It occurred to me the other day that I am finally ready to write about the different support systems that helped me throughout my years of recovery ups and downs, and also the things I can see now that I needed, but could not (or would not) ask for. I hope this will give some insight into how I went about getting on the path to recovery, and what I’ve learned along the way.
Anorexia taught me a lot. (It kind of sucks to have to admit this, however it is my reality.) I’ve been through times that were really rough, and I think that will teach anyone quite a bit about who they are as a person, and how they respond to those around them.
Therapy appointments have been key in helping me really think through and narrow down the reasons behind my thought processes, and have really helped me to see recovery through different lenses. I don’t think I would be as insightful and open-minded as I am if I had not had therapy. Therapy appointments continue to make me nervous, yet they are kind of the glue that holds me together some days. I think it helps that my therapist is a wonderful, smart, empowered woman who sees the possibilities in me. I’ve had bad therapy experiences too, and I’ve had to be persistent in my ability to bounce back. It’s easy to get discouraged and want to give up. Keep looking, your therapist is out there! There is a lot of controversy over when and how individuals in recovery should go about therapy and the recovery process in general, and my opinion has changed a lot over the years. Of course I didn’t ever want to go to see a therapist when I was at a dangerously low weight. I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t want to talk, and I didn’t know if I wanted to live, let alone bare my soul to a professional I knew little about. I struggle with self-esteem, and a big issue for me for many years was the voice in my head telling me that healthcare professionals didn’t really care about me as a person. I was selfish in thinking that just because the doctor had to be reminded that I wanted to be weighed backwards in order not to see my weight, or the fact that she didn’t remember what dosage of medication I was on, was a reflection of the amount of worth I held in their eyes. In reality, (and logically) doctors are working hard and doing the best they can. I am doing the best I can. Period. Getting over myself in that regard helped a lot, though I do still have a lot of anxiety around how I portray myself and how much value I hold in someones eyes. My first few therapy appointments were pretty tough, and I blame a lot of that on the fact that I literally was not thinking clearly. I couldn’t, because I was starving and my brain wasn’t running as efficiently as it could. I look back and marvel at the belief I had that this was as good as it got. That whatever stage my brain was at, I was stuck there. I’m pretty sure my heart skipped a beat when I heard that brains can, and do, heal.
Money was a really big hurdle for me to get over. I was taught early on that saving was something smart to do, and not to live beyond my means. At some point, money became an obsession for me and I became so tightfisted that I could barely even buy food for myself without being overcome with anxiety. Self-worth had a lot to do with this too, of course; and I still find it difficult to buy frivolous things for myself, however I can at least go to the grocery store and pick up food and not freak out about it. I never, ever would have asked someone to help me out with purchasing my food, because I knew I had money in the bank, I just couldn’t find a way to feel OK about spending it. When my mom stepped in and offered to pick up some food items that were on my meal plan, I began to cry and yet I eventually accepted her offer. I knew that I wouldn’t follow through with buying full-fat yogurt and 2% milk with my money, because I didn’t want to be putting those foods in my body. It was a struggle to even buy light yogurt and other foods on my “safe” list. Guilt and shame are both big parts of the eating disorder mindset, and it takes a lot of hard work and self-talk to get to a point where accepting help feels like an option. It’s important to remember several things when receiving help: that the offer is being extended because you are loved and cared for, and that the individual(s) are offering support because they desire to, not because they pity you.
Eating with my husband or family was a huge help for me. On the days when my husband would fix a meal for me, or my mom would prepare a plate of breakfast, it gave my brain relief and an excuse to follow through- the choice was taken away from me and I knew I was expected to clear my plate. Sometimes having choices taken away was a good thing, and sometimes it was a bad thing. I think it is important to talk out decision-making capabilities with parents, partners, and anyone else who you trust and will be by your side. Honesty in this area is a must, so it might be a while before that can happen, but once it does, laying out expectations and what meals should look like is a good way to get on the path of self-sufficiency. I was so worried that if I had a lot of hand-holding with meals, I would never know how much to eat, or what to prepare. Introducing more trust in this area is probably really difficult for caregivers to do, it’s something that will have to happen along the way sometime though. Now that I have more freedom in this area, I find that having my husband make suggestions for dinner is very helpful. I can still get territorial about meals, and when and what I want to eat. I’m at a place right now where I feel comfortable with what I’m eating, and it works for me. Just because it’s not what everyone would deem “healthy” is OK, because I am at a good place with my honesty. When I can tell my dietitian that I often skip breakfast, sometimes lunch, but always make up for it at supper…I see myself giving in to ed a bit, and yet if this cuts down on my anxiety and guilt, I’m good with it.
