“Kinda miserable”

As I was meeting with my dietitian on Monday, she ended up asking me how I think this really is going. I knew she didn’t want my BS “okay” or “pretty good” answer. There is no fooling her. (The woman reads my Recovery Record logs where I write what I’m actually feeling/eating, so she definitely can see through it all.)

I thought for a minute and ultimately landed on “kinda miserable.” I only realized after thinking about it for a couple days that this too is a pretty downplayed answer.

When I think of miserable, I start to imagine some situation so bad you would do anything to get out of it. Miserable is how I felt when I had swine flu, lost my grandpa, went through a hard breakup, and had my Nuss procedure. Those times in my life held lots of physical or emotional discomfort, to the point where even thinking about it brings a shudder. I would never choose to repeat those situations and many others I consider bad enough to call miserable.

So why then, did I use “kinda miserable” to describe how I’m feeling now?

I guess the miserable part fits to an extent. I did just provide K with a list of signs and symptoms of starvation I’m experiencing, and those are not exactly fun (unless being cold with bruises all over and thinning hair is your idea of a good time). It is definitely bothersome dealing with ED thoughts all day long. Sometimes I just wish that I could eat like “normal” people and not be so bothered.

At the same time, the eating disorder is 1000% providing me good things, too. If that wasn’t the case I probably could have recovered years ago. I think that’s where the “kinda” part comes through. I’m not sure if its more me being in denial or what, but I cannot say that I am fully miserable in the ED. I’m just not.

My answer here may not be the full truth, because I am not at a point where I’m willing to completely denounce the ED. Maybe I need more time. I can imagine my team asking “what will be enough, then?” to which I have no clue. Right now, it is enough to admit that sometimes, in some ways following the eating disorder has brought me discomfort.


I wanted to start with a catch up post, given that I have missed nearly 6 months of my life in this absence from blogging. I do plan on an update or two, but for now this was on my mind and I needed to write about that. I’ll be back with more soon!

In vs going through: the power of wording

I often pay special attention to words and how the choice of them can easily change meaning. I love writing, so this makes sense of course.

I’ve heard many ways others and treatment providers talk about recovery. Some say they are recovered, working on recovery, trying to recover, in recovery, and, most recently, a girl mentioned going through recovery. Those last two seem very different as I’ve thought more about it.

Being in recovery brings a picture of someone running a marathon. There may be twists and turns, hills, valleys, areas where they’ll need to walk, stations to fill up with water or go to the bathroom. What they’re doing takes tons of energy. They have to care for themselves in order to continue. Sometimes they feel like giving up, but they persist anyways. The end is a celebration, whether they PRed or took way longer than expected.

Going through recovery sounds like someone stuck in the woods and trying to get out. Maybe they have a guide or GPS, or perhaps they’re all alone. The ending isn’t defined. They may not have prepared for this at all, but they’re stuck and trying anyways. If not, they could be in the woods forever.

As I think of these two situations, I can dissect where I am. I’ve said many times that I’m in recovery. It doesn’t necessarily feel right, especially not when I’ve been specifically asked how long I’ve been there. Technically I’ve spent nearly 4 years in varying levels of treatment, but does that mean I was in recovery the whole time?

At this moment i think I’m much closer to the “going through” option. I feel so lost at times. I know there is a life outside the woods, but I don’t always fully believe it. I have tools, skills, supports, my team, IOP, etc but I choose not to use these things much of the time. It also makes me think of going through the motions of recovery which I certainly am. Therapy, challenge lunch, dietitian, work, IOP, work, repeat. Sometimes it feels like I’m just waiting for the next day of treatment and doing no work in between.

I want to be more in recovery, not just going through it. I am tired of being where I’m at. To me, taking that active step would mean choosing to work hard, putting (real) effort in, and remembering what life I’m fighting for.

So a few questions for anyone who reads this: what do you think about my interpretation? Have you considering what wording with recovery changes? Where do you feel you’re at? Also if you have other explanations/meanings I would love to hear your insights!

