Sick Day

When I was a kid (and even a tween), sick days were like mini vacations. Sure, I might be vomiting occasionally or barely able to breathe, but I was in bed with my stuffed animals, reading away the day.

Sick days as an adult are not vacations. They are chances for your brain to stress you the f**k out because there are so many things you SHOULD be doing, but CAN’T. And three-quarters of the time, you can’t even take a sick day and you just have to push through and hope that your half-assed attempts at getting things done are enough.

I haven’t been feeling well for weeks. I mean, really, if you want to get down to it, I’ve had on-and-off sharp stomach pains and nausea for the last six months. It comes and goes. It will come for a week or two and make me really miserable, then quiet down for a stretch. This last episode started about a week and a half ago and I was pretty sure it was due to a lack of sleep and stress. But then I slept. And it was still there. I missed class this week. Profs were cool with it, no extra work to make up, but the pain was still there. I ate saltine crackers and chicken noodle soup and applesauce for virtually every meal. Still felt terrible.

It started to ease up a bit on Friday, but was back full force in time for the expressive arts showcase I was a part of. I had to ask the MCs to move my poem recitation to the very beginning of the program because I wasn’t sure I could stick it out through the entire thing. So my friend begins the showcase with a beautiful belly dance and I follow by reciting a poem I wrote for a friend a few years back. I get really positive feedback from the audience, notes of appreciation that I will treasure for a long time to come.

Things were going so well! Until about two minutes after I left the stage, when I began to feel the floor rush at me and I ran out of the cafe as quickly as I could, where I [literally and figuratively] tossed my cookies. We managed to find someone with a car to take me home (as I had ridden the bus to school), and within an hour of reciting my lovely poem, I was laying on the floor of the urgent care center about 2 miles from my apartment.

I figured I had finally come down with the flu, being as I like to take my chances by not getting vaccinated. Nope – not the flu. In fact, urgent care wasn’t really sure what was wrong, but were concerned about how intense my pain was. So a friend and classmate drove me to the ER, where we proceeded to sit for three hours while they poked, prodded, filled me with fluids, ran tests, and finally decided….they still didn’t know.

So – because I live in Small Town, USA, where the hospital isn’t fully staffed on weekends with unnecessary folks like radiologists – I am headed back to the hospital tomorrow (Monday) morning for an ultrasound. They think maybe it’s my gallbladder? Who the hell even thinks of their gallbladder these days? 

Like my dad said earlier tonight, I don’t necessarily want them to find something big, but I do hope they find something. Feeling ill constantly for “no reason” is really starting to mess with my head. The only times in the past few months that I’ve even had a fleeting thought about suicide were related to the fact that I did not want to be in pain like this everyday. It sucks.

I’ve tried everything to make the pain and nausea go away. Well, except ED behaviours. Or excessive drinking. Or self-harm. So I’m just left feeling sucky and it’s taking a toll on my mood. I’m definitely slipping into more depression than I’d like, though my psychotropic cocktail takes the edge off. I’m apathetic, lethargic, fatigued, pessimistic, and not really enjoying anything. 

This is a completely self serving post. I have no really wisdom in any of this, save that using eating disorder or drinking or self-harm behaviours isn’t going to fix anything. Just – if you’re the praying type, please pray they find something. Any answer is better than no answer at this point. I am just utterly exhausted by the not knowing. And the not being able to fix it.

Hold the Line

I struggle sometimes to decide whether or not to leave a post up if I am embarrassed by what I’ve said or no longer feel that way because the situation has changed. Ultimately, I choose to leave them because they were – at that moment in time – my reality.

On one hand, some things I mentioned in my last post were cleared up within an hour of writing it. I had not realized that the friend I mentioned in the first half of the post actually subscribes to my blog and thus, she was greeted with an e-mail of my blog which understandably seemed very passive aggressive. The lack of invitation to the baby shower was, of course, an oversight and I took it entirely too personally and, as I am wont to do, jumped to the worst possible conclusion. (My apologies again to this friend – who has never been anything but loving and gracious. Also – and this is for everyone – if I ever do that sort of passive-agressive bitchy move you are allowed to chew me out and/or slap me.)

