Returning

I haven’t felt myself lately. Where “lately” is “the last nine months or so.” Maybe longer. I was so sick last spring semester that perhaps the depression was already at play, earlier than I thought, masquerading with physical symptoms. In fact, it seems likely.

(The good news about this is I’m slowly re-adding soy to my diet and with no ill effects!)

I first recognized it yesterday after I signed up to volunteer at an event in February. In days past, this would not be something of note, as I was frequently volunteering in some way or another. But in the past six months, I’ve been afraid to leave my bedroom, much less go somewhere public to volunteer. Not only that, but signing up to volunteer required me to answer questions like, “Describe your level of experience working with people with disabilities.” I didn’t write a Nobel Prize-winning essay to be sure, but a month ago, even two sentences would have seemed impossible.

I started walking home from school on days where it is nice (read: not raining and above 25*F) and running for 20 minutes with a toddler doesn’t tire me out to the point of being incapacitated the rest of the day. I can arrive on campus early and tolerate being around people for the “extra” time. I speak out, take the lead in discussions. I make witty reparte’. I look at what remains of my schooling and think, “This is do-able.”

I sit down in front of a blank page and can find a way to put words on it.

I am returning to myself, slowly but surely.

Unexpected Vacation

I mean, if that’s what you want to call two weeks in the hospital. I’ll spare you details, but it was a couple days in ICU, then I got transferred to a locked facility which, so far as those things go, is a rather nice one. And I wasn’t made to wear the turtle suit, which was a welcome surprise.

I also had my own room and bathroom, which was great since I am not a people person, but really poorly planned in terms of safety. I had to have a “bodyguard” occasionally, but otherwise was free to “move freely about the cabin” as it were. For the post part, this wasn’t an issue and my room was just a place to escape the din of the dayroom and/or sleep, but I couldn’t help thinking about how easy it would be to use eating disorder behaviours while there. To my credit, I didn’t (much), but it was certainly tempting.

Overall, it was just a long, long stay and it is nice to have returned to the real world, where I can buy a diet coke and drink it at any time of the day and be trusted with pens not be forced to eat dinner at 5 pm, which is entirely too early. (But really. And the ward below us ate dinner at 4:15! I would have just lost it.) Unfortunately, the depression hasn’t abated much, and there is now the added issue of schoolwork. (Work-work I am eager to return to.)

The stress of this semester certainly played into this episode, though I can’t blame it all on that. On the whole, my self-care and taking time for me have been far superior to any other time in my life. This is a lot chemical, and I know that, but we still have no idea how to get me out of this pit. I’ve been on just about everything, which is why it begins to seem hopeless.

The doctor tried one medicine in the hospital that made me a bit hypomanic and so the doctor discontinued it immediately, much to my dismay. After many days of raised voices and complaints and me giving in by “taking” (er, cheeking) the medication he was so set on, he finally agreed to let me try this drug again. I told the doctor that I am not looking to be hypomanic all the time – I know that is not sustainable. But I’ve been maxed out on the only two antidepressants that ever worked for me for over two years. I don’t want to be hypomanic – I just want to get up in the morning and not kill myself.

All that to say, I have returned to school. And if my anxiety about school were high IN the hospital, it seems to be even higher out here. Mainly, just being on campus is throwing me into a bit of a panic, as I have class in an hour or so and am no doubt going to have to answer a number of questions. I really don’t know that I can handle all of that right now.

But I don’t really have much of a choice, do I? Onwards and (hopefully) upwards.

Insidious Whispers and Deafening Screams

I mentioned in my last post the the dictator has been whispering in my ear lately, trying to convince me that a relapse into old behaviours wouldn’t be at all a bad thing. I mean, it wouldn’t be a *real* relapse, I’d just restrict and run and life would still run perfectly and I’d have no consequences for my behaviours, I’d just be thin. (Which is totally ridiculous and has never happened to date and, in fact, each relapse is worse than the last, so I’d probably be dead.)

So that has been floating around in my head the past week. Undoubtedly it is related to the stress of the new semester starting, my feelings of utter incompetence when it comes to my chosen field, my highly regimented/probably overbooked schedule, and somewhat overwhelming extracurricular obligations/responsibilities. It has absolutely nothing to do with the food, my body, my weight. Just the stress. (Or so Counselor-Jessica is telling Deranged-Jessica.)

