Speak up

Asking  for help may not be required, but it sure is helpful. Accepting help? Now that’s a different story. For me it is required. As someone recovering from anorexia, I am beginning to see just how much help and support I need. I’m pretty sure it’s fair to say that most people with any kind of mental illness will some day need to stop putting walls up and just be. For the longest time I swore I wasn’t blocking people out. How could I be, when I was perfectly fine talking about what I was going through? Hah! How naive I was. Yes, I would talk if someone poked and prodded me. But I never completely opened up. I wouldn’t even let myself face the truth, so how could I invite someone else to come peer into the windows of my soul with me? My husband felt hurt that I wouldn’t let him or anyone help me. My whole family was asking me how they could help, and guess how I answered? By telling them to leave me alone. I was fine. I could do this alone– I had to do this alone. Ed likes to tell lies. I know now he was feeding me more than just lies about food. He was filling me up with falsehoods about my life, my body, my health, and my abilities. I didn’t find myself changed overnight, it was a process. But eventually I got to a place where if help was offered, I had a little bit of an easier time accepting it.

I’m sitting on the couch watching Orange is the New Black when my husband walks into the room bearing a plate heaped with pasta and vegetables with cheese sauce. My ears had picked up the noise of a packet of parmesan cheese being ripped open, and my mouth opened but then sealed shut again. I had been about to tell him not to dare putting parmesan onto my spaghetti. But then I remembered: me as a child happily pouring piles of the stuff onto my spaghetti. I could practically taste the sharpness of it on my tongue. No, I would not stop him from putting it on my dinner. When the plate was in my hands I saw tiny mounds of white parmesan cheese on top of my spaghetti and meatballs. “Thank you for the parmesan!” I said. I can practically see ed cringing.

A while after dinner a plate was proffered to me. “Two for you and two for me!” Said his happy voice. I looked at the cakes on the plate. “What are these?” I asked. What were they? The most delectable dessert I had tasted in a long time. Sure they came out of a plastic wrapper.  But mini cakes with frosting and sprinkles are currently my favorite, thanks to my dessert last night.

These are small ways my barriers are being torn down. In just one meal, I had jumped over a few small hurdles. It felt good. And tasted good. I still have a ways to go though, in lots of areas. Speaking up is not easy for me. Asking for what I need is practically impossible. I hate it because often, I end up hurting when it is not needed. I’ll feel isolated and alone, and end up going to bed hoping tomorrow looks brighter. I hear cars drive by and pray it’s someone coming to give me a hug. I hold my phone and tell myself if it rings in the next minute, that I will be OK, that I am loved. Voicing my hurts and needs are scary and vulnerable-making. But it would save me so much drama to just speak up.

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Life = script

This past week I had an appointment with my therapist. Nothing against her at all(she’s the best), but every time I have an appointment I dread it. I think it’s ed rearing his head and getting angry that I’m finding help. Or maybe it’s my introvert tendencies rising to the surface. Perhaps it is my unfounded belief that asking for help is a no-no. I don’t really know…but each time I go to an appointment I feel better afterwards, so there is no reason for me to be nervous beforehand.

At this particular appointment we talked a lot about recent “events” (I.e. my period making a comeback) and how I felt during that time. I was honest, telling her that it was a very traumatic time for me, actually. That it was painful and horrible, though not to the extent of when I was 13, and that I couldn’t handle what my now healthy body was doing. She is so understanding and wonderful, guys…just…I never feel judged by her or like she isn’t hearing what I am saying. In fact, I often feel like she hears even what I am not saying. I have felt so much commitment, love, and support this time around and all in my small hometown.

I wanted to share what I am considering a breakthrough with all of you. My therapist mentioned my “life-script” a lot the other day. At first I was just thinking that was a different way to refer to my life and my story, but then I really thought about what she said. Life script. So if I look at life like a book that is being written, or a movie or a play…I am the author. Authors have a lot of power over their stories, right? They can make characters be born, kill them off, create marriages and divorce. A job may be accepted, it may be lost. What if I were the author of my life? Not that I am God, not that in the least. I know that there are some things that can’t be changed. But authors aren’t God. They’re just telling a story, right?