On the other hand, even though things were sorted with that particular friend, it did not change the hurt and grief I felt over the other friendships. The immediate situation with the first friend triggered all sorts of feelings that I am not entirely equipped to handle. My coping skills have grown leaps and bounds even in the past two months (no self-harm, what what!!), but sometimes I am still at a loss for what to do with my emotions. My emotions seem to have two options: on full-blast or off.

Spring break in Florida was positively delightful, but I didn’t really deal with any sort of feelings aside from “Yay Disney! Yay friends! Yay camping and hiking!” I very intentionally left my homework/reading for therapy buried in my bag because I just did not want to open that can of worms. I noticed in therapy last Monday that this was a way for me to close myself off to any emotion. So when I prayed for openness to emotion….well, the damn broke. I was a weepy mess for most of Monday night.

Y’all, I just feel raw. The slightest touch hurts. I had to walk out of my Tuesday night class because the activity hit (oh so tangentially) an area I’ve been working on in therapy and I could not handle it. I stuck it out as long as it could, but the class and situation just continued to feel more and more unsafe. I bolted after class. A classmate told me when I saw her later in the week that she had been praying for me and that my professor was really concerned. So now I have that awkward situation to walk into this Tuesday night.

I texted my therapist when I got home. I had taken a detour to EarthFare, hoping that picking up a couple of things would be enough to reset my brain. It wasn’t, so I asked my therapist how I was supposed to shut off these stupid emotions so I could get my schoolwork done. “Because beer is currently looking like my best option,” I said.

“Hold the line,” she said. “Your healing is way way way more important than homework. It will stop. You will catch up. Keep going until…it is finished.  Jesus did.”  A brief exchange occurred, wherein I realized just how human I am and my therapist stated that she was extremely glad that I was in touch with that humanness.

I know that this is what I am supposed to be doing, how I am supposed to be feeling. I know that the nights when I am so sure I’m just flat-out going to die from THE FEELZ are progress. I am feeling. I am allowing myself to be broken. I am trusting my family and friends to hold me while my Saviour binds the wounds.

But first – I have to take off the crude bandages I spent so long putting together and feel the pain that was always there.

But which is silver and which is gold?

Make new friends, but keep the old – One is silver and the other gold.

Sometimes, I feel like I don’t matter at all to friends. A good friend of mine is having a baby in June and had a baby shower yesterday. I only knew because I saw a picture someone posted and asked another friend what I had missed. And I logged in to facebook tonight to see that some friends of mine are going to a shower for her next weekend. I was invited to neither.

I was tagged in a photoset over the weekend as well – a Sex and the City post:

satcphotoset

The friend who tagged me said in the caption how this reminded her of college and all of our “couch therapy sessions”! I definitely laughed when I saw it, but it also hurt my heart.

I haven’t talked to the friend who posted it in over two years.

I sent her a card last year, a letter of amends for all the wrong I had done over the course of my eating disorder. She responded briefly saying she would respond further, but never did. But she has tagged me in a few photos of “the good times” recently and it has left me wondering why. When she posted this, I sent her a message telling her I missed her and this photo made me laugh and mourn simultaneously. Facebook has told me that she read the message over 24 hours ago. But she hasn’t responded.

I am in tears because I feel like I don’t matter to anybody. I’m not invited to your baby shower, for pete’s sake? That time when you invite people over to fawn over you and play games and give you free stuff? I’m not even important enough that you would ask me for free stuff?!

I realize that this is taking it to an extreme in thought distortion world, but it really does seem that pronounced at times. I feel like I can’t look anywhere without seeing the wreckage my eating disorder has wrought on my relationships over the past five years.

But then I remember that I have new friends. Friends who are willing to listen to me whine and cry about these old friendships. Friends who are willing to house me for a few days while I visit – the first time I’ve ever done so in an emotionally healthy place. Friends who gift me with inspirational collages they’ve made because they think of me when they see it on their wall and want me to have it. Friends who surprise me by sending me a ginormous tin of the most awesome silly putty ever.