Eating is a huge part of recovery. I hated it when my mom used to tell me that “food was medicine”, but I see it now, mom. I agree. Because even on medicine and doing talk therapy, I still was an anxious, depressed mess. Food still scares me, milk still terrifies me. I can eat a half a pizza on my own and enjoy a bowl of ice cream for dessert and not want to harm myself, so I’d say we’ve done something right. My dietitian has been with me for years now, and we talk about food a lot, but also just recovery stuff. She was there to calmly explain what to expect when I was scheduled for a physical and was worried to pieces over it. She was there when I needed someone to celebrate with me about eating a hamburger. She was there when I thought I finally got the intuitive eating thing, and when I decided I in fact DID NOT get it. She’s been with me through the worst of my issues, and now she is getting to see me at my best. If you ever need a dietitian, or just a good friend hit me up.
Ugh. I never wanted to depend on meds to “make me” feel better. I believed that I was doomed to a life of depression and suicidal thoughts. It’s all in finding the right medicine though, and that took ages for me, but has been wonderful once I found the right one. Antidepressants scared me initially because I didn’t understand how they worked. Now they scare me because I don’t know how I’ll react to them. Thankfully, I am currently on a medication and dose that cuts waaay down on my depression and anxiety (though that social anxiety is still a killer). Birth control is something that is surprisingly helpful, not only to women who have trauma related to menstruation, but the right ones can also help prevent osteoporosis by providing estrogen to a body that has stopped making it (if periods have stopped due to lack of nutrition/low weight). I can say that personally it has helped me succeed in the recovery process, as my doctor worked with me to come up with a plan of what dosage and kind was right for me.
Yep, I said it. Obamacare has helped immensely these past few years. I feel really grateful that our country had this healthcare plan in place, because at the time of my decision to seek out help for real this time, I had really crappy insurance that paid for about a third or less of my medical bills. Not to mention the medications I’m on (birth control is upwards of $250 for a 3-month supply, my antidepressant is around $200 for a 90-day supply) which have been fully covered by Medicaid. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have been accepting help from the government, because I know the numbers. Recovery in the home is expensive. Recovery at an inpatient program is ridiculously expensive. As I mentioned above, money has always been an issue for me, especially when I am shelling it out on myself. This holds true even when it comes to medical expenses, which I did have to cover for a long while. I may have to cover them sooner rather than later (thanks, Trump), and I’m in a better place now, a place I can make rational decisions about my expenses and healthcare.
Writing my blog and in my journal has been a tremendous help to me. Not only to bounce ideas off of blog readers and get feedback, writing is therapeutic to its very core for me. If I have something that I need to get out, I’d rather write words on paper than speak them. When I first started blogging, it was mostly so anyone who was close to me and knew my story could keep up with me. Now though, I have several readers who I have never met, yet they are going through lots of the things I have. When I was first realizing what anorexia was (at age 13), I thought I was probably the only person in my town that had an eating disorder, maybe one of the few in Iowa. Blogging has really opened my eyes to the fact that not only am I not alone in my illness, I am also not alone in my thoughts and actions. It has also done wonders for my shame about my struggle. I’m real, my problems are real and where’s the shame in that?
The first time I was really aware of how important advocacy is in the recovery process was about five years ago when I was being forced into hospitalization by a doctor who didn’t know me, and didn’t know eating disorders. She saw me as a liability, and wanted me off her hands. She also let me choose my own antidepressant, if that tells you anything (rolling my eyes here). This was a time in my life where I felt lost, cornered, and abandoned. I was living at home at the time, and I was friends with a woman (who would later become my mother-in-law) who stepped in as a mother figure when my own mother could not. She generously took time out of her day to take me to a therapy session and try to get me out of my current situation, which was looking like a nightmare. She told me that I needed an advocate, and she was going to be that for me. Over the next few years, I didn’t hear much about advocacy, and it isn’t until recently that I can say that I am now well enough to be my own advocate. This is another “sticky” issue, because until someone who is severely underweight is able to process information in their brain fully, they may not be able to make rational decisions, or even the “best” decision. I can honestly say that sticking up for myself has been an issue whether or not I had an eating disorder, so I wasn’t capable of self-advocacy just like that. It’s been through many talks with my therapist, and learning to trust my emotional and physical reactions that have led to me being able to start making decisions based on my best interest.