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?

 

 

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You Know It’s A Good Day In Therapy When…

Your therapist threatens to send you inpatient.  Twice.

In response, I attempt [unsuccessfully] to fight back tears because all I can hear is my worst fear:  You are never going to make anything of your life because you are going to be in and out of psychiatric hospitals for the rest of your freaking life.

It’s a fear I’ve had for a while — since I’ve been making yearly trips to treatment and/or the psychiatric ward a sort of annual thing.  And I’ve got to DO something with my life, right?  I’m “gifted,” I have “so much potential,” I could “change the world.”  Sure, if I didn’t have half a dozen psychiatric diagnoses that threaten to derail everything I have worked so hard for if my nutrition and chemical balances aren’t just so.

In general, I try to keep my emotions under wrap.  I just don’t have time to acknowledge them if I want to maybe possibly stay on top of my schoolwork and eating.  And who really wants to sit with the shit that’s beneath all my shame and self-contempt?

So yeah, when you ask me how I really feel, if I feel safe, I’m going to tell you.  I feel empty, sad, lonely, hopeless.  You ask me what I want to do and I’ll tell you.  I want to quit. I want to curl up in a corner and just wait for life to be over.  I want to speed up the process by starving and drinking and slicing up my arms and legs.

It doesn’t mean I’m actively thinking of suicide.  It just means I’m tired.  And yes, passively suicidal can turn to actively suicidal in time.  I understand your concern.  I understand that you can’t let me leave your office if you think I am even remotely a danger to self.  I understand all this professional ethics bullshit.

My point is, don’t push so hard if you don’t want to hear the answers.  Because dammit, A, if you’re going to push me, YES, we’re going to go into dark places and I probably WILL want to kill myself.  

But your suggestion of finding “someone else who can help me” is just as heartbreaking because you are, hands down, the most competent therapist I’ve ever had.  The only therapist I have ever really trusted.  The only therapist who is willing to put up with all my stupid games and push me and tell me I can have better and deserve better.

You haven’t given up and that’s the only reason I haven’t.

And It All Comes Crashing Down

Okay, so it’s not entirely crashed down, but this week has been pretty shitty.  And it’s only Wednesday!  At least I’m over the hump, right?

The quick recap:  Therapy Monday.  Insanely difficult.  High self harm urges.  I decided to stop for a 6 pack of beer on the way home and proceeded to drink most of it.  Then, around three AM, I decided in my drunken stupidity that I may as well just self-harm.  What could go wrong?

As it were, a lot could go wrong.  A lot of Tuesday was spent nursing a hangover and forcing myself to eat, not to mention the hours I spent at the Student Health Center.  I had a meeting with my new dietitian, then sat and waited in the health center for someone to see me.  They don’t even bother to look at my leg and make an appointment for me for later that afternoon.  I start freaking out over the fact that my appointment is really close to my two PM class, but the triage nurse assures me that there will be no problem and I will get to class on time.

Luckily, I thought ahead while I was sitting and waiting for my appointment and e-mailed my professor and told him in the vaguest of terms that there was an incident related to my “documented disability” and could I please make up the quiz if I get to class late.  An hour and some stitches later, I arrive to class in the middle of some sort of presentation about the honor society and while interested, berate myself for ever thinking that I might be able to qualify for something like that.

I skipped my Tuesday night class because I just could not deal.  I couldn’t handle the thought of being awake and alive for three hours worth of research methods so I bailed and asked one of my classmates to catch me up on anything that I might miss.  (Most of the notes, etc. for this class are online, making it really easy to miss a class without getting behind.)

Among the accommodations I requested when I went to my school’s Office of Disability Services at the beginning of the year was my “worst case scenario” accommodation:  my disability may at times require me to miss class or need an extension in deadlines.  This was there just in case I wound up in the hospital for some reason.  But there was no way that was going to actually happen.

Or so I thought.  Last night was the first time I really considered that I may not be able to make it through this semester.  2013 is the first year in a few that I’ve NOT had a trip to the psych ward.  I sort of assumed that I’d be able to make it the whole year and break that little pattern.  But last night I seriously wondered about how the next month or two are going to go — while my depression isn’t so bad that I’m thinking of suicide right now, there is definitely something going on with my brain chemistry and my depression is worse than it’s been in a while.  (And yes, I am taking my meds!  Every day!  As prescribed!)  And I’ve proven to myself that I can do quite a bit of physical damage — so what happens if I accidentally cut a bit too deep?