I am so incredibly thankful for these friends. I would not have survived the past year without these friends. They have saved my life, time and again.

But so did those other friends. At what point do I become “too much” for these new friends, too?

Is life just one long series of relationships coming and going? It seems that it is. Some relationships stay, but plenty others fade in and out – including those you thought for sure would last to the end of time.

Life is this uncomfortable mingling of tears of joy followed by tears of grief.

If I Knew Then What I Know Now…

Four years ago today, I started writing on this little corner of the interwebz. That first post was a sort of tentative “well, I guess I’ll give recovery a shot.” A lot has happened in four years. And sometimes I wonder if I would go through it all over again. 

Four years ago, I had no idea that things would get worse and worse and worse and I would go to treatment three times. I had no idea that I would find myself in the ER more than once waiting for an admission to the psychiatric unit. I had no idea that I would lose friendships. I had no idea that recovery would hurt so damn badly that I’d rather have sutures than sit with the pain.

But I also didn’t know that it was possible to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and then go along with the rest of my day. I didn’t know it was possible to just walk into the store and buy cheese. Just buy it – not spend ten minutes trying to figure out which was “best” only to walk away without buying any. I never would have thought that I would be stable enough to try to go back to school. (Shit, I never would have thought I could get off the treadmill long enough to fill out an application.) And I didn’t know that my friendships that survived would be deeper and more authentic or that I would pick up new friends along the way.

There is still that small voice in the back of my head that tells me everything would have been fine – would have been better – if I had never attempted recovery and just stayed in my eating disorder. Sometimes, I think that voice is very, very right. But on the whole?

Things are far better than they were four years ago.

And maybe, if I can remember that, I can hang on through the next four years. 

I Said “Breathe,” Not “Hyperventilate”

So, yeah. All that adorable optimism and chutzpah in my last post pretty much went out the window by Wednesday. I honestly don’t know that I even have the energy to hash the whole thing out, but suffice it to say, my recovery had a VERY close call this week.

Between Wednesday at about noon until I woke up on Friday morning, I was a hot.mess. I’m not entirely sure how I survived Thursday, honestly, as I was extremely dehydrated and undernourished and in a post-SH induced haze. Add a cup or two of shame and a dose of fear and you’ll understand why I was utterly shocked to hear my professor suggest that I go on to a doctoral program.

Me, the girl who had just met with her dietitian because she couldn’t fathom the idea of a meal. Me, the girl that went to health services for an SH wound and was not allowed to leave in the hour that passed between my arrival and the first available appointment. Me, the girl who had gone to bed at seven the night before because she could not deal with life any more. Me, the girl who had seriously considered ending her life for the first time in almost a year.

It started with a therapy session on Wednesday, though to understand the whole story, you need to know that these things were playing in the background:

  • I was at the state counseling conference and listened to a presentation about the new DSM-V eating disorder diagnostic criteria and discovered that they now rate the severity of EDs as from “mild” to “severe”
  • At the same conference, I made the mistake of sitting in on a session about working with traumatized women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where “trauma” = “sexual violence” and I spent an hour outside trying not to jump out of my skin

And I totally thought I had done a good job recognizing and processing it and told my counselor about it first thing during our [phone] session. What I did not anticipate was her pushing and pushing on the physical reaction I had during the trauma session.

Why was I so hypervigilant? I needed to keep an eye on everything. Why? So I don’t get hurt. Where did I learn that? …in college. When? …at the bar. When? …I can’t go there today. That’s as close as we’re going to get today, April. 

Everything in me was screaming under the weight of shame.

In a lot of ways, I have made a LOT of progress since I have come back from treatment. Unfortunately, after God-only-knows how many hours and thousands of dollars on therapy, I still believe that I came out of the womb a priori fucked up. My life has been idyllic, nobody has done anything to me, and there is basically no reason that I should struggle because my life has been PERFECT. It’s ME that’s fucked up.

