“How do you have an eating disorder?”

It was my first night inpatient at Forest View. I was more than terrified. I stood nervously in the hallway near the nurses station. Why I was standing there I can no longer remember, although it may have been waiting for the 6th, 7th, 8th, or 9th blanket. Maybe I was afraid of being alone in such a scary place. I don’t honestly know because I was completely stuck in the ED, my mind fogged by all of the restriction from the majority of the past year.

Either way, there I was in the hallway, wishing I was anywhere else. I would have rather been at MCC eating in the cafe, back in high school, at work, or stuck in PHP since I would be able to go home then. I knew I was supposed to be there, I knew I wouldn’t do college if not. I knew that this was a chance to stop behaviors for a week and hopefully head into the school year in a better place. Of course, I was wrong about that. After my encounter that night I was so upset that I considered just signing myself out AMA.

A girl around 20 came up to me in a wheelchair. She had announced why she was in the hospital many, many times: she drank bleach with the intent to commit suicide/self harm as well. I had no reason  to judge her. In fact, I never felt anything but compassion and understanding for any other patients. All of them, myself included, were seeking help for mental illness. We had no right to say someone is worse off, that you are better than them, they seem “happy/just fine”, or that there’s no reason for them to be inpatient. Despite these unspoken rules, she did anyways. It hurt me in more ways than she would ever know.

Right away, she told me why she was at Forest View (only the 10th time I’d heard it) then proceeded to ask me, “why are you here, you seem fine?” This worried me right away. I could have lied, maybe I should have. Instead I admitted that I’m suffering from an eating disorder and that I’ve been very bad this whole summer. This primed her for one of the most hurtful comments I had ever received in regards to my ED: “How do you have an eating disorder?” If that wasn’t enough (trust me, it was), she started telling me I was way too large and compared me to another girl who had a BMI in the low teens, which I know because said girl told me in a bragging way :(. She claimed I shouldn’t be here because I’m not *that* bad. Then, she laughed at me and gave me a terrible look. I walked away because I could barely hold the tears in and found nothing else to say that would make her see I wasn’t just a fraud.

I went straight to my room and cried in the comfort (well, not really but it was better than being out in the common room) of my own bed. I couldn’t stop the thoughts that only multiplied following her words. I tried to muffle the sound as much as I could, but the nurse doing rounds heard me anyways and became somewhat concerned. She asked if I was just scared given it was my first night. I shook my head yes so she sat with me for a minute and gave a little pep talk. After she left I knew I should quiet down. I did, and tried my hardest to push her remarks out of my head.

I would love to say that her words haven’t affected me since that day. She questioned the validity of my illness and assumed I shouldn’t be in treatment. I have always dealt with these fears on my own but she only intensified them. I still struggle with that. When I entered residential I was convinced they would tell me I wasn’t really struggling, that nobody would believe me since I wasn’t emaciated and had no physical changes due to my ED. I waited for someone to not take me seriously. Thankfully, that never happened and I was continually supported by everyone. Her comments have also made me hyper-vigilant when I tell others I have anorexia. My automatic expectation is to have a repeat of what happened that night in inpatient. I imagine them saying I’m too fat, too happy, attention-seeking, etc.

I am working past that 2 minute conversation. The most important thing is to know that I am sick. I cannot mull over everyone’s reactions to determining whether I am or not, because in the end, I do have anorexia.

Next time you see or learn of someone with chronic illness, please treat them with dignity. What’s on the outside doesn’t reflect how they truly feel. Any “how do you have ___” questions do nothing but harm.

So close yet so far.

I was admitted inpatient at FV last Friday and initially planned on an overview post of that, but then packing/savoring the last moments with my family/college orientation got in the way. I will definitely talk about my experience because I want to share it so others will know what to expect. For now my week in a few snippets: I needed it. I met amazing women there. I wound up with a lot more support coming out. Dr. VH was NICE to me this time!!! Art therapy is love. #teamnoensure for life.

It completely blows my mind to think that last week I was in Forest View and today I am moved in at Calvin. I’m just 2.8 miles away from the place I called “home” for a week. At this point, I’m almost more familiar with Forest View than I am Calvin. As the title of this post implies, even though I am geographically near FV I am living so differently from then. I thought I’d do some quick comparisons.

FV: basically no more than an hour in your room from 8:30 am – 9 pm because of bathroom locks. CC: no time in room because of packed orientation schedule – bathroom usage is free though!