If only…

I wasn’t born anxious. My cousin never lived with us. I loved myself. No one teased me growing up. My aunt didn’t constantly call me “skinny minnie.” I never self-harmed. I didn’t have pectus excavatum or the Nuss procedure to correct it. The media was less focused on the thin ideal. I started therapy years earlier. Someone noticed that there was something very, very wrong. My depression didn’t exist. I had more self-confidence and higher self-esteem. My family didn’t have a history of mental illness. I never had GI issues and lost weight because of it. No one told me that my chest was weird or that I have the body of a gymnast. My family was different. I had more support. I didn’t push myself so hard in everything. I leaned more on my faith. I never dated my ex. I opened up more.  I lived in a different school district. I had more friends. I cared a little more about my own well-being. I had better body image. I wasn’t a major perfectionist. I never signed up for early college. I reached out to someone, anyone.

These things didn’t happen, because then, maybe I wouldn’t have developed an eating disorder.

For a long time, I wanted an answer, a cause. I longed to have this “aha” moment in therapy so I could finally make some sense out of it.

I’ve realized that eating disorders don’t have just one cause. My anorexia makes sense. Because I didn’t love myself, I had no problem harming myself. Perfectionism fed into the need to count every single calorie. I had no healthy coping skills, so using ED behaviors instead was much easier than dealing with emotions and stressors.

When my brain had all of these things coming at it, the response was to turn to food, exercise, restriction, and numbers. Someone else in the same situation may have gone down the path of addiction, or maybe they would have come through just fine.

I’ve often asked why – why did this have to happen to me? Why couldn’t I be strong enough to deal with everything? Why can’t I just be normal? Why can’t I get over this? Why am I so messed up?

I no longer ask these questions, and part of this is because I’ve begun to accept my eating disorder. It happened. I struggle. I can grow through it. There is nothing I could have done differently. It’s okay that I didn’t take more positive steps. I am not a failure because I got sick. This doesn’t need to be the most important, defining aspect of who I am. I will win. I am strong enough to do it.

Boycott the Before – Why transformation posts aren’t all that helpful

We are accustomed to seeing before and after photos – in weight loss commercials, on personal Facebook/Instagram posts, and pages advertising the next miracle drug/diet/magic fat-shrinking wrap. Most of these involve a before body that is “less desirable” in many ways (“fatter,” less fit, larger, etc) juxtaposed to the “better” body picture in which the person is always smiling. This is so common in the media that it’s easy to glance over and not realize what effects it may have on us. While I could go on about this more, I am instead focusing on a different sort of body comparison: before and after eating disorder recovery posts. This is especially important to talk about considering the numerous posts I’ve seen during NEDA week.

Full disclosure, I was one of these people a few years back. I felt that if I could post a picture of my lowest weight and where I was then it would prove my recovery and validate my struggle. I now realize this isn’t the case, and I would like to encourage others to reconsider the perceived benefits that come from these posts.

I do not feel adding in examples will do good for anyone, so I will instead describe the typical images you may come across. On the left is typically a clearly malnourished and emaciated person, sometimes one who looks more like a skeleton than a human being. The right will show the same person but with added pounds and a “normal weight.” There will be smiles, much like with the weight-loss versions, and a caption that explains their recovery and how much better they feel at the new weight.

I am in no way trying to bash those who make posts like these (remember, I did this too!), just give a little insight on why I believe they can be harmful. A quick rundown on how this can be problematic:

  1. Promotes the belief that eating disorders and recovery are both defined by weight. I have run into this countless times before. Many people are not very well informed on eating disorders in general. There are many myths about the correlation between BMI/weight and how they relate to eating disorders. One is that you need to be underweight to suffer from an eating disorder. Considering just one eating disorder diagnosis has a weight requirement, this simply isn’t the case. Naturally, this thinking leads to weight restoration being proof of recovery. If you’ve gained back the weight, you must be cured! Personally, I have struggled at a pretty large range of sizes/weights. My sickest period in thoughts, behaviors, and overall state of mind weren’t at my smallest. I actually haven’t been underweight for a majority of my eating disorder. You simply cannot judge how well someone with an ED is doing by looking at how their body has changed.
  2. Comparison, comparison, comparison. If there’s one thing eating disorders are great at, it’s comparing in nearly everything. The before and afters open up additional dialogue for the ED to run with. Was I smaller than them? Why did I have to gain so much more? Who is the sickest? The answers to these questions may lead thoughts into a pretty dangerous situation.
  3. Too much focus on the physical side of these mental disorders. Quite obviously, changing eating habits, exercise, and use of behaviors all tend to have an effect on the body. Often times this is a visible marker for the eating disorder. While it must be noted that this is the case, adding more emphasis is not helpful. Having “sick v recovered” photos out there magnifies the outward signs of EDs, while we should be focusing on psychological warfare that those struggling experience. This reduces a multifaceted illness to a superficial view.
  4. The before as a goal instead of a cautionary tale. Some viewing these images will flip the entire meaning of them around. They will idolize the “before” as something to work towards. The hopes of a smaller body become possible, as long as they follow disordered eating and mirror the opposite of how the transformation occurred.

