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!

More than just a bad choice

*this was written almost entirely last week but I’m just getting around to posting it

It has been a day, and I am just now coming up for air at nearly 2 am. There was a lot of good, and I’ve been overly focusing on absolutely everything BUT what I should be. I’m ready to do the work and unpack a little.

Exactly what happened doesn’t matter. I don’t want the specific behaviors/overall situation as the focus. Sure, that matters to an extent. I can discuss that part with my team or not at all. Right now, though, I want to look at what this all says about my recovery.

This morning started off well. I got to sleep in and I was really excited about seeing my friend (now coworker!) and then suffering together through an orientation thing. I started thinking about the day which of course included meal planning. That’s when the ED voice started to grow. By the time I had to leave and grab food, i was in a constant battle over what to do: choose Ed or recovery. Ed won. A flood of different emotions came. It’s always like that with behaviors. The ED side is prideful and euphoric, when deep down I know it’s only hurting me. I have a hard time knowing how to feel with so many conflicting thoughts.

Once I returned to my home, I could have completed a behavior chain, dusted myself off, and kept going. Instead I continued to be pulled in Ed’s direction. It wasnt about one bad decision anymore, but all of the consequences that piggybacked off of it.

The entire day has involved at minimum background noise from the ED. Many points brought overbearing thoughts, like around dinner and towards the end of tonight.

Ed promises that he will shut up for a while if you only do xyz. That’s not the truth for me. Restriction and behaviors only leads to more of the same. I have to get out of this cycle before it ends with me going back to treatment. What happened today cannot repeat again and again. Tomorrow, I will fight this more and be stronger. I will feel the fear and do it anyways, as one of my favorite therapists always says.

I made it! – a little update

As a rule, I genuinely dislike taking breaks from blogging. I love to write. I love how this allows me to get my thoughts out. I love that I can reach other people. I love being vulnerable and sharing bits of my story. Sometimes, though, all of  that needs to be put to the side. The past couple weeks have been one of those times (for good reason).

The last post I made was on May 7. That was the start of one of the craziest weeks of my life. It consisted of: finishing a 6 page research paper in around 24 hours, writing and rewriting our last big journal for clinicals, attending IOP, shadowing a lactation consultant, packing up and cleaning my entire dorm (all last-minute, of course!), still making it to support group, studying, and trying not to lose my mind. I took my exams the next Monday and Tuesday, aced my maternal newborn ATI, and finally left campus at 6 on Tuesday.

I thought I would have time and energy to blog right away, but it wasn’t the case. I have napped more days than not since being home. I hate it but know my body is probably trying to tell me something. My brain feels like absolute mush, which definitely doesn’t help. I have all the ideas in the world, but without energy or focus I end up sitting at a blank screen most of the time. That’s finally changing because of work. I’ve always been able to think about different ideas/posts when I’m otherwise preoccupied. Driving is a top offender for this. I’ll have some brilliant idea but it slowly fades out by the time I have access to a means of jotting it down. Luckily, I have found time to type a note on my phone or even write all over my arm to remember bits and pieces of what I want to say.

Although I’ve found some inspiration while working, being there so much since coming home has left me exhausted. It’s been all kinds of crazy and stressful – from difficult requests to long hours and staying late more nights than not (I was officially scheduled 3 hours last week and worked 5 days/20 some hours). I come home and immediately sink into the recliner/my hammock. Naps and staying home are a big part of my life currently.

In the short almost two weeks since school ended, I’ve learned more and more that recovery is going to be the true full time job this summer. My team has already been on me about increasing exchanges, a meal plan change (that I’m expected to give a try..), weight gain protocol, and generally making strides away from the ED. They also share the beautiful future I could have without Ed. It’s nice to be reminded of the end goal because I can know what I’m fighting for. I don’t often see what could be when I’m in a struggling place.

I am so, so ready to be back in this space. I have lots more to share soon, but I just wanted to give a quick update to start off!

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.

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.

OB clinical eve!

This is my 4th first day of clinical experience. Every time has brought this crazy anticipatory/excited/terrified feeling that’s somewhere between the night before Christmas and a root canal. Currently leaning a tad more towards the latter, aha. This has a ton to do with the fact that I’m dealing with postpartum women because A) adults after only having kids for 2 months and B) the awkwardness of areas that need assessing.

I truly am freaking out about a lot of the assessment stuff. The acronym BUBBLEHEP is intimidating as anything and includes all of the areas we need to look at with moms. I have this terrible vision of everything being incredibly awkward when I have to ask her invasive questions or perform exams. I’m afraid that I’ll screw up, break down, and cry.

Excitement, on the other hand, is very palpable as well. I can just imagine how squishy and sweet the babies will be. I love babies and specifically newborns so much. I get to be a part of some of the happiest times for moms/families. I’ll be able to teach on a variety of skills and information that can be invaluable to a new mom. Starting now, I will see if OB nursing is something I could find a passion for.

Tomorrow (and the 4 weeks following) is going to challenge me. I want to push through to learn as much as possible. I need to use my voice and ask the hard questions. My professor will be there to support and guide me. I have the nurses too. One regret I had from peds is how little I interacted with my patients some weeks. I don’t want that mistake again now. I have to savor each patient interaction (especially when that includes my littlest patients).

I feel so honored that I am getting a look at new life: the sweet hours or days old babies and their incredibly strong mamas who brought them into this world. I’m not just there to complete my assessments and move on. I can be an educator and help mom learn how to care for herself and her baby. I can give her support if she’s overwhelmed and help in any way possible. I can make sure baby and mom are both doing well throughout the entire day. I will devote my day to one mom and her baby and make sure they both get the best care possible.

I have so much more to say and I’ll try to edit it in later, but for now I’m leaving it here. If I fall asleep in 10 seconds immediately have around 4.5 hours of sleep. Time is most definitely ticking.