty and authenticity. I want to feel safe to open up and be accepted for who I am. Spending quality time together is also important, even if that just means Skype calls every once in a while. This is the part of friendship that makes me feel connected and happy. It’s truly a blessing to get together with others. Consistency is an aspects that I’ve had trouble with in the past. I remember my mom describing someone in elementary school as a “fair weather friend,” someone who is there when it’s convenient for her or when no one else is around. This only leads to me feeling alone, which is pretty shitty when you expect to be close to a friend. Respect matters in any relationship. There are various areas where this comes into play, from viewpoints to lifestyle. I want to note that I absolutely do not expect anyone ever to meet all of these qualities. They aren’t full on requirements truly. I have never found someone perfect which is 10000% okay. There is no need to be perfect for someone to be an amazing friend.

Now that I’ve explained some of what I look for, it’s time to talk about how I often fail to meet these areas. Specifically, I am the worst friend when I am deep into the eating disorder, like where I am currently. I am unable to invest in the other person when I’m struggling so much. If I do end up sharing, I feel like a burden because of the sheer amount of stuff I have to unpack. I am rarely honest or real about what I’m going through. There are some people who know, but others I stay away from it entirely. This makes things more surface level and impersonal. I get that not every person is going to be right to share with, but I think as a whole I need to work on vulnerability more. I isolate all the time. I haven’t even spent an afternoon in the library or anything like that. I start feeling pretty low about myself and also avoid any situation with a .2% chance of food being involved. I have little consistency. I can go weeks or longer without so much as a hello text. Usually I don’t initiate contact, which I’m sure is frustrating on the other side. One area I don’t lack in regardless is respect. It has a lot of value whether I’m in a bad place or not.

I don’t want to use the ED as a scapegoat. No matter how much I’m struggling, it isn’t the sole cause of any negative consequences. The thing that actually affects my ability to be a good friend is my mental state. If I am withdrawn, depressed, anxious, and full of guilt/shame, how could I give to someone else?  Just like when I am physically sick, mental and emotional exhaustion takes a toll on my relationships. Some of this is specific to the ED, like avoiding social gatherings, but the rest just isn’t.

I don’t want to consider myself a bad person because of the situation I’ve been in. I know this isn’t the real me. My values are completely the opposite of how I’m acting. If I can work through these things and be healthier, I will give more into my friendships. It happened when I was further into recovery before and I believe I’ll get there again.

“That person”

Before I start this post, I wanted to give a little clarification (that will make more sense as you read). I in no way, at all, feel that those who are “that person” struggling are bad people, weak, or anything else negative. I have compassion and empathy for them, and I get how hard it can be. When I’m talking about how I feel being “that person” is a negative thing, this is solely my perception of MYSELF. I’ll explain that more, but I just want to clarify how these thoughts/feelings/judgments I’ll be sharing don’t apply to others. It’s a very personal fear.

“Emily, it’s time to get your Ensure”

“All of my clients are kicking butt, but it doesn’t sound like you have been”

“I’m doing pretty well.” “Me too!” “How about you Emily?”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to eat with the group and have more support?”

These are some of many blurbs I wish I never had to hear.

I have had 7 supplements in the past 4 weeks at IOP. Four of those have been in group because I couldn’t manage an entire lunch plus supplement at one time. I hate it.

Sometimes I wish things were like when I was in PHP the first time around. For whatever reason, I felt very comfortable in my struggle then. I wasn’t concerned with being this perfect person. I allowed others to see my struggle. I didn’t finish meals because I couldn’t always handle that at this point. I didn’t for nearly two weeks of lunches. Despite all of this, I never felt embarrassed or wrong because of it. There were others doing way better than me, some around the same, and a few having a really hard time. I didn’t pay attention to that, though. The only way I judged my progress (somewhat) was when it came time to meet with the psychiatrist, and that’s only because he held my fate. If I didn’t improve I would be forced inpatient. Luckily, I kept making progress and that never came up again. I felt proud of myself at the end and that was it.

I don’t know if I was naive or truly didn’t care or something else, but the next time I found myself in treatment yielded different results. I was inpatient the last week of summer before I moved in to Calvin. I knew I had basically zero time and I wanted to make the best of it, since I figured a week IP would be a cure-all. I decided I absolutely was not allowed to refuse any Ensure, which quickly became never be offered one. My reasoning for this was valid: there was a serious threat to my schooling if the doctor felt I wasn’t making progress. It was a mix between the motivation for school and drive to just get out of there that helped me that week. I don’t think I fully realized what changes my decisions then made.

Fast forward to residential round 1, November 2015. I went in with a completely different attitude. I (falsely, oh so falsely) believed that being “good” was going to get me moved up levels/further into my recovery. It was then that I decided I would never do anything that could come with a consequence: not finish a meal, get caught using a behavior, failing to complete a snack pass, etc. Again, some of this came from a valid and reasonable place. I did want recovery and I was putting in the hard work. I even earned the nickname “Challenge Queen.” My drive for perfection mostly helped my recovery to a point, and I never did get offered a supplement or forced to do a chain analysis.