There is a movement that I absolutely love and support called Boycott the Before. This week, #BoycottTheBefore, is meant to change what eating disordered recovery is seen as: a mental change, not just the physical one (that may or may not be present!). I love that their aim isn’t to shame anyone who posts transformation photos, but simply educate how they don’t show the full picture. (Side note: I really support and have posted a transformation that was just of my face before and after recovery because you could tell I was miserable based on my expression, bags under my eyes, etc.) I think it’s so important to emphasize all aspects of eating disorder recovery. The mental and emotional healing that takes place is for the most part way more important than the physical side of things.

If you are in recovery, I challenge you to consider posting something this week to show that there is so much more to recovery than weight!

Here’s mine:

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The first time I started treatment and recovery, I remember thinking that if I just gained back some weight and no longer “looked sick” I would be recovered. I was so wrong. I haven’t been at or near my lowest weight since the very beginning of my eating disorder (5ish yrs ago), but since then I’ve seen way more struggle. I have been a walking, talking eating disorder with no real Emily present. Yes, my journey from sick to healthy, and relapse to recovery many times has included some weight gain. That part truly doesn’t matter, though. What’s the most important are the mental and emotional changes I’ve gone through. I am way more than the physical part of my transformation. 
I’m so happy to be a part of the #BoycottTheBefore movement. The goal here is to focus on where you are in recovery and the triumphs you’ve had without posting a before/after transformation photo. It’s not that those are wrong to post, but more so the importance of opening up a conversation about ALL aspects of recovery. 
I go into some more detail about this in a post on my blog too. {Link in bio}
I hope that by sharing a little bit of my story and thoughts I can promote awareness about and the truth behind eating disorders. #edrecovery #edawareness

NEDA Week 2018 – my anorexia struggle (it’s not what you think)

I really love the theme Let’s Get Real because it opens up the opportunity for each individual story to be shared. Every person who struggles with an eating disorder is unique, yet we can also relate to one another. My story, along with everyone who has ever struggled with an eating disorder, is important and needs to be told. Today I’ll be doing it in a little bit different way by sharing some stereotypes about anorexia that I don’t fit into.

I have anorexia, but…

  • I’m not underweight, emaciated, or anywhere close to it. In the 5+ years I’ve had this illness, I was only underweight for around 8-10 months. I came into treatment for the first time with a lower BMI, however; since then I’ve been in the normal range. I went to residential twice without even losing a substantial amount of weight because the outside representation doesn’t matter as much as how you’re struggling on the inside.
  • I don’t feel overly affected by the media. Do I think that what we see in the media influences self-esteem, diet culture, judgment of bodies, etc? Absolutely. Has it played a huge part in my life? No. I do compare myself to people in advertisements, but that happens as I’m walking around campus or the grocery store too. I know enough about how manipulated these photos can be that I basically just take them as false and made up.
  • You cannot tell just by looking at me. I don’t have the “typical anorexic body.” I don’t think anyone would be able to tell I have an eating disorder by analyzing my appearance. I may be thinner as behaviors increased, but I am nowhere near the image most think of when they picture anorexia. I am not alone in this. A huge number of those with anorexia and eating disorders in general don’t look like they have an eating disorder.
  • I have never used laxatives, diet pills, etc. I know many people who have turned to these measures in order to lose weight. It’s just an area where the eating disorder hasn’t fixated on. I definitely have felt that pressure, though.
  • I haven’t needed (or come close to needing) a feeding tube. There are some who wear their feeding tube as some special badge you’ll only receive if you’re a “very good anorexic/bulimic.” I’ve seen countless people and treatment friends who use this as profiles or brag about it. There have definitely been times that I felt like a fraud because I hadn’t been sick enough to receive one. I can see now that being malnourished enough to need artificial feedings isn’t something to be proud of, and I am more than 100% okay with not having one.
  • I’m not on the brink of death. More than any other eating disorder, I see a ton of images and stereotyping that someone with anorexia has to in a danger zone. In reality, complete organ failure and other fatal conditions don’t actually show up until a very critical point. Most people, like myself, are relatively medically stable.
  • I do not enjoy being this way. Eating disorders are often glamorized. I have been told that I must have great discipline in order to lose weight the way I did. In reality, anorexia has taken over my life and made me feel empty. When I’m deep in the ED I become a shell of myself. I would never wish this on anyone or encourage them to treat their body this way. It is absolutely miserable, expect for the brief moments where ED praises me for how “well” I’m doing. Anorexia is not just a way to effectively lose weight and bask in your shrinking body. It is a slow and painful suicide.