So in my role as an author, I have a life all set up. Some things have happened in the past that I’m not proud of. I have a family that loves me and more friends than I’ve ever had up to this point. We’re kind of jumping in, in the middle of my story now. Because for so long, I didn’t have this insight. I forgot who the author of my story was and ed kind of took over. But I’m not really seeing good things coming from his pen, so now it’s my turn. Let’s see if I can turn this around, right some wrongs.

First, let’s get rid of ed, right? Well, that’s been kind of difficult because he’s quite proud of the story he has been writing. He thinks it’s some kind of masterpiece. But I have to have some back story, so I’m not going to give all of his work up to this point over to him. After all, I did start out as the main character and author in my story, so ed doesn’t have sole ownership. He still likes to hang around and see how things are going now and then. Cause a little mischief. Fine I can deal with that. He’s a nuisance but whatever. So ed is kind of out of the picture. Next I was really wanting to work on removing some of the nasty stuff ed had going on. He thought it would be cool to make the main character miserable, and really just a sad person all around. Slowly, so as not to startle anyone, I brought some new characters into the mix and got some good things going. Soon, the main character was beginning to have a life that wasn’t so difficult.

Do you see where I’m going with this? I have choices. Some things my happen that I don’t have control over. That’s ok, that’s life. But the way I write what happens, the choices I make to combat the bad and enhance the good…those are all mine now. Isn’t that exciting to think about, in your own life? It’s empowering, I think. Not that I will control everything that happens in my life. Not that I want to. I don’t. Looking at life this was is interesting, especially since I’m a writer. I can relate to the concept well, and I think my therapist knew that.

So what happened in my story this week? Well, I survived my first period in many, many years. I took responsibility of the situation and contacted my doctor because as she says, she has “tricks up her sleeve”. What a relief because if not,
I honestly think I would be looking at relapse. I relaxed a lot but also worked some. I became super paranoid around the time I got my period and was convinced someone was trying to break into my house (come to find out, I’m not the only person who suffers from paranoia around that time of the month…it’s a real thing). I had a mini plumbing crises, but that didn’t make me have an anxiety attack, thankfully. My story is coming along slowly but surely. In subtle ways I am penning things in here and there to make the changes I like. My life script is full of plot holes and mini tragedies, but if  I do say  so myself, I think it is coming along quite nicely.

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Who is Ed?

I had made up my mind to write this post early this morning before I got out of bed. But then, I went to an appointment with my doctor and she told me how she has been reading my blog, but it took her a second to realize who Ed was. I totally understand. I also understand if someone who reads this blog and is suffering from an eating disorder hates the idea of naming their eating disorder. Because that’s who ed is, my Eating Disorder, ED.

No offense to anyone reading this who has someone beloved with the name ed, but I despise that name. It used to be a name that I just wasn’t too fond of…Edward is fine, I actually like the name Edward. But ed…nope. That is why it is the perfect name for my “other identity”. I often feel like I have this side of me that is not me. That’s ed. It has been crucial for me to separate myself from ed throughout this whole ordeal. Ed is very different from the real me.  I personally really enjoy chocolate chip cookies. Ed doesn’t think I do though. In fact, he thinks that a granola bar sounds much better, and plus, he won’t make me feel guilty about eating a granola bar…it’s healthy. C’mon! Unfortunately, ed is lying. He also likes chocolate chip cookies, but they make him sick. Sick with guilt. And so do granola bars. If I chose a granola bar over a cookie, this is what it would play out like:

Ed: No cookie for you. Someone else will eat those. You have plenty of granola bars. You should have a granola bar.
Me: I should have a granola bar.
I eat the granola bar, feeling clean and special because I have resisted temptation. I am superwoman (not).
Then…when it comes time for dinner, ed raises his voice again.

Ed: No!! No you cannot have pizza. No. You will wait and have a sandwich. Or better yet, have half a sandwich. And no dessert for you, remember the granola bar you had earlier?
Me: Yeah, but I didn’t have the cookie, and you said that was being good. Why can’t I have pizza?
Ed: Hello! You know pizza scares you. It’s not really healthy for you anyway. A sandwich will be better and I’ll leave you alone for the night. Promise.
Me: But…I used to like pizza.
Ed: Yeah, well that was before. We don’t like pizza anymore.