A year went by and then I began coming to groups then IOP at my current treatment center. I’m not sure why, but this only increased the shame when I showed I was struggling in any capacity. There were countless meals/snacks where I was having a really hard time but looked fine to everyone. Everyone assumed I was doing okay because I never said otherwise. One time that stands out is when we had a random food challenge. It wasn’t a snack or anything, but we were each given a bowl with peanut butter, a couple of apple slices, and some pieces of chocolate. I was terrified. I hadn’t eaten peanut butter in a long time. Instead of reaching out for support, I choked it down. I finished a little before everyone else. One person was particularly outwardly struggling. I remember her saying something like “I’m the only one having a hard time.” This was far from the truth, but I couldn’t own up to that.

This summer I tried to let go. I challenged myself to be more open about how I’m really doing. I knew that my recovery depends on it. No one will know what’s going on unless I tell them. It took a lot of work and vulnerability, but I slowly began to speak up. Much of the time this was with staff and not the other girls, but that’s still a huge step for me. By the end of the summer I was no longer afraid to be “that person,” and I truly wasn’t. I found strength in recovery. I didn’t struggle like before, so I had no reason to be dishonest. I felt safe to share. I am truly proud of myself for how much I faced my fears of being imperfect.

I have been terrified of being “that person” again for a few months now. I think it stems from how much I’ve slipped backwards when I *should* be far into recovery. I don’t want to show that I’m struggling. I avoid the topic if at all possible and I’ve flat-out lied to so many people. I find it hard to share the truth in a group setting (although I can with my treatment team). Often times what I’ll talk about in group one hour after therapy is a completely watered-down version of the truth. That way, I don’t bring attention to myself. I can pretend and fit in with how others are doing.

Drinking my supplement in art the past 4 weeks has cracked open my facade. No one is given these just because. It’s an obvious clue that someone isn’t doing the best in recovery. I’m embarrassed, ashamed, disgusted with myself. I’ve wanted to cry every single time, but that would draw attention to me, too. So I sit there and pretend that it’s all fine, hoping no one else will notice.

I have been terrified of what consequences would come if I dare spoke my truth. Wouldn’t that just expose my brokenness and lead to judgments? While some EDs desire to be the sickest in the room, I am the exact opposite. I would rather no one know anything and keep the disordered parts all to myself. I hold in a lot of guilt and shame this way.

In order to put off this image of doing well, I am ignoring some of my core values: namely honesty, connection, and authenticity. Without exposing some of my truth, I am choosing to hide behind my fears of being “that person.” This is only harming me. I don’t need to share every intimate detail of how I’m doing, but I think it would help to at least  open up a tiny bit.

First, I need to let go of my belief that perfection is necessary in recovery. I don’t need to have it all together. Why else would I come to these groups? I’m not there for ~6-8 hours a week for fun, but to grow and get help. I can only receive as much as I decide to.

If I don’t judge others when they’re experiencing what I am so afraid of, why am I holding myself to these standards? Why am I so convinced that the truth is going to prove I’m a terrible person? It’s time for me to challenge this. I can leave space to struggle. It’s okay to be “that person” sometimes.

Dealing with disappointment in clinical

Monday, I got to observe a cesarean section. I saw a tiny little peanut enter this world. It was messy and involved more fluids/tugging than I would have thought, but the second baby girl was out none of the “yuck” mattered. The tone of the room shifted as the nurses and doctors talked about how long her toes were, her perfect lips, and her curly hair. It was amazing that there was suddenly this new human being, the one her parents had dreamed about for months. The miracle of birth and experiencing so many new things should have been more than enough energy and excitement to get me through the day. The nurse I was assigned to actually gave me the tasks of 15 min vitals checks, the hourly assessment, and generally helping out in any way possible. My confidence grew because she could trust me and I was competent. That stopped once another nurse told my professor the patient was no longer wanting a student (aka me) to be a part of her care.

I wanted to cry. I didn’t consider any of the million reasons she could have made that decision. Instead, I decided that it was ME. I did something wrong, so wrong that she didn’t even tell me herself that she wanted to be left alone. I was a failure of a nurse. I am not competent. I annoyed her and said the wrong things. I didn’t make her feel comfortable. I was too peppy or shy or awkward. I was so focused on this belief that I had no room to consider other options, even when evidence arose.

I can separate this out better now, so I want to do that. I don’t need to believe these automatic negative thoughts just because they exist and seem true in the moment.

Evidence against these beliefs: my nurse continued to teach me and involved me in med preparation, my professor telling me that I had done a great job today, doing super well on charting and everything, positive responses from patients in the past.

One thing that really helped snap me out of it was a conversation with my mom. I called her, like almost every day, to let her know how things went. I told her about the incident and how down I felt about it. She immediately fought back with other reasons that the mom would request me to leave: emotional, sick of being at the hospital, tired, cranky, had visitors, didn’t want to be touched any more than necessary, wanted to avoid the questionnaire I mentioned. Those few minutes we spent talking about it helped me to realize that there wasn’t just one logical explanation. I’ll never know for sure why she made the decision, but I have to accept that I’m not some terrible person no matter what her reasoning was.

I have to remind myself that I am a student and I will make mistakes, tons of em. That’s why I’m a student. I am learning, not just the book stuff. I have to apply that to real people and situations, which is way different. I’ll have good days and bad, but I have already learned from when things haven’t gone well in the past. I am going to be a nurse one day and I won’t get there without stumbling because it’s part of the process.

I don’t want that small part of my day to linger and ruin the experience I had. Spending time in guilt and shame that I don’t deserve only brings more self-defeating behaviors. I have to move on and keep going.