FV: meal plan that you’re unable to stray from without offerings of ensure. CC: having to keep track of my own meal plan, which is actually going okay.

FV: support everywhere – staff, other patients, group therapy, etc. CC: no support. No one who even knows anything about my struggles. Not even therapy for a whole week.

FV: see the outside for ~15 minutes per day. CC: outside a good part of the day, even in the heat and pouring rain.

FV: support meals and eating snacks with others. CC: meals are with other people but not following the rules like at FV, snacks I’m all on my own.

FV: people know to stay away from triggering things for the most part (except in groups). CC: people talk freely about diets, ways to lose weight, good and bad foods, etc.

FV: feel like part of a group, not weird, supported, etc. CC: feel alone and like the only one with these problems.

Both: God is by my side and recovery is possible.

One year.

What better way to start off this post than share what I posted earlier on both Instagram (piece o cake) and Facebook (SCARY!!!).

July 31, 2014 was by far the scariest day of my life. I entered into eating disorder treatment at Forest View, not knowing what would come of it. I trusted that somehow, within those walls, I would find help and begin to change. The next 3.5 weeks were HARD. There is nothing that brings terror like being forced to eat so much food (including ensures!) and attend groups where you were expected to actually talk about everything going on in your head. I came back each day anyways, because something within me wanted the freedom and type of life recovery promised. I wasn’t healed by the end of my time there, but it was the reason I continually worked to recover this past year. I am healthier and happier than I ever imagined. God knew FV was exactly what I needed to get to where I am today. I am so grateful to not be the same girl who entered treatment a year ago.

I also want to add how thankful I am to everyone who supported me, prayed for me, offered advice, or just showed they care this past year. I truly appreciate each one of you. You’re all a huge part of why I’m here today as well!

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I look back on this past year and it feels like I was just entering Forest View yesterday but also a thousand years ago. I love to think of all the good experiences I had there and it chokes me up a bit. I so wish I still had that amount of support each day and the other strong women to talk to. At the same time, I realize that the fact that I’m not in that place anymore is a very, very good thing.

Jenny was more than elated when I shared what today marked. Knowing me like she does, however, she gave me a challenge right away. It’s so easy to get stuck in comparisons, where I am now vs last year vs where I want to be. I’ve tried to own the notion that “comparison is the thief of joy,” but its hard. I think its our natural tendency to compare ourselves to others and our own expectations. It also happens to be one of the ED’s favorite ways to shoot down any positive thoughts I’m having. Jenny realizes all of this, so she came up with a way to make this day a positive one: pay it forward. Do something nice for a stranger, write a note, do a post on social media, and take someone special out to lunch were a few of her ideas. At that point I kind of halfheartedly said I’d do it but didn’t truly follow through.

I was going through some old verses I’ve marked off in my Bible later that day and suddenly I knew. I wanted to write letters to the most important people in my life: Livvy, my mom, and Jenny. I wasn’t going to stop with that, however. I thought my mom and Livvy deserved something more because they were there for me from Day 1. I’m not sure how or why I thought flowers, but I searched online and found a bouquet to deliver to each in addition to the letters. It hasn’t been easy to deal with everything that accompanies having your best friend or daughter struggle with an eating disorder. They along with others deserve appreciation and recognition for this past year, too. Lastly, I chose to share the above post on social media. It was hard to go into that much detail, especially on Facebook. I actually cringed when a few coworkers liked the post. At the same time, I don’t think this year is something I should be so ashamed of. If someone is going to really judge me for being open and honest about one of my hugest struggles, I don’t think the problem is me. I should be proud and open about this year and my recovery in general. It’s my story to tell and its one that should be shared. I always pray that it will help someone, someway.

All of those things I’ve done today muffled almost all thoughts of “I’m too ___ now” or “I wish I was like ___” or even “I wish I was still that sick.” I wouldn’t be as strong in my faith, working this summer, or headed to college in the fall is it weren’t for my progress over the year. I can’t compare myself to the false picture of happiness I think of whenever my mind says “thinner.” I am changed. I am different. That doesn’t mean bad though. To probably everyone BUT my ED, this past year was a huge success. I want to believe that. I choose to try.

I want to end this post with some encouragement for those in various place on this recovery journey. It gets better. Maybe not today or next week or in a few months but it will get better. Treatment is the strongest thing you can choose for yourself. Take everything a moment at a time without worrying excessively about the future. Ask for the help you need and deserve. Don’t be terrified of recovery. Most importantly, recovery is the only way you will live a happy, free, fulfilling life (note: not could but will).

