The Face of Functional Anxiety

I remember when I was first hospitalized, my favourite high school teacher came to visit me.  She came several times over the months that I was in there, but I remember that first visit specifically.

She hadn’t seen me in years.  Not decades, but it had been a solid two years.  And two years before, I was graduating high school, and looking towards a bright future.  I was heading off to university for the first time, and I had enough scholarships to cover my expenses for first year for sure, with the possibility of a good number renewing the next year, so long as I kept my grades up.  I had a 96% average (stupid physical education just kept bringing me down!), and was looking towards a science degree in veterinary medicine.  I was the class valedictorian.  I had a plethora of extra curricular activities. The skies were nothing but bright for me.

Except for that dark cloud… the one that no one ever noticed.  The one that had been there for so long that it was simply a part of my normal, when in reality it was anything but.

When she turned the corner into my room and laid eyes on me for the first time, I remember the shock.  I remember the look of dismay and fear in her eyes.  The look that was initially there, but quickly covered up by professionalism and compassion.

She wasn’t expecting to see a human skeleton.  She wasn’t expecting to see a shell.  She wasn’t expecting to see a broken person, whose future had once been so bright, now just scrambling to hold it together and stay alive long enough to put together all the pieces.

I remember talking to her.  I was too sick to retain a lot of memories at that point.  There are large chunks of my life that I to this day don’t remember…  I can pinpoint a moment, usually an ingrained memory of this time period that is only recognizable by the emotion I was feeling at the time: terror.

I remember that I went to my Grandma’s right before I was hospitalized, but I don’t remember being there.  It’s a black chunk of space.  It’s like I can remember up to a certain point, and then it’s as if someone just used a ____________ and wiped the slate clean.  The only thing I remember is the terror that struck me when I stared at the menu selection of split pea soup.  I remember I was there because I remember reading split pea soup on the dinner menu at the retirement home.  And I remember the terror I felt because she didn’t have wifi for me to calorie count.  That’s it.

I remember staying at my aunt and uncle’s just before that because I was too scared to be home.  I have photo evidence I was there from a selfie I took, although I don’t remember taking the selfie at all.  But I do remember the breakfast before they drove me to Grandma’s.  I remember 5 cheerios, a peach, and a handful of almonds.  I can picture the plate perfectly in my mind, and the terror I felt while staring at it.  Just as perfectly as I can remember myself scraping the whole thing into the trash can and covering it up with tissues (save 3 cheerios.  I ate three cheerios), when no one was looking.

So I don’t remember everything.  But I remember the terror on her face when she saw me.  And the shock.  And I know that I told her everything.  I know I told her how difficult it had been, all the crap I faced growing up, the late nights staying up till 4 in the morning when I had to get up again at 7.  The fact that school was my sanctuary because I dreaded going home at the end of the day at 3:30.  The fact that the only thing that got me through some nights was some intense prayer, and the reality that I got to escape again for 7 hours the next morning.

I don’t remember telling her, but I know I did.  Because I remember her response:

“I had no idea.  You always seemed to have it all together.  You had everything figured out.  You were so together and collected.  I had no idea all the stuff you were dealing with.  I had no idea you eventually weren’t even living at home for the last couple years of high school.  I guess it proves, you can’t judge a book by its cover… I just can’t believe that underneath the exterior, the inside was so torn up.”

The amount of times I’ve heard it:  I had no idea.  You never told me.  You had everything so together.

It’s the face I deal with every day.  It’s the untold story that lies beneath.  It’s that dark cloud that seems invisible to everyone else.  That dark cloud that only I can see, but is so normal that I forget, it’s not supposed to be there.

Functional Anxiety… or rather High-Functioning Anxiety.

I read an article that explains it all so much better than I ever could, but regardless I’m going to try.  I do however, urge you all to give the article a read, because it is SO enlightening, and so relatable to so many people, if you struggle with any kind of mental illness.

I’ve had so many conversations, in which when I finally let down the wall a little bit, it’s perceived as a relapse.  It’s perceived as a greater amount of struggling, or like the therapy and recovery process is not going well.  It’s perceived as not working.  The reality is, perhaps it IS working, because I’m finally getting too tired to hold the wall up.  My shell is cracking, and I’m allowing myself to trust you enough to let you in.

It’s like in Harry Potter ( 🤓🙌🙌), when unless you’ve witnessed death, you can’t see the threstrals.  Well, up until now you haven’t seen my head, so you can’t see my cloud.  But if I remove the veil, you can see just how dark of a place it is.

What is functional anxiety?

It’s a mask.  It’s an illness that is so pervasive and sneaky.  It’s a shroud of diligence that keeps you alive and moving in your life, treading water, not sinking but not swimming.  In limbo… but limbo appears normal.

What does it look like?

It’s in my movements.  You see it as productivity and energy, a strong sense of drive and priority.  You see it as high standards, and dedication to getting jobs done to the T.

What you don’t notice is those subtle movements that give it all away.  The shifting of my feet as I stand.  The wiggling of a foot as I’m sitting down.  The plethora of scars that litter my legs from picking at nicks and scabs.  The amount of times my hands wander up to my hair, and how often I have to wash it because the constant swiping makes it oily.

It looks like me holing myself up in my room when working on coursework and staying up until all hours of the night to study or get a project done.  It’s reading and rereading every page, every note, and trying to commit it all to memory.  It looks like studiousness.  In reality I remember nothing, because all I can see in those moments of trying to learn it all, is my inevitable failure.