On Wednesday, when I said for the millionth time that I’m just fucked up, my therapist refused to play along. She said that we are at the point in counseling where I need to either dig deep and challenge that (by acknowledging how people hurt me, failed me, missed me) or there’s nowhere to go. And if we don’t go there, what are we going to do in therapy? Keep me from going crazy; maintain the status quo, I said.

She won’t. Either we dive into my story or we need to consider terminating the counseling relationship. If I want a therapist who will help me to maintain my behaviours where they are, I need to find a new one. And while her motives are so pure (she wants true freedom and healing for me, but that means I’ve got to push ahead), I was (and am) upset nonetheless.

April has been my counselor for YEARS. She calls me on my shit. She knows more of my story than anyone else. She has cursed at me, challenged me, eaten with me, laughed with me, comforted me. The idea of losing her as a counselor is terrifying.

Equally terrifying is the prospect of acknowledging how and when people have hurt me and coming face-to-face with the brokenness in me. I insisted time and again in Wednesday’s session that I’m just not ready for that kind of work, and she repeatedly told me that she thinks I am. I cried as our session wound down and she told me that I needed to seriously think about if I’m going to continue therapy.

Above all, she said – it’s an issue of trust. Do I trust my friends, family, and community to hold me up when I’m so weak I can barely stand? Do I trust April to be a wise guide and to walk me through this? Most of all, do I believe that my God and my Saviour is waiting to bind up the broken places in me and heal them?

Yes. And no.

The fear is positively crippling. I feel like I am just barely keeping my head above water this semester. And if I messed up so much and so badly over the course of 36 hours just talking about the possibility of doing this sort of storywork…

How much worse is it going to be when I actually do it?

 

 

Just. Breathe.

Today marks the beginning of my third week back in classes. My course load is considerably heavier than last semester, which makes me unbelievably nervous. 

My favourite class last semester was Multicultural Counseling, which was also the most challenging class I was taking. Because I loved it so much (and because I did not know when this professor – whom I adore – would teach a class I could take again), I signed up for Advanced Systemic Multicultural Counseling. About a week before class, he sent an e-mail with the eleven-page syllabus for this class. I freaked. Actually, a lot of us did. This class overwhelms me a lot and last Thursday’s class was positively miserable. Most of the students in the class are second or third years in Marriage and Family Therapy, so not only do they have more education than I do, but they approach counseling from an entirely different theoretical perspective. I felt incredibly outsmarted in Thursday’s class and can only hope that my negative thinking cycles were due in large part to a lack of sleep.

My sleep over the past couple of months has gotten progressively worse. Waking up multiple times in the night, staying awake for hours at a time, inability to get my head to shut up long enough to even fall asleep. Last Monday I woke up at 4:30am and couldn’t get back to sleep. By Thursday, I was dragging. I played the “everything is fine!” face as long as I could, but after class, my head was spinning with unhealthy behaviours I wanted to behave in and I didn’t know how I was going to make it safely through the night.

So I finally took advantage of my permission to do cardio. I hit the gym in the apartment office and pounded out a couple miles on the elliptical. I didn’t even spend my entire allowed time, only about half. But by the time I returned back to my apartment, my brain was slowed enough for me to actually use coping skills. My therapist and I had a long conversation last week regarding whether or not reintroducing exercise at all was wise, and she was not at all a fan of the idea. (My dietitian is the one who gave me permission to exercise again.) 

But Thursday night, I finally slept. Through the night. Thank God! I had done a handful of “new” things that night, so the rest of the week and weekend has been an experiment trying to figure out which of the three (or a combination) was the thing that allowed me to sleep so solidly. After a few days, it seems that ditching one of my pillows and taking one of my anxiety meds with the rest of my evening medications. I’ve woken up a time or two over the past two nights, but it’s usually just for a moment and I’m immediately back to sleep. It’s really delightful. The only kink in this plan is that my psychiatrist does not want to prescribe this medication for me – and I agreed with her initially, because I feel like it is more of a “crutch” and doesn’t allow me to actually work through the anxiety. However, if it’s going to help me sleep, I’m going to have to lobby for it. (I cannot take sleep medications due to a tendency to overdose and/or make “plans” with them, so I do not feel comfortable having them in my house.)