Anyway, that is background for my tale, in which this whisper becomes a wailing siren call on Tuesday. It was the first day of class, so I was already a bit nervous, but our prof for this class is really, really great and very down-to-earth. (She brought brownies! And coffee! And tea! And stress balls!) Early on, she said that she went into counseling because it saved her life. So, ya know, same reason as me.

We were asked to go around and introduce ourselves and tell what drew us to counseling. So I was prepared to just say, “Hey, I’m Jess, I’m a second year CMHC with expressive arts focus and I’m going into this field because counseling definitely saved my life more than once.” For the most part, my cohort (the 15 students I entered the program with last fall) knows about my ED and treatment history and I’m fairly open about it. That said, I don’t generally introduce myself by saying, “Hey, I’m Jess and I’m recovering from an eating disorder.

I was, by virtue of the room layout, the last person to do an introduction. When it came my turn, here is what I said:

“I’m Jess. I’m in the CMHC program with an expressive arts emphasis and I am really going into counseling because it absolutely saved my life on more than one occasion. And I’ve been in and out of a few eating disorder treatment centers and had some really great counselors and some really awful counselors and hope to be one of the good ones.”

So why the mention of the eating disorder treatment?

Competition.

About halfway through the classroom introductions, a young woman explained that she was drawn counseling after her “five year stint with anorexia” (this is actually how she worded it). Alarms started going off in my head. The dictator started screaming.

I needed to defend my ground.

I needed to make sure that everyone knew that I, too, had an eating disorder.

I needed to make sure that everyone knew that it had been so bad I’d had to go to treatment.

I needed to make sure that everyone knew that I’d relapsed and had to go back again and again.

I needed to make sure that everyone knew that I was really sick. (Read: I was thin.)

Because that is just the way the eating disordered brain works. It’s sick and twisted, but my eating disorder still needs to be validated. It still needs that gasp of breath that people do when they hear how much weight I lost in less than a year, that look of pity when I talk about the tube, the almost-jealousy when they hear all the “bad” foods I got to eat freely in treatment to put on weight.

It pisses me off that I feel I so badly “need” this, even after all my time and work in recovery. It pisses me off that some part of me still glamourizes the eating disorder, some part of me still wants it.

I don’t need it and it isn’t glamorous.

It’s hell.

And I need to keep reminding myself of that, but damn if the Dictator isn’t loud these days.

Disjointed Thoughts

I wish I had it in me to write a brilliant, witty blog post. Heck – I wish I had it in me to write a coherent blog post. But time is money or time is sleep or something, so you’ll get the highlights. Low lights. Cliff lights. Cliff Notes. Whatever.

 

*My primary job now consists of watching a two year old boy and his six week old sister. Holy cow. Parents, how do you do this?!

*This has reaffirmed my decision to not have children, but just watch everyone else’s kids and hand them back at the end of the day. 

*Cuddling a sweet baby is the best thing for my mental health. So, friends – keep having babies!

*We are TRYING to decrease my meds, but it’s a slow process. Also, the first decrease made me an anxious idiot. 

*I am terrified at the thought of not having therapy any more. Likely, it’s just two or three more sessions.

*I gained weight. I both care and don’t care. 

*I like eating, but I don’t want to be “fat” (whatever that means).

*A lot of times, dietitians will remind recovering anorexics that they aren’t just going to gain weight indefinitely and yadda yadda yadda and become overweight yadda yadda yadda. But I have gone from sick to well to overweight and the thought is a bit scary. 

*Okay, a lot scary. 

*Sometimes, there is this little whisper in my head that tells me I could restrict and run again, but do it better this time – just be thin and numb and no other consequences.

*That is a load of bullshit.

*Instead of running tonight, I went for a walk.

*I found apples and berries on my walk (hello, breakfast)!

*At one point I was walking and thinking to myself how lovely the woods smelled.

*I looked down to find myself standing in a field of spearmint. I sort of wanted to roll around in it.

*I just took some for tomorrow’s breakfast bowl, but sniffed it the entire way home.

*Everyone else on the greenway probably thought me an idiot.

*I don’t care.

*I am, mostly, happy.

 

The New Normal

I’ve been really unsettled lately. Some of this is just life stuff. Grandparents die. Friends move away. Recovery hits a bump. Higher education necessitates debt. But overall, this is the most settled I’ve ever been.

Which is, in itself, unsettling.

