Note to self

Dear Future Self –

If (when), for whatever reason, your eating disorder starts whispering in your ear and you start thinking that losing just a little bit of weight sounds like a good idea, please please please take into consideration how much getting back on track from even a fairly minor slip really fucking sucks. Because you will get back on track. There is not another option. And when you do your anxiety is going to skyrocket till your brain feels like it is on fire. Every noise will sound like nails screeching down a chalk board inside your head. Every touch will feel like bugs crawling up and down you. You will be irritable and bitchy and alternate between wanting to scream and break things and wanting to hide under the bed and cry forever. You will pick fights with your boyfriend. You will want to self-harm. Your body dysmorphia will be so bad you feel like you are going completely insane.

If I could I would bottle this feeling for you so that when you are entertaining the eating disordered thoughts you could get a reminder of what this is like. But I can’t so please just take my word for it and tell your eating disorder to go fuck itself.

Sincerely,                                                                                                                                               Hannah

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I know how this ends and I don’t want to play

I was out walking the dog this evening and listening to the most fabulous Brandi Carlile and a line from the song Silver Cloud really hit me.

I know how this ends and I don’t want to play.

See the past couple months have been hard.  I am definitely not in relapse but I have also not been firmly in recovery mode. Its been like this. A couple days of restricting my intake, followed by the realization that I need to get my shit together, followed by complete shock at how loud  the ED rage is when I go back to my normal intake, followed by a couple of days of emotional turmoil as I eat normally despite ED voices, followed by a couple of days of restricting when I can’t take the ED’s abuse any longer. And so on and so forth.

And let me tell you nothing makes me feel crazier than hearing all the typical ED siren song in my head despite everything I know about eating disorders and recovery. How is it at all possible that I can still believe my eating disorder when it tells me that I can “just lose X lbs and it won’t get out of control this time” or even that “it was never really that bad”? With everything I have learned about this disease how can it still seduce me so easily?

In the early months of recovery I spent a lot of time sitting alone and reading my journals from when I was really sick or just forcing myself to think in great detail about how things were. That might seem unhelpful or even downright counterproductive but for me it was a powerful motivator. It is easy for me to let myself forget what it was really like because it is really fucking painful to think about how bad it was. But when I let myself forget, let myself look at it through ED’s rose colored glasses, I lose sight of why I have to fight so hard for recovery. The ED’s arguments that “it wasn’t really that bad” or even worse “that you were skinny and pretty and everything was great” (yes ED does still try to tell me that) start to sound pretty damn convincing and I start thinking that maybe I can restrict just a little, lose just a little weight.

But you know what ED? I know how that ends. It ends with chest pains, and being cold all the time, and everything going black every I stand up. It ends with eating nothing and exercising for hours and binging and purging all night. It ends with diet pills and laxatives and cutting and overdoses and psych wards. It ends with losing my boyfriend (again) and my puppy (again) and dropping out of school (again). And maybe this time it ends in death.

Maybe it sounds alarmist but I have to think of it in these terms: restricting even a little bit, losing even a tiny amount of weight is opening the door straight to hell.

Its hard. I’m not going to lie. Clawing my way back from even this fairly minor lapse is really really hard. It will most likely take months to get back to where I was before this started. But my life, this life I have reclaimed from my illness and made into something wonderful, it is worth fighting for. I am worth fighting for.

Arguing with the Devil

In this post I wrote about externalizing my illness and labeling the disordered thoughts as definitively not me. I can’t say enough how important I think that it in recovery (and how hard it can be but more on that in a different post).

Identifying disordered thoughts is a key skill in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) but CBT would have you take it several steps further. We got work sheets in CBT groups in treatment that had us identify which category of cognitive distortion a disordered thought fell into. We then had to write down evidences for and against the disordered thought. The idea was that you would be able to come up with a lot more evidence against the disordered thought than for it and would therefore be able to prove to yourself that it was not true.

I always had a lot of trouble with that exercise. I always thought it was a bit like trying to have a rational discussion with a tantruming toddler. On steroids. The disordered thought and the voice that is shouting it at you (aka the disorder itself) do not listen to reason. They are not rational. They do not play fair. Coming up with proof that it is wrong is never going to convince it to stop shouting at you. In fact for me it was often the opposite. The more I talked back the louder and nastier the voice got. It didn’t matter whether I could come up with five pages worth of evidence that the disorder was lying to me. The disorder doesn’t need evidence. It has anxiety and fear on its side and will use that as emotional blackmail. And that’s just not something you can fight with logic.

For me it has always worked better to just get the fuck out of that tree.

Trauma

I seem to be having trouble stringing words together into coherent sentences. There are about a million things I want to write posts about but this has been taking up a lot of mental space lately so I’m going to start here.