On the bright side, I am taking a class on music and the expressive arts and I am LOVING it. Unfortunately, it was canceled last week due to snow (it is a late night class) and this week I will be at a state counseling conference. I am truly bummed to be missing it. The class is so laid back! (Our syllabus is a list of books and ideas – no quizzes, no tests, no papers. Everything is experiential.) And the professor is amazing. In just three hours, he made me fall in love with music all over again. He retires after this semester, so I’m glad I’m having the opportunity to study with him now. (And – bonus! – he is also listed as faculty for our summer expressive arts institute, so I’ll get to have one more week of class with him.)

And now, I should return to schoolwork. Basically every moment of my day is scheduled this semester and I need to stay on top of things. The moment I fall behind it will snowball and everything will be off schedule. This is exacerbated that I just got an assistantship (10 hrs/wk), though on that note, it is extremely flexible, so I am hoping that it is just a good way to get my head off classwork.

Oh, and one of my semester-long assignments is to zentangle three to four times a week. I’m literally being graded on this. Twist my arm, will you?

Stuck

I feel a bit like Flick in “A Christmas Story” – tongue frozen to the pole, squealing because I can’t get unstuck. Unfortunately, squealing doesn’t do much to remove my tongue from the pole.

And it’s not as if I’m stuck in a bad way. Like I said in my last post, I am in a good (and boring) place. This is very different than being stuck in an anorexic mind rut and unable to get out. I feel stuck in a creative sense.

I can’t write, can’t draw, can’t paint. There are things I want and need to say, to get out on paper in one way or another, but they are behind a wall.

One of the things I have always feared about seeking mental health is losing my creativity. The link between creativity and “madness” is well researched. And so I’ve wondered if by lessening the effects of my abnormal brain chemistry, I’ve also lessened the effects of my creativity.

When I was truly sick, I could not stop writing. I drew everything. I was a creative force to be reckoned with.

And now? I’ve been out of treatment almost six months and I feel decidedly uncreative. I want to SCREAM I feel so uncreative. I want that creativity back. The ability to put a picture to an emotion, the ability to turn a phrase. I want to sit down and write and write and write and know that at the end of it I’ve done more than just describe what I did today. (Which, most days, involves amazon instant video and meals and snacks.)

I want it back. I want it so desperately that I am almost willing to entertain the idea of being “sick” again. Because “sick” = “creative”.

I know, logically, that it doesn’t. I know that I have more potential for creativity when I’m well, when all the neurons are firing, when my brain isn’t constantly under siege from malnutrition or moods.

I know that my eating disorder wasn’t the most exciting thing about me. I know.

I just feel so damned boring being well.

Christmas in the Borderlands

This has been the best Christmas I’ve had since I was a child, the best Christmas in more than 15 years. I’ve been able to enjoy making a gingerbread house with my sisters, enjoy time with family and movies and Christmas traditions. This Christmas hasn’t been marked by a fake smile plastered on my face until I run upstairs at the end of the night and relieve myself by way of one addiction or another. It has not been marked by lies about where I have been or what I have been doing when I arrive home after many hours. 

This Christmas, I was authentic and stepped away when I was getting overwhelmed. I could actually shut off the voices in my head for a while and truly be in the moment with my family and friends. I took time to ponder and wonder at the idea of God coming to His creation, the very being of God in human form. I valued time with my loved ones more than time spent at the gym.

But the dictator hasn’t gone away. The dictator is alive and well, harassing me at every meal and snack, every time I choose to rest or spend time with my younger sister instead of working out. I am constantly telling that voice to shut up, to just leave me alone because I refuse to comply. 