Just how unsettling I wasn’t sure of until I was in my car driving this morning and praying for God to break me. I’ve prayed this prayer before – in fact, mere months before the relapse that took me down beginning in fall 2009. I told God I would do whatever it took to be whole “enough” to do missions work. He could break me down, pull me apart, reconfigure me as long as it meant being closer to Him at the end of the process. And break me He did.

The past five years have been some of the most terrifying, painful, and dismal of my life. Even knowing intellectually that God was pulling away from me the things I had used to glue myself together all these years, it was miserable. Even knowing that this pain was out of God’s love and desire to see me truly free, it brought me to utter despair, to wish for death instead of freedom. Even knowing it was an act of truest love, it felt like violence.

It felt like every rape, every assault, every abuse. Every touch turned bruise, every demeaning comment, every time I was told I was not enough. It felt like all of these all at once and I hated God for it.

So back to present day – why exactly am I praying for this to happen all over again, you might ask? I cannot even lie and say that I followed that request for brokenness with “because I want to be nearer to you and more Christ-like, God.” Not even a consideration (my spiritual life has been lackluster these days). I just thought, “God, you’ve got to break me because I don’t know how to do this.”

“This” is settled. Stable. Thriving.

The last time I was really stable and doing well was fifth grade. And I have been in a near-perpetual state of crisis since I was fourteen. Every day has been fight-or-flight. I haven’t had the opportunity to work on things like social skills or life skills like setting up gas and electric service or what to do when somebody runs into your car in the parking lot. I’ve just been trying to survive. And for the most part, doing a fairly decent job of just making it from one day to the next. Surviving.

But the little nuances of day-to-day were lost on me for nearly the past two decades. What do people do with their time if they’re not running obsessively or spending hours a week in therapy or staying out all night to avoid having to lie? What happens when I’m not in school any more? What the hell is this “career path” everyone keeps going on about? What do people talk to their friends about if not this treatment or that or this slip-up or that? What does a prayer look like when you’re not begging God to kill you?

So now, at 29, I’m having to figure these things out. And it’s HARD. I just bought a vacuum for the first time in my life. And was damned excited about it, too. I remember my reusable grocery bags about 50% of the time. I’ve had to deal with obnoxious neighbours without my usual self-flaggelation and let other people own their stuff. And I’m having to imagine life at 60, 70, 80. I’m having to dream.

At least once a day, I half-heartedly wish for one of my addictions to take over. I know how to do crisis. I’ve gotten good at crisis.

But what do I do when there are no fires to be put out?

I’m stable and that’s unsettling.

 

 

 

It’s My Party…

and I’ll tell you to shut the fuck up if I want to, okay Dictator? Good. Glad we’re clear.

My eating disorder is being insanely loud today. Which is particularly obnoxious for two reasons: 1) I haven’t had to deal much with ED thoughts and urges lately and 2) It’s my birthday. And so far as birthdays go, this one isn’t terribly exciting (I worked, then came home and read for fun – a book on the Rwandan genocide). But I’m NOT IN TREATMENT.

Let’s be clear. Treatment saved my life. More than once. I’m glad I went. And I’m glad I’m enjoying my birthday in freedom this year.

But I do wish The Dictator would stop trying to leave his mark on this birthday, too.

Five years ago: The Dictator lies in wait while I go out with my best friends for drinks and a night on the town. It will be the last time we are all together. From here on out, I am not-so-mysteriously absent. The Dictator pokes at me when my friends share pictures: Nice triple chin there, Jess.

Four years ago: I have therapy, one of my last sessions before A goes on maternity leave. I go to Trader Joe’s to get dinner on my way to see a friend. They don’t have the one wrap I’ll eat, so I drive and I cry – upset that they don’t have that wrap and upset that I’m letting my eating disorder get in the way of my birthday.

Three years ago: I have been in treatment for six months, am still in treatment. A friend texts me on my birthday to tell me she can’t be friends with me. I go to an appointment with my outpatient dietitian and fight back tears over the weight that is necessary. I go out to dinner with my church group, trying to salvage what is left of the day and celebrate.

Two years ago: Center for Change, take one. The girls on the unit make me a huge birthday card, which is still in my box of memories today. We have art and I have to begin my emotional self-portrait. I look at the body tracing and burst into tears, telling the therapist how “deformed” I am. I cry for most of the remaining day, but do my best to put myself back together before evening snack. My friends from home have sent a “birthday in a box!” complete with leis, fake mustaches, and a ridiculous plastic goblet for my water.