I have the sandwich. And ed still pesters me all night and starts again in the morning. He also creeps into my dreams, with images and scenes of me screaming at my parents for what they are trying to force me to eat. Of me resisting food with my mouth clamped firmly shut. He makes me feel on edge and self conscious, wondering how I will navigate through meals without upsetting him.

And as if food isn’t enough, he starts to nag me about everything else too. He tells me I can’t have supper until I finish reading my book. I can’t have a snack before bed until I wash my face. My car wouldn’t start in the cold winter one year, so ed said I had to eat less for the rest of the day. He is so persuasive. Obviously he doesn’t make sense…none of his rules are logical, but I was under his fierce grip. I was helpless. He told me if I was good and if I let him control me, I would be a better person.

I hate ed. He was successful at ruining the majority of my life between the ages of 13 and 22. I guess it got easier as I went along. To listen to him, that is. Ed surely didn’t get quieter, in fact  he seemed to get louder. Exercise was a big thing with ed. He told me I had to exercise once a day. Then it was twice a day for fifteen minutes. The more exercise the better. He even manipulated my doctor at the time, and told my doctor I would only eat if I could exercise. The doctor said it would be good for my brain. Everything in moderation, right? Yeah well ed knew that the slow walking the doctor allowed for ten minutes wasn’t enough. Nothing was ever enough for ed when it came to discipline and me. Now he had me running on my “walk”. He had me sneaking around behind my mom’s back and lying about exercise. I didn’t even like to exercise!! But ed said I did.

At one point, ed said I could eat pretty much whatever I wanted, as long as I only ate what my younger sister ate. This posed a few problems, one of them being I wasn’t always with my sister, so I couldn’t know what she was eating. Another was that ed realized I wasn’t as active as my sister, so he told me that was enough of that.

So, who is ed? He is a a nasty lying thing that talks to me way too much, though I am working on changing that. He twists people’s words to say exactly the opposite of what they mean. He tells me I am worthless and that I am no fun. He tells me I can only do this if I do that first. And that I can only eat that if I don’t eat this. For a long time he told me he wanted to kill me…now our positions are reversed, thankfully. He is depression and anxiety. He is horrible and slimy. He is not me. He is a monster. He is anorexia.  

 

The reason why

I felt so good. I was doing so well. And then…the one thing that I knew would trip me up for sure…perhaps the reason why I began restricting in the first place, all of those years ago…came back.

I don’t want to compare this to something inappropriate. I know that for lots of women, this monthly phenomenon is routine. So you must keep in mind that phobias are real, right? And trauma is real. And fear and loathing. I know there are much worse things out there, but to my thirteen year old self, this was as bad as it got. Please remember that I was scared out of my mind. So now, nine years later my mind immediately jumps back across the years and feels the fear, shame, pain and agony.

I had no forewarning this time. I was happily going about my business, running errands and eating breakfast. I thought I was just constipated. No. Not even close. I immediately texted my husband and he told me to come home. He knows how scared I am. He is a problem solver, and looked some information up on the internet about supplements I should take that might help remedy things and prevent me from being as miserable as last time. He even offered to pick stuff up at Walmart for me.

All this time  I am murmuring and mumbling to myself in my head. “What am I going to do? What about work? What if it’s as bad as last time?”

I’m scared. I don’t want this. Not now and maybe not ever. I know it signifies me being healthier and my body healing. I know it’s normal and good. But something inside me always hoped it would never come back. It’s like, my body is doing this thing I don’t want it to. I know I should feel good about this progress, but it’s hard. It’s so hard.

So today I wear a shirt my wonderful mom bought me that states on the front “choose courage”, and I will survive, just like every other woman in history with this affliction has. I will press on, and choose courage, because even though ed is whispering that I know how to stop this, in fact I mastered it quite long ago. Even though he tells me that I am failing him, that see? He is my friend! He’s able to take away all of my pain. Even though it would be so easy…I am stronger than him now. Take courage.