9 months out: what Forest View has taught and continues to teach me

Going into treatment, I naively assumed I would get everything I needed to recover right away, then go home and apply it. Treatment is supposed to heal you, right? I can laugh at my false expectations now. A huge chunk of all I’ve taken away from my experience never came to me for days, weeks, and even months. I am continually learning more than I could have ever imagined. Although it feels like it sometimes, treatment doesn’t exist in a vacuum. 9 months out, here are some new takeaways from my experience at Forest View:

The goddess game. I was the only one who didn’t absolutely hate this activity. Maybe it was because I alone got my wishes granted, or that I knew/thought it had nothing to do with real life. The game went like this: Hannah, Liz, and Karen were the goddesses. We each got 5 wishes and had to rank them in order of importance. Next we took turns reading them off and the goddesses would determine if our wish would be granted. If yes, we kept the wish and otherwise would have to crumple it up.The first few girls had theirs denied, and then it was my turn. I still don’t know exactly why I chose it, but “recover from my eating disorder” was my first choice. They quickly accepted and granted my wish. As we continued through rounds, every single one of my wishes were granted while others were rejected. They seemed hurt because so many of theirs were beautiful dreams: start a large foster home, find a love like my sister’s, finally be content with life, move to the Florida Keys. Afterwards, Hannah explained the point of the activity. You have to choose to recover first or nothing else you dream of will ever happen. Just in this past week I’ve thought about what the game truly meant in regards to recovery and life. I found the meaning cheesy and not helpful at first. I can see now that isn’t the case. I’ve tried to go on living without putting my all into recovery. Sure, I finished this year of college and had some good accomplishments, but was I happy, healthy, at peace, faithful? Not at all. God isn’t exactly like the goddesses were. He doesn’t choose not to bless me because I am in Satan’s grasp with this eating disorder. However, every day I stay here being sick I am consequently choosing to miss out on whatever other blessings God has for me. I can still do my best to honor God and be his servant, but I can’t give Him my all. Until I put recovery first and push Satan away I’ll never be able to live the full life God has for me. I will instead be stuck, surviving but not at all thriving. I don’t want that fate. Instead I will choose recovery and reap the blessings.

Recover now, not later. Nearly every woman I met spent longer times being sick with their EDs, 5, 15, even 30 years. They all gave me the same advice: work towards recovery NOW so that I can be free in the future, not in and out of treatment for the rest of my would-be miserable life. I didn’t believe them. I felt I could gain some weight, enough to get out of treatment, then go and continue to be in quasi-recovery indefinitely. The past 9 months I have spent a majority of my time in this “recovered” state, a few months in relapse, and very little time in true recovery. I’ve found that every time I go back to disordered thoughts and behaviors it becomes easier to fall back into the ED ways and harder to bring myself out. Its like having a sort of disordered muscle memory. I constantly find new ways to sneak and prove to others I’m doing great when the opposite is true. In my moments of clarity, this is what scares me the most. I could very easily end up a repeat offender, spending my whole life in and out of treatment. I could be like the other women and put school, love, dreams, happiness, faith, and hope in order to pursue my eating disorder. I could lose everything. I could even die. I no longer see these warnings as misplaced or unnecessary. I need to remember that every day I don’t put my all into recovery I am digging myself a deeper hole that I may not get out of.

 Looking sick. I remember the first day T switched to PHP. As she came that morning, the first words she heard were “You look so much better now.” A man who had been inpatient with her but switched out a week earlier said them, meaning it as a compliment.That comment was extremely triggering for her and I couldn’t exactly grasp why. Having now had those same words spoken to me I completely get it. People think they’re helping, and I get where they could assume that but it does the opposite. We arent healthy the second our bodies begin to look “normal.” You cannot tell if someone’s doing better/worse mentally because of weight lost or gained in recovery. The first time i heard the “you look healthy now” spiel I wanted to scream.  I remained cool and collected on the outside but internally I was a mess. It ended up leading to my first lapse in recovery. I couldn’t  comprehend the word healthy. Certainly what they really meant was fat. That’s what the ED took it as so it let to obsessive and self-depreciating thoughts of how huge I’d gotten and how terrible I looked. Luckily, I haven’t had to deal with these comments as often anymore, since I haven’t been “sick” looking in a long time. I still do get it sometimes though, and it tends to send me backwards and ignite the ED thoughts. I could go on and on about how important it is to NOT mention body size, shape, how sick someone looks, etc to someone who’s recovering from an eating disorder. Whether you mean it in the nicest way possible or not, it is most-likely going to hurt them in some way. Also, a reminder: just because someone with cancer grows back their hair doesn’t mean the disease isn’t wreaking havoc on their body anymore. Same goes for ED sufferers.