I am certainly not posting this to be attention-seeking or to make people freak out.  I’m posting this to try and make sense of my own thoughts.  I am posting this because I need my hands to be occupied.  I’m posting because I need ideas on how to make this insane depression abate so that I can be the totally kick-ass grad student I know I can be.

Because I will kick-ass.  Grad school ass.  ED ass.  Self-harm ass.

The Safety’s On, Right?

I am feeling all kinds of out of sorts this week.  My self-harm urges have been steadily climbing for the past couple of weeks and have basically hit fever pitch this weekend.  “Triggered” isn’t even the word.  It doesn’t matter WHAT I’m thinking about — books, eating, schoolwork, email, friends — self-harm is the obvious answer.  

I switched dietitians about two weeks ago because the dietitian on campus is pretty competent when it comes to EDs (and she’s free) but it has left me feeling unsettled.  She’s not Lindsey and I’m just not comfortable with her yet.  I know Lindsey said I was welcome to email her during the transition and after because she genuinely cares and wants to know how I’m doing, but I feel guilty emailing.  And I don’t trust Janna enough to try and explain things.  Maybe it’s because she had known me so damned long, maybe it’s because she had seen me bounce in and out of the hospital on multiple occasions — but Lindsey understood the self-harm aspect and how tied it can be to the eating.  (My dietitian and therapist at CFC had a really good grip on this, too.)  I don’t think Janna will know what the hell to do if tell her about my urges.

So dietarily, I’m feeling a little on my own. 

And to make matters worse, my therapist hasn’t been answering my emails this week, which is rather unlike her, especially given the content of the email I sent her Thursday night (re: self-harm urges).  The urges are getting really bad and are happening almost 24/7 at this point, but even so, I feel like to text her would be a violation.  I have an entire fucking list of coping skills, right?  That’s what they’re there for.  Use them, you idiot.  (For that matter, she didn’t respond to my text on Monday either.)

So yeah — I feel a bit like I’m doing this thing on my own for the week.  I’m incredibly grateful for my amazing friends both in real life and in the blog world because I’m pretty sure I would have already lost it if not for you.  But things seem distressingly on-edge right now.  Even my attempts to get ahead at schoolwork (or hell, just keep up) are coming back to bite me in the ass and I don’t know how I’m going to survive the rest of the semester.

I love everything about my life up here:  the courses I’m taking, the family I nanny for, the non-profit I volunteer at.  

But wherever you go, there you are.

And it doesn’t matter how far I run, I’ve still got a mental illness.

I’ve just got to make it until Monday and keep the safety on this damned gun or there’s the possibly of serious damage at the next trigger pull.

 

An Explanation (Finally)

So last Sunday’s post left a lot to be explained.  If you missed it, basically it was something like, “I would like to carve up my arms like a Thanksgiving turkey but I don’t keep real razors around for exactly that reason, DAMMIT.”

This week has been incredibly rough.  I went home last weekend to go to a football game and came home on Sunday night with the intention of hunkering down with my books and completing the outlining I had begun earlier.  That was all derailed around the point that I decided that I should probably check my school e-mail account (having not done so for three days) and discovered an e-mail from campus police alerting the student population to a couple of sexual assaults that had occurred on Friday.  While the term “sexual assault” isn’t one of my favourites, it is one that I have learned to handle and can somewhat distance myself from.

However, for whatever reason, the campus police decided it was in the best interest of the students for this e-mail to also contain the men’s names, the amount of bond they were being held upon, and their f**king charges.  When I read “second degree forcible rape,” I froze.  My mind completely blanked and forgot how to close the internet window. After I finally figured it out, I sat in a ball on my bed with my hands pressed into my eyes trying to stop the flow of tears.  (This was before I even realized that it was TWO charges of second degree forcible rape.)

I did my best coping (and it was pretty damn impressive).  I Skyped with a friend, putzed around on Facebook, and finally decided to just say “screw it” when it came to schoolwork in favour of taking some meds and passing out.  Before I was able to do so, however, I needed to check an event on the school calendar and found out that the ENTIRE WEEK was basically an awareness week about sexual violence because it was the 24th anniversary of two women being abducted from campus, raped, and — in the case of one of the women — murdered.  