Last year: Center for Change, take two. The girls on the unit have made a huge banner that says, “Happy Birthday, Jess!” I want to cry when I see it I am so overcome with emotion. My mom has flown into town for the weekend and we go out to dinner, but I make sure I am back in time for our Friday Night Snack and movie. I am so glad to spend my birthday with these girls. I can almost forget the fact that I just hit my goal weight.

Today: I have eaten probably half a chocolate cake over the past five days. The family I have nannied for all year made my favourite meal (baked macaroni and cheese) for dinner on Tuesday and presented me with gifts: a painting from Jbug (complete with tiny easel!) and a Zentangle mandala book. They know me well. By the end of the night, they know me even better as I share my story with them. My actual birthday (today) is a bit lackluster, as I work, then walk, then sit at home alone. It’s lonely and I wish my friends could be here (or that I could be there) to properly celebrate. We will – next weekend.

The point is: Tonight, I am not in treatment.

Tonight, I am eating a cupcake and chatting with friends online and free to do, basically, anything I want.

Twenty-eight has been one hell of a year. In the best of ways.

Bring it on, twenty-nine. You’ve got a lot to live up to.

Unrelated

Last Friday was National Doughnut Day. Yes, you read that correctly. There is a National Doughnut Day!!! Naturally, I celebrated with a doughnut.

donut

requisite selfie with pastry

Later that night, I went for a run. A year ago, this means I would have gone to the gym, set myself up on a treadmill, and watched the numbers until I had burned off every calorie in that doughnut. And then some.

But last week, those two things were completely unrelated. At no point during my run did I think, “I ate a doughnut.” Not even in passing. I went for a run because I wanted to be outside. I wanted to feel my body move. I wanted to explore the Greenway. So I ran (and walked). I pushed myself just far enough to know that my lungs were getting a workout, but I wasn’t out to prove anything. I was just having fun.

On an entirely related note, my therapist and I discussed termination today. Even having had three weeks between sessions, I had absolutely nothing to talk about. She said that after our last session, she felt really tired and bored. Like, she struggled to stay awake. And as I tried not to be offended, she explained what she meant.

I’m not bringing anything in to sessions. And that’s not a bad thing. I’m in a really stable place. I’m asking for what I need when I need it. (For example, the reason I had nothing to discuss at the last session was because I had talked with her on the phone the week before when I was freaking out about some flashbacks. Go me.) Sure, there are more things to work on, but A said that she’s not sure now is the right time. Furthermore, she said, when it is time to dig into that stuff, I may need a different type of therapy altogether than what she can offer.

When she asked what I thought, I told her that this conversation was not entirely out of left field. Just last week, I believe I said something to Alie along the lines of, “I don’t really think I need to be in therapy any more.” Of course, the prospect of not having therapy is just as terrifying. I told A that I am afraid as soon as we stop therapy, shit is going to hit the fan and I’m going to completely melt down. Her response? “If that happens, you know where to find me. I’m not moving anywhere.”

So we put together a schedule: I’ll see her in two weeks. Twice in July. Once in August. Once in September. And a goodbye session.

This is all assuming something major doesn’t happen and I lose my mind. Or, more likely, that I don’t do some sort of ass-backwards bullshit like throw myself into a relapse. But honestly, I don’t think that’s going to happen. While I really enjoy my therapist as a person, there are other ways to engage with her. Like getting my degree and license and knowing someone I can turn to for a consult.

To end on an entirely unrelated note, I have a birthday soon. My wishlist consists of: a vacuum cleaner, dustbuster, and mop.

Is this what being an adult is like?

 

 

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?

 

 

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.

On the Verge

That’s me, according to my counselor: “on the verge of doing some serious growing up.”

At first when she said this, I brushed if off, saying, “Well it’s about freaking time!”

She says, “Here I am trying to say something nice and encouraging to you and you ruin it.” It was said playfully, though she was absolutely right – I had responded in a way that pushed her away and didn’t allow me to receive what she was saying.

So I’ve been thinking and praying a lot tonight, trying to receive not only that, but an unconditional, loving acceptance that she offered when we were discussing some mistakes and regrets I have from the past year. And she’s right – I’m on the threshold of something new, a maturity and grown-up-ness that I’ve never known before.

Tonight, I realized that there will actually be a time in the future when I won’t need weekly counseling any more. I never ever ever thought that possible.

Crazy, but good.