Resilience. My second day at Forest View Jared gave us a lesson on resilience. I was still in complete shock of even being there. It was afternoon group and I was mostly just happy I wouldn’t be asked to eat anything or talk about my feelings. I had so many thoughts racing through my head that I didn’t really listen to him. He handed out a thick packet of papers. I don’t know that I opened it while there, but the quote I wrote down, “Resilience doesn’t always mean you get back up and back to normal, it can mean keep being here during hard times,” and picture on the packet of a small plant growing through a crack in cement both made an impact on me. The image has become a symbol of resilience for me. Against all odds, even with a huge block of cement in its way the plant still managed to grow. I’ve learned so much more about resilience since FV, including much from the packet Jared made. Above all, I constantly remind myself to get back up and grow out of whatever situation I’m in, just as the plant did. (Fun fact: a few weeks after this I ended up photographing a very similar scene which remains my personal symbol of resiliency to this day)

I can get through hard things. I remember the wonderful sense of triumph after finishing the hardest meal I had at Forest View. I finally believed that maybe, just maybe, I could do this. I didn’t think anything could get much worse than that lunch. I was so very wrong. I have faced incredibly worse situations than that meal. I’ve fallen into relapse more than once, cried my eyes out over meals or how huge I’d gotten, dealt with refeeding symptoms (as if side effects of recovery wasn’t already enough), had suicidal thoughts and plans, felt like my whole world was being turned upside down, battled anxiety that kept me up for over 24 hours, felt emotional pain far worse than any physical. It hasn’t been an easy road at all. Doing these last 9 months with only outpatient therapy and the love of my support and savior and without dropping out of school or putting my life on hold has made me STRONG. I am strong. I wouldnt be here right now if I wasn’t. Going to FV in the first place was scary, hard, bold, but continuing to fight every single day is so much more than that. I may not have the greatest attitude or drive for recovery all the time but I am giving it one hell of a fight regardless.

Sometimes being close to someone who’s struggling is more harmful than good. The staff at Forest View always discouraged patients making contact out of treatment. I thought they were just being mean back then, but now I see why. Being close to someone who’s in a bad place with their eating disorder is draining, triggering, and detrimental. Its so hard to recover when the other person keeps you in that disordered place. The disorders tend to feed off each other, making both parties worse. Personally, I’ve found that there’s a very thin line between helpful and harmful when it comes to these relationships. I’ve had experience with both and I’ve learned I need to set boundaries and take it slow. I have never had an issue with the three women i still am friends with on Facebook. We message each other about once a month but never get into our struggles other than to ask for prayers. Its very healthy and nice. I had a completely different story dealing with my other friend who also had an eating disorder so I know I have to be careful if I meet another sufferer in the future.

You have to save yourself first. This goes along with not allowing unhealthy relationships to last. Hannah had the most perfect analogy for it. In an airplane, they always announce to put your own oxygen on first and THEN help your neighbor. Recovery and life in general are so like that too. You have to take care of yourself. If you don’t, you’ll go down. I’ve learned how true this is. I tried to deliver my friend and fellow ED sufferer from her demons for months. I was more invested in her recovery than my own and I began to spiral. I ended up being led back to those words Hannah spoke at FV. It was painful and one of the hardest decisions to make, given my tendency to fix people, but I ultimately had to sever the relationship. I can’t be a good friend if I’m not here because I let this disorder kill me. Instead of always serving others first, I have begun to heal my own wounds. (Note: I feel my relationships with people who may struggle now are not in any way inhibiting my recovery. They both push me to do better as I push them. It’s perfectly balanced and healthy! 🙂 )