So I begin to flip out.  Again.  Fetal position, trying to halt the tears, never mind the images.  I e-mailed my therapist and let her know what had happened so that I wouldn’t have to explain it all when I arrived in her office on Monday.  And then I took some klonopin and curled up and cried myself to sleep.

Monday morning was work, so I was able to distract myself for a few hours by the utterly adorable little boy I take care of.  But then I had a two hour drive to therapy.  And then therapy itself.

There are times when I wish that I could record my sessions with my therapist, because we discuss things that are big and important and revelatory and I want to be able to make sure I don’t forget anything.  This was NOT one of those times.  I remember entirely too much of the session as it is and wish I could completely block it from my memory.

To cut straight to the chase, I wound up having flashbacks in my therapist’s office and eventually wound up in a ball on the floor, crying.  I spent another half hour crying after the session and God bless Alie, who was willing to listen to said crying and help me come up with a plan for dinner.  Which I had pretty much planned to skip/restrict even before my therapy session, but with her help managed to eat according to meal plan.

The triggers have just continued to come this week.  One after another.  I am having to make pointed, conscious efforts to stay present and protect myself from going into flashbacks.  I have more than once had to literally bite myself to keep from bursting into tears in the middle of a class or meeting.  I have had to go back to making short-term commitments to safety because I simply don’t care to stay safe (but neither do I care to explain stitches to my therapist, dietitian, professors, or cohort).  I am disgusted by my body and want to scrub off my skin with steel wool, but I can’t stand to even see my body.

Eating disorder thoughts and behaviours have, naturally, been sky-high this week in conjunction with my self-harm urges.  I’ve been drinking, though never to the point of drunkenness and I’ve been able to justify it by saying that I need the extra calories.

Because, apparently, I do.  That was the other upsetting thing this week — I switched from my dietitian at home to a dietitian on campus because logistically and financially it made the most sense.  So when I met with this new dietitian on Tuesday (for the second time), I was already on edge, only to find out that my weight was down (again).  I haven’t been restricting (I don’t think) and I drank at least four nights out of the week prior to our second appointment.  There is no reason my weight should have been down.  No reason that I should have to be looking at weight restoration – again – this time on the outpatient level.  I texted my dietitian from home and she confirmed that I have “quite a bit” to gain before I reach my goal weight.  Awesome, right?

So even knowing that I need to gain (and having a pretty good idea of exactly how much), knowing what size my clothes are, being able to walk into a store and reach for the smallest size, knowing that what I’m seeing is [probably] a distortion — I cannot get over how huge and gross my body is right now.  And all I want to do is restrict and run.  GOD, what I wouldn’t do for a run.  I’ve been trying to stick with the plan, but it seems like it’s falling apart.

I want to trash all the food in my refrigerator, not to mention the two pounds of candy that I bought at the general store yesterday to challenge myself and get some extra calories in, and go headlong into restricting again.  If I’m right about my weight, then I could easily be back down to my April admit weight by Christmas.  Easy peasy japanesy.  

But I do NOT want to screw up this shot at grad school.  I do NOT want to have to take leave or drop out entirely and go to treatment for the fourth time in as many years.  I do NOT want to live my life like this.

And so begins the season of my “awkward harvest.”  This blessing is my prayer morning and night as I stumble through this season.

Image

From John O’Donahue’s “To Bless the Space Between Us”

Winners Never Quit

I was listening to a report on NPR this morning talking about the different approaches to education in Eastern (specifically Japanese and Chinese) and Western (specifically American) classrooms.  The educator who was speaking was telling the story about how counterintuitive it seemed to him the first time he was in a classroom in Japan and the student who *couldn’t* figure out the problem was asked to work it on the board.  By contrast, in most American classrooms, the kid who got the answer right is the one writing it on the board.

The report also included two short interview clips:  one of an American mom and son; one of a Chinese mom and son.  Both were explaining how their children came to be successful.  The American mom tells her child, “Yes, because you’re so smart.”  Conversely, the Chinese mom reminds her child how hard he practiced and worked to achieve his goal.

The point was the following:  Americans equate success with “smarts” or “natural talent.”  In a lot of Eastern cultures, success is seen to be the result of hard work and dedication.