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Now I’ve done it

I’ve done it. Reached  a point where my dietitian is comfortable with advising me to eat more fruits and vegetables. And cutting out some of the multitude of snacks I consumed most evenings without really thinking about it. I feel a bit accomplished, perhaps proud I must admit. But my initial reaction to her words “you don’t have to have the evening snack you’ve been having, just as long as you have a snack.” Wait, what? No more peanut butter and crackers? No more 2oz of cheese and 7 saltines? Nope. No more. A shiver of excitement went through me. This was it. This was freedom. Almost.

Two times last week I ate breakfast alone, at home. I love having breakfast with my husband or my mom and brother, but I just wanted to see what it felt like to wake up at a decent time and nourish myself. You’ve got to remember- since September I either had breakfast at work, or at my mother’s house, or with my husband on Sunday mornings (he makes a mean French toast, I must say). The Times I ate alone, I wasn’t really alone. I was at work. I was on limited time. Before 9:00, was the goal. Breakfast in me before 9:00. This last week I didn’t have to work until 10:00 on two mornings. One morning I woke up around 9:30 and grabbed a quick breakfast of a toaster strudel and banana. Lack of protein, yes…but so good. And I made up for it later. What’s life without a little spontaneity?

The most amazing thing this past week has been this: even though my dietitian told me I know longer have to have a certain after dinner snack, I knew that wouldn’t mean I would start to restrict or cut back. Instead I have been challenging myself. Having a “fun food” with lunch (the cookies were calling).  Allowing myself a homemade dessert after eating a submarine sandwich and potato chips. I didn’t check in with ed on these things, but I can imagine he was writhing in agony. A few months ago, these choices wouldn’t have been possible. I didn’t have the tools to fight with ed, and I was pretty weak. It still takes a lot of effort to tune in to what my body might be saying and listen. I think it will take a long time to be able to follow any kind of instinct or intuition. But I am on my way.

I do still find myself reading nutrition facts labels. I try not to, I try to block the chart and percentages out. I definitely try my hardest not to let ed get his hands on the information. I know he will calculate and manipulate, telling me what is not as “bad”, what my allotment is for today. It’s something I have to be overly conscious of, not letting ed have a say. Of course, I do still have lots of comfort foods…or “comfortable foods” rather.  Hey, it’s a vegetable I know, but I have this comfort thing with baby carrots. Well today I ate broccoli instead and it was so good!  The dip on the side may have helped some…I have come to the conclusion that ed is not going to have his say in this matter, in this totally following the Herrin Food Plan. I am not cutting back, ed. I am going to attempt to listen to my body and eat accordingly. You have no say in this, ed.

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The b.s. and the lies

I have lots of problems, we all know that. But one thing I have really been struggling with throughout my recovery has been guilt. That is, guilt about what I know I should eat, and what I actually eat. Guilt about telling my dietitian that the project she assigned me last week just didn’t happen. Guilt about not being able to hold up to her expectations. It used to be worse. I’d eat a meal with my husband, and I felt like I had let him down because I didn’t eat enough. Though I felt anxious that I would be called out on it, I didn’t do anything to remedy the fact that I was consuming less than I knew I should. I think right now I need a bracelet saying “W.W. C. S.” (What would C. say), to remind me that my dietitian knows what’s up. She has me on the right track. What she says, goes. It’s not always ed…or maybe it is.

Sometimes it’s just so easy to be lazy and go with the routine foods I used to eat. Sometimes I’ve had a big dinner and don’t want to have a fun food (Or ed doesn’t want me to…). I’m finding it easier to differentiate between me and ed…but I still fond myself listening to him sometimes, even when I know it’s him. “You just had a burger and fries, you don’t need a slice of Reeses pie” “If you don’t have that yogurt, you could have pizza for dinner”. Do you hear a voice like this too? Do you chalk it up to your conscience? For me, it’s not. It’s ed.