You can’t choose recovery (long term) for anyone else. One of my first days I was asked why I had come. It was a valid question and one I couldn’t fully answer. My mom was the one who called and set everything up, so she was a good excuse even if I technically could have refused. Honestly at that point it was probably for my family and a few friends. I even stretched it to say I did it for Paul. I used basically any reason other than “for me” because it wasn’t for myself. I was in such a dark place that I would have been okay with dying a slow and miserable death from anorexia. Right away, Hannah called me out on my justification for being there. She was happy I came to treatment at all, but she warned me that doing this for others would quickly wear thin. That it did. Not at Forest View or even weeks after, but eventually I wanted to give up. I didn’t want to recover. I could care less about myself. I had so many other people and outside reasons that were completely valid but it still wasn’t enough. I didn’t want recovery for myself one bit. I hated myself. This threw me into relapse where I finally saw truth in Hannah’s warning. Even if I still have my bad days or weeks, I choose recovery each day because I want to get better. I have a thousand other reasons as well but my main propellant is recovering so God can use me in the future and so that I’ll be here for it. I have worth and I deserve to live. I may get discouraged but the only way to make it through is by saving myself.

Positive spin. Hannah was a stickler on this. My second day was preceded by a very hard night. I couldn’t come close to my meal plan and I thought I was a failure for that. During check-in for ED group I mentioned how I could only manage ¼ of my dinner. She immediately told me to stop and not say another word until I put a positive spin on it. I changed it to “I tried my best and had ¼ of my dinner.” I was annoyed and very skeptical. My dad already gave me the “think positive” speech about 2314 times so I had extreme doubt this could work. How would switching around a few words change a thing? Regardless of how I felt, I quickly learned to say the positive side of things, no matter how bad it was. I dropped this habit after FV, only picking it back up after my most recent relapse. I’ve realized how a small positive spin can change my thinking and ultimately the outcome of my day. If I’m stuck in the “I’m a failure” mindset I often give up on recovery. Believing I’ve done my best and that I’m a work in progress leads to more success and energy to fight. It sounds silly but it helps me!

No “good” or “bad” foods. ALL foods fit into a healthy meal plan. I was so angry at Ludie when she explained this concept. Not only did I not believe her, but I was truly upset by it. How could pizza or ice cream or white bread be HEALTHY?!?!?!?! My eating disorder convinced me she was a liar. I completely agree with her now though. The best days I’ve experienced are not where I only have fruits and vegetables. I enjoy life so much more when I venture into the forbidden food options. I remind myself often that plenty of healthy, balanced people have a cookie every once in a while and aren’t focused on eating “clean.” It’s still hard on most days but I am beginning to see past the eating disorder’s lies in this area. I never would have gotten here without all of the unwanted “there are no bad foods” talks at Forest View.

Refeeding. I’ve mentioned refeeding and my experience with it some, but I don’t believe I ever spoke of what I was warned of at FV. Everyone there, most specifically Ludie and the doctors, warned us of refeeding. I watched T go through various symptoms like bloating and edema. II even had a little phosphorus scare my first week. You’d think I would have listened and prepared myself for the refeeding that was sure to come. Instead I lived in denial for months. I truly wanted to die the first time I experienced it. I felt I was being punished for choosing recovery and became discouraged. Ludie’s words rang through and were the only thing that helped: be gentle, keep eating, don’t be discouraged, treat yourself with love. Refeeding is not a myth. Don’t ever believe you’re invincible to it as I did.

Get off the scale. The Forest View staff were very adamant in having every patient stay away from numbers, specifically or weights. They weighed us backwards each morning and never gave out numbers (except to S who somehow found out she only gained a pound in her first week). All I knew during my time in treatment is that my weight stabilized after I lost five days in a row. My parents kept me off the scale for about a week after FV, then lost interest in monitoring me. I don’t get how that was ever a good idea, but the second they stopped watching I stepped back on. My addiction to the scale escalated even more after treatment. I went on it first thing each morning and up to 10 times more through the rest of the day. My mood, eating patterns, and self worth all depended on that number. I wouldn’t allow myself to gain more than X pounds during a day. If I didn’t lose weight I felt like a failure. If I gained I would restrict heavily and exercise. I spent a huge majority of the last 9 months being trapped by that scale. In my moments of real recovery I saw how damaging it was. I still didn’t want to give it up, however. Only since I smashed my scale last week have I seen how right everyone at FV was. I no longer have to start my days with that terrible habit. I thought it would be scary not to know what I weigh constantly, but instead I’ve found a freedom that I never want to go away.
Recovery is still so hard a lot of day and I’m nowhere near recovered, but I am finally at a point where I know the truth and see through the lies this disorder has fed me. I thank God for my time at Forest View and all I’ve learned. Recovery is a long road but one I am going to continue on thanks to the staff at FV, Jenny, my support, and mostly, my wonderful Savior, and mostly, my own strength.