At first, this had me thinking about my own education:  Was I “successful” because I was naturally intelligent?  Or because I was a hard worker?  Or some of both?  (I vote option three in my case.  I am, arguably, naturally intelligent, but there is no way you graduate with honours while simultaneously suffering from an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness without some hard work and dedication.)

Then the reporter said something that really got me thinking:

Obviously if struggle indicates weakness — a lack of intelligence — it makes you feel bad, and so you’re less likely to put up with it. But if struggle indicates strength — an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something — you’re more willing to accept it.

That’s when I began to think about struggle in recovery.  Are people are fully recovered just naturally more “gifted” at recovery?  Or do they just struggle longer (the report also cites a really fascinating study about how long students will stick with an “impossible” task)?

If we, in recovery, view struggle as weakness — what will be our response?  If every time I am tempted by a behaviour or overcome by ED thoughts, I judge myself as weak, why would I continue fighting?  What would stop me from giving up?

But if I view the struggle as strength…what a different story indeed.  Every time I am faced with the “impossible problem” of an urge or thought or behaviour and I struggle and resist…I AM STRONG.

If we equate struggle with strength, not weakness, it suddenly becomes easier to have some grace for ourselves along this recovery journey.  My desire to self-harm or skip dinner isn’t me displaying weakness, it’s an opportunity to show my strength.

And as with weight-lifting, repetitions only make one stronger.

Keep fighting.

Your struggle isn’t weakness — it is STRENGTH.

—–

If you’re interested in reading or listening to the report I keep referencing, you can find it here:  Struggle for Smarts?  How Eastern and Western Cultures Tackle Learning

—–

Oh, and by request, pink hair:

Had to keep it subtle. Grad school apps and all.

Cope cope cope cope cope

I should most definitely be sleeping.  However, due to some poor sleep hygiene on my part, I am only now even slightly tired and fighting off some lingering urges.  My urges (both self harm and ED) have been a lot higher this past week after a dietitian appointment where I got some rather shocking news.

I lost weight.  Like, a lot of weight.  My dietitian drilled me with questions as soon as I stepped off the scale:  Am I using laxatives?  Lying about what I’m eating?  Over-exercising?  Nope, none of the above, just freakish weight loss that would explain some of my obsessive, neurotic symptoms lately.

Naturally, the first thing I want to do is lose MORE weight.  Actually, for the first few days after I got this news, that’s essentially what I did.  Screw grad school applications, I’ve got to get to the gym!  Laundry?  Psh.  It can wait.  I’m going on a hike.  Dinner?  Uhhhhh…sugar free jell-o totally counts, right?  Right.

And every time I think of eating “normally,” of getting back on track, my brain is bombarded with self-harm urges.  Because if I eat like a normal human being I have to punish myself.  Naturally.

So after I ate dinner tonight, I had a choice.  I could re-live last Sunday night and get a few more stitches and have my team and parents freak out all over again.  Or I could cope.  Distract.

I chose the latter.  I dyed my hair.  Pink.

The best idea for someone who will need to present a professional appearance in two months for graduate school interviews?  Eh.  Maybe not.  But probably more professional than another set of scars.

Best yet, it ate up almost two hours of free time after dinner, after which I felt relatively safe to go into my room, read my goodbye book (a coping skill suggested by a friend on our alumni facebook page — so helpful, reading all the things people wrote to me about how strong I was in recovery and listing all my good traits), and putzed around online a bit.

I even started an essay for graduate school.  It’s not a great start, but it’s something and usually for me, the starting is the hardest part.  One I get started, I can just keep going and then edit as needed.  I organized all my applications today based on what needs to be done when and what is highest priority this week.  (Tasks uno y dos:  Get transcripts and GRE scores sent to all 6 schools.)

So even though things aren’t perfect at the moment — I’m still leaning on the side of restricting, maybe exercising a little too much, maybe allowing myself too much time to mull on the idea of losing “just a few” more pounds — I feel more like myself than I’ve been in a few days.

Such is the beauty of coping.  Instead of sending myself down that self-perpetuating spiral all over again, I broke the cycle and did something different — something that I could, if not be proud of later, at least not be ashamed of.  And that small act makes me feel a little more normal.  Makes me feel like I’ve got a little more control over my mind, that I’m not letting the illness run away with it.

And since I didn’t go the self-harm route, I don’t have to walk into therapy tomorrow explaining why I’ve got more stitches.

No more stitches here.  Just some pink hair.