Sometimes I get so overwhelmed thinking of all the years I restricted, and all of the foods out there. I know I can have anything in moderation, but it can still be so overwhelming. For a while, when my anxiety was really bad, I couldn’t even go to the grocery store or look at the ad for our local supermarket without being filled with an inexplicable dread. At this time I wasn’t eating much, so I rarely had to go shopping…but the idea still gnawed at me. I think one of the tactics ed likes to use to get to me is telling me that if things aren’t just so, I will lose control. And when I lose control, all hell will break loose. And when all hell breaks loose, I will eat and eat and eat. I will become bulimic and fall down yet another rabbit hole. I remember talking about this fear with my mom. But control…and ed, won’t let me eat to that extent. The fear it still there though. It’s irrational, but so is anorexia.

My dietitian is so great. I may be afraid of disappointing her, but I am slowly realizing that my choices are laying out before me, and if I make the right ones, I feel better. I then have nothing to hide. If I decide to go against her advice and listen to ed, I know I have done wrong. She won’t be disappointed in me, but I am only hurting myself when I don’t make an effort to move forward. I have an appointment tomorrow with my dietitian. I know she is going to ask me how things went these past few weeks. I feel like they went great, but I know I didn’t do my best.  It’s hard to add in dip or sandwich spread at lunch. I swear it is. Or maybe ed is just saying it is. Just like he told me milk was a sin. Oh ed. I’m going to miss your antics just a bit. They’re so hysterical, and yet so cunning. I like to think I’m kind of smart…but ed makes me wonder…
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Contentment

With the new year having arrived, I am hearing a lot of chatter about contentment. Hannah Brencher is probably one of the first I was aware of. Hannah is amazing. She was depressed, and wrote love letters to strangers to help quell her homesickness. She puts together lovely bundles of letters for people who need them. And apparently, she is addicted to Target, like me. It seems like every year, things keep popping up that we humans need. And not only things, but we need the right body, and the best diet, and the perfect job. We are always trying to better ourselves. But what if we’re fixing something that was never broken in the first place?

I have struggled with mending broken things. A lot. I’m not very good at it, but really…who is? It’s easy to look back and see where we went wrong. Where we could have taken a different route and never run into trouble. The “what ifs” can be crippling. Somewhere along the line we have to accept the hand were dealt, right? But there are some things that can be fixed…or at least put back together, with glue holding the pieces back together. I am one of those things. I didn’t see it for a long time. It took me years. Most of the time, what kept me from moving forward was my fears. Fear of failure. Fear of who I might be (or become). Fear of what it would take. Every second I waited, I moved further away from the true me.

But recovery wasn’t even a choice for me, at some points. I wasn’t strong enough to fight ed, even though every day I didn’t fight, his grip got stronger. “Oh well” I thought. “I’m happy this way. I don’t want anything to change”. Yeah. Uh-huh. Because not being able to go out to eat at lunch and enjoy myself is being happy. Because eating a tortilla with low fat cream cheese for supper makes me happy. Because not drinking milk makes ed happy. Because not eating meat makes ed happy. Because low fat, low calorie, MAKES ED HAPPY. At some point, I stopped making choices for myself, based on what I knew was good for me, and started letting ed make the decisions for me. Scary stuff.

Now that I am climbing my way out of my pit of despair, I see things so much more clearly. It feels so good to put myself before ed. I get down sometimes when I feel like I have ruined myself, that I will never be normal, that if I ever want to eat healthier or exercise for my health, everyone will think it’s ed. That I will think it’s ed. These things come with time, I just have to keep reminding myself of that. I struggle with material contentment, but I also struggle with physical contentment. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be gorgeous and hailed as the beauty queen. I don’t really care about outward beauty and how I look. Not in that way. Ed does. He says I care too. But I don’t. I just want to feel content in this body that I have. I want to feel at home, in a way I haven’t since I was ten. I’m working towards that. It’s all about listening and feeling and being present. It’s about knowing it’s ok to relax, and if your feet ache, reveling in the relief of sitting down. It’s being tired and taking a nap, and putting on comfy clothes because those jeans are too stiff. It’s lip balm when my lips are sexy and moisturizer when my face feels like it might crack. Being content is hard, and I don’t think I quite know the true meaning of it. Not yet anyway. It is fleeting, dashing around the corner…there, I see it! I have it in my sights. I’m not tracking it down, but I am studying it. I am a student of contentment and love. Life is a journey. Embrace it.

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