This is what Marya Hornbacher refers to as the “boring part of eating disorders.” Going back is not an option, so I eat and I hate it. I sit around reading and I hate it. I do what my treatment team says and I hate it. I am envious of friends who are struggling and I hate it. 

This is where rubber meets the road. Things have, for the most part, settled. All the things that you reclaim in early recovery (memory, relationships, stamina, personality, hope, etc.) are there and their presence is not a new, exciting thing. The presence of these things is normal and every day and that is fantastic, but without that excitement, everything is just sort of blase’

Image

Beautiful, but I have memorized the details.

It feels like I am in a perpetual holding pattern. There is no rest here, because I still have to work to make this recovery thing happen – it is not yet ingrained in my mind such that I can lay off the vigilance for a moment or two. So I am working hard to stay in the air, to avoid losing altitude, but I’m going around in circles and seeing the same thing over and over and over again. And even though the scenery is beautiful, it gets old after a while and you would welcome a drop in altitude just to get a different view.

But you know that you cannot let off the controls for even a moment, because the smallest drop in altitude could turn into a free fall. Free fall is almost certainly fatal and the risk is too great to chance it.

So even though I know that flying in these circles is better than the turbulence and excitement I experienced before, I long for something new, something exciting.

I want new scenery, but the only place to go is up and I’m not ready yet.

It is boring here.

Internet Elegy

Some statistics for you:

  • Only 10% of people with eating disorders ever get treatment.
  • Of those, only 1/3 will get treatment at a facility that specializes in eating disorders.
  • 1 in 5 of people diagnosed with AN will die prematurely due to complications of the disease (including suicide).

 

So when you consider that I’ve been to residential treatment THREE times in as many years, at all places that specialized in eating disorder treatment, I’m pretty damn lucky. Blessed is a better word, honestly. And when you consider that over those years I have met at least 15 people that I consider friends, it’s rather amazing that today was the first time I got news of one of their passing. And while the sparse obituaries never say it, I have only to guess that her anorexia was a contributing factor.

Isabel was my roommate at my first treatment center. We were in a room together directly across from the nurse’s station where the door was left open at night and the blinds on the creepy window that took up half our interior wall were left open. We were never out of the nurses’ sight. She was at high-risk for medical complications (as all my roommates would be – hence their being situated there), but man, did she shine. She had a great sense of humour, which was helpful, because I was a suicidal wreck. Most of the nights, the door was left open because I was the one on 24-hour-watch. Obnoxious, to say the least, but she was so great about it.

We loved doing crossword puzzles together. She was better than anyone I’ve ever met at crossword puzzles, save perhaps my father. Under her careful tutelage, I tried to learn how to knit. (Until the knitting needles were deemed dangerous for me, anyway.) It didn’t matter how terribly I had screwed up a line, she could fix it within minutes. I was completely jealous of her t-shirt collection. Any time I asked, she said she had gotten the t-shirt at a thrift shop. As she got better and her hair fell out before growing again, I would do her hair. I’ll never forget the morning I accidentally burnt her ear with the curling iron. For that matter, she never let me forget.

We lost touch within a few months of treatment. I didn’t have her address and one or both of our phone numbers changed. As I looked this afternoon at my journal from those months of treatment I found a letter I had written to her on a crossword puzzle notecard about six months after I discharged. I didn’t have an address to send it so it continued to lie in wait. Even if I had sent it, the address she would have had to respond to me would have been useless. Within weeks I would be on leave from work to go back into treatment.

My heart has been rubbed raw lately and this news only took off another layer.

I am angry. Angry that I spend time virtually every day worrying about friends I haven’t heard from. Angry that this diseases kills so many brilliant, creative, passionate men and women.

And angry that it still has a pull on me. I am doing better than I have in more than four years and yet it was only yesterday (literally) that I was looking at photos on my computer and wishing for the body that I had before I checked into treatment in April. Only this morning that I tried to silence the hunger and sleep instead.

Fuck you, dictator. Fuck you and your stupid rules and your broken promises and your army of skeletons.

Fuck you.