Christmas/Holidays

First off, Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays! I hope that this time is filled with love, joy, friends/family, and goodness. I know that is not always the case, especially for those of you who struggle with an eating disorder or mental health in general. It’s okay if this is a hard time for you. Please, take time for yourself and take care of your needs, even if that means leaving a get-together early, avoiding one completely, or retreating to your room when people are over. Treating yourself well and focusing on your needs is so much more important than pleasing others. Know that you aren’t alone.

I’ve found some very good articles that I think are perfect for this time of year. I hope that these will help you ❤

What does a hard week look like in post-(lots of)treatment recovery?

This has been an extremely difficult two weeks or so for me. It has brought back old thought patterns, urges, and behaviors. I think a huge part of the “why” is stress. My first two nursing exams were this past week. I also have worked more than normal, so studying kind of took a backseat. Adding to this, I’ve had some pretty terrible body image, little to no hunger, and general frustration with food. These things are not an excuse to return to Ed, but it certainly is a factor.

While it can be disheartening that I am back in this space, I am (attempting to) treat myself the way I would treat my best friend. Recovery isn’t perfect and I need to accept that. I deserve grace. If I sit here and go “woe is me,” I will be stuck and feel more hopeless/helpless than ever.

Before, I had zero tools for effective coping. I turned to the eating disorder again and again and again. It was never “I can do this and it will take care of these urges in a healthy way.” Now, I do have a variety of coping skills to use when I need them, everything from mindfulness to journaling to using my kinetic sand. The problem currently resides in the fact that I’m not using them. While I am past the learning phase, application can be difficult too. It comes down to motivation at this point, which has obviously been lacking some.

One thing that I didn’t necessarily expect is how scary this all is. I am on the cusp of choosing recovery and getting back on track or continuing this downward spiral. It’s only a slip right now, leading towards a lapse. While neither of those are great, I’m not in a huge danger zone. I am leaps and bounds above where I was last fall or before residential. This doesn’t need to become a relapse, but it does remind me of the beginning of each one I’ve had.

For me, the main and most important thing now vs. pre-treatment is that I have a strong desire to turn it around. I don’t want to sit here and continue fading away. I have reasons to recover that truly matter (and aren’t all extrinsic). I have hope. I know my strengths. I may not have constant support like in treatment, but I can do this. I am not alone. I don’t need to recovery alone. That’s a beautiful thing.

To come out of this, I must apply what’s worked before. I haven’t had to really use these things in a long while, but now is time to bring them back out. Some pro-recovery things I will do from here on out:

  • Utilize my DBT corner when I’m having urges or very strong emotions
  • Phone a friend – the support I receive is invaluable
  • Journal, journal, and more journaling. It is something I need to do every day, whether I’m in a rough patch or not
  • Eat.the.food. Mechanical eating may be the only way I can go about this and that’s okay short-term. I can’t expect to continue recovery if I’m slowly starving myself. Also, that just fuels the eating disorder even more
  • Listen to and be honest with my treatment team and myself. This is huge. My team are not mind readers. It’s impossible for them to help me if I’m not telling the truth. I won’t get anywhere this way. What starts out as little lies quickly become complete denial. I start to convince myself of the “truth” as well.
  • Practice self-care. This is the last thing I want to do when I am in the ED/anxiety/depression, but it also has helped to bring me out of negative periods as well. Just 5-10 minutes of treating myself like I am worthy it will make a difference.

It isn’t easy just because I’ve been here before, but being here before means that I know how to break free. I am ready to do so.