Trauma. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about trauma, about what “counts” as a traumatic experience. Rape, abuse, war, near death experiences. These are the things that come to mind when we think about trauma.

But is it possible to be traumatized from experiencing long term mental illness? I know parents on the Around the Dinner Table forum have talked about experiencing PTSD-like symptoms after helping their children recover. But no one has ever mentioned if their ED kids have had that experience. I don’t know how else to describe the thoughts and emotions I have about the years I was ill but was it “bad enough” to qualify as traumatic? I have flashbacks, vivid, intrusive flashbacks about using ED behaviors. Memories wash over me without warning and I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. Memories of using ED behaviors, memories of being so scared I was going to die alone in South America, memories of being so suicidal, of holding knives to my wrists or sitting in high places.

Is it possible to be traumatized by things you yourself did seemingly of your own free will? I think about things I did when I was sick and I know that if I had done them because someone was holding a gun to my head or threatening me in any way, they would count as trauma. But if the only “person” threatening me in any way was the voice inside my head, well, then what?

I went through periods of promiscuous/risky/self-destructive sexual behavior while I was sick. Its not something I usually include when I tell my story. I don’t know what words to use. It wasn’t rape. It was never rape. I put myself in those situations. I didn’t say no. Hell a lot of the time I actively said yes. But I was terrified. And mentally ill. And never sober. And it always hurt. And always cried and sometimes even when I cried they didn’t stop. And it sure as hell felt like someone was holding a gun to my head and making me do it. And I had flashbacks and panic attacks during sex for years afterwards. So it wasn’t rape. But it wasn’t good. And I know that if anyone else told me those things had happened to them I would call it trauma. But I can’t quite seem to use the word in regards to myself.

I don’t know. I don’t know why I writing about any of this. Its just in my head and I’m kind of hoping getting it out helps a bit.

Monkeys in trees (or separating myself from my illness)

My favorite DBT therapist described the practice of mindfulness like this:

Picture your mind as a jungle full of all kinds of trees. Now your picture your consciousness (focus/mental energy/thoughts/whatever you want to call it) as a little monkey that lives in that jungle. The monkey likes to hop around from tree to tree. Mindfulness is the practice of consciously deciding which tree you want your monkey to be in and redirecting him back there when he hops/swings/climbs away. When your monkey tries to go to a different tree it is not being bad or difficult. It is not its fault at all. It is just acting the way monkeys act. So bringing your monkey back to right tree should be done compassionately. Imagine your monkey is wearing a leash. When your monkey moves, tug the leash gently. “No, no little monkey. Please come back. We are playing in this tree right now.”

I like to think of my brain disorders (mental illnesses) as trees in that jungle. My eating disorder has a trees. My anxiety has trees. My depression has trees. My body dysmorphia has trees. When my monkey spends time in those trees my head is full of disordered thoughts. It is not my monkeys fault. It is not MY fault. I need to gently and compassionately pull my conscious focus back from those trees to the trees that are the real me.

People talk a lot about separating the eating disorder from the person but we talk less about doing that with other brain disorders. Just as I have ED thoughts, I have anxiety thoughts, depression thoughts, body dysmorphic thoughts. I am not always perfect at identifying them as such and even when I can do that, I am not always great at ignoring them. But being able to label them as NOT ME makes it a tiny bit easier.

Why blog?

I never wanted to have a blog. Frankly the idea of writing things and putting them out there into the world for other people to read is downright terrifying.

So why blog? It was this post of Marcella’s (or actually a comment Marcella made explaining that post on another blog) that inspired me.

I dare (and it does indeed feel daring and brave) because I have to. I dare to get involved in advocacy and education and the online eating disorders community because I feel a responsibility to do so. I would never in a million years generalize that to say that all recovering/recovered ED sufferers have a responsibility to get involved with advocacy or to go into the ED field professionally as I plan to do or even to speak out about their experience with people they feel comfortable with. I would say that I think educating ignorant people in our own lives is one of the best ways to eradicate harmful stereotypes and correct misinformation. And, speaking for me and me alone, I feel that I have a responsibility to get involved. Maybe I am just trying to get something meaningful out of my experience. Make lemonade out of the lemons or what not. But that’s ok too.

As I started thinking about blogging, my lovely little inner critic starting chirping away. “You don’t have anything important to say” she said. “And even if by chance you happened to miraculously come up with something even remotely clever or intelligent to say, someone else will be able to say it better.” But you know what? Its not about saying the smartest thing in the most clever way (die, perfectionism, die!). It is about being one more voice out there on the giant internet who isn’t writing utter shite about eating disorders. Its about being one more cicada and believing that together we will make enough noise to be heard.