You can see it in my words… in my frequency of using “…” to end a thought.  Unwilling to commit to a period (“.”) because of the finality of it, the inability to change your mind.  Because, what if that thought was wrong?  The amount of times I say, “I don’t know.”  The amount of times I commit to something with, “maybe”.  My initial excitement over something spontaneous, the invigoration in my whole body and soul, shrouded by a flash of panic in my eyes when something out of the ordinary changes my plans.

It looks like me standing in front of a coffee shop or ice cream parlour menu for inordinate amounts of time, because for these two things that I enjoy so much it isn’t a simple decision.  My brain is confusing choosing an ice cream with buying a car.  The commitment is unequal, but it must be just as perfect.  Every decision I makes dictates my fate, not my moment.

It looks like busyness.  Always doing something.  Refusing to rest.  It looks like a lot of yawns, covered up by diet coke, from a 4 or 5 hour sleep.  It looks like a bike ride, or four.  Racing, running.

What does it feel like?

Filling my life with breaths of fresh air as my feet or my wheels pound the pavement, and feeling the rejuvenation that each blast of air circulating through my body brings.  Racing, running, flying, always moving because it feels that by moving I can outrun my thoughts.  I can leave them behind me in the dust.

It feels like a progressively worsening throb right between my eyebrows. Like shackles and chains holding me down, pinning my arms and legs to the place I’m in, both mentally and physically.  It’s the claws of a lion digging into my shoulders and neck, slicing further and further into my muscles and nerves while I try vigorously to free myself.  Constant rotation of my head, rolling of my shoulders, massaging them with one arm, or both.

It’s a sinking rock suddenly falling into my stomach, and subsequent trembling of my arms and hands when something changes the plans.  When I’m put on the spot.  When I’m surprised.

What does it sound like?

A sudden shift, a dramatic outburst.  A cloying frustration with a simple question.  A nasty sneer, with an occasional swear word.  As if I’m arguing, but with an unknown person.  A calm conversation that suddenly becomes heated.  As if you’re interrupting a conversation, but I’m not talking to anyone you can see.

You are interrupting me.  You’re interrupting the train of thought in my cloud.

It sounds like nothing.  The world is quiet.  I am quiet.  I am silent and non communicative.  You hear nothing.

I hear:

You are nothing.  You are worthless.  You are pathetic.  You are lazy.  You are a pig.  You are a terrible friend.  You’re a terrible girlfriend.  You’re selfish.  You don’t deserve to be loved.  You are unloveable.  You are going to mess it all up.  You’re going to fail.  You’re a mistake.  You’re a waste of space.  You’re a waste of time.  Why did you say that?  Why did you do that?  You’re so stupid!  They’re going to hate you.  What if they hate you?  He’s going to leave.  Why should he stay?  Why would he want to?  You’re boring.  You’re ugly.  You’re fat.  You should be ashamed.  You should feel guilty.  What if it hurts them?  You’re going to get anxious… and then you’re going to quit.  You let everyone down.  No one loves you.  No one likes you.  You bore everyone.  You ruin everything.  You deserve to be alone.  No one wants you around.  They’re just saying that.  They feel sorry for you.  You’re too needy!  You’re immature.  You’re useless.

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It’s a run to the mailbox.  It’s two trips to the basement instead of one.  It’s a way to channel your thoughts and energy and try to burn them out.  To wear yourself out so much that you don’t have the energy to think.  To wear yourself out so much that the cloud will turn foggy and the thoughts will be quiet.  They’ll turn to a mush instead of such distinct statements about yourself and your worth.  It’s a constant attempt to be better and do better to try and prove them wrong, but their volume never lessens, and their requirements just get higher.

It’s running the line between being productive and procrastinating.  The unimportant things get done because they don’t matter, and it doesn’t matter if they’re done wrong.  The important things don’t get done because you can’t risk doing them wrong or making a mistake.  It’s one extreme or another.

It’s waking up in the middle of the night with your thoughts racing, your chest constricting, and if you’re going through something particularly stressful, feeling your heart racing and wondering if you’re having a heart attack (but it’s just a panic attack).

It’s never admitting to being overwhelmed because it’s a sign of weakness.  It’s never allowing them to see you sweat because it ruins the exterior appearance of control and dedication.  It’s not being able to communicate what is wrong for fear of judgement, and for fear of proving the judgements of yourself to be true.  It’s not being able to admit to how you’re feeling because you don’t want them to see you crack.  And if you voice your feelings out loud, and own them, they become so all consuming and real that you can’t cope with them.

It’s avoiding discussions and arguments because you don’t want to be put on the spot.  You want to have all the answers, and maybe, just maybe, you won’t have one.  You don’t want to seem foolish.  You don’t want to appear uneducated.  You don’t want them to see you fumble.

It’s either telling yourself, “You’re a complete mess!” or to “Suck it up, whiny baby!”

It’s constantly invalidating your struggles by telling yourself to, “Get off your high horse! So many people have it worse off!”

It’s being in a crowd of people but not feeling connected to anyone.  Feeling like everyone would be happier if you weren’t at the party, or at the event, or that they only asked you to come because they felt obligated to.  It’s not answering a text message because you don’t know what to say, and you don’t want to appear boring, because you don’t want to lose one of the few people that you feel like you have on your side.  And then feeling like you’re a terrible person for not replying.

And it’s when things that are insignificant everyday occurrences to many, are the world’s biggest victories to you:

1:  Drinking a latte, and allowing yourself to enjoy it.

2: Saying that you’re frustrated.

3: Taking a break from exercise when you’re sick.

4: Taking on a new responsibility at work, even if it’s just to carry rags to the back room.  It doesn’t matter how small.

5: Only biking for 10 minutes instead of 20.

6: Sitting down for your lunch instead of standing in your kitchen.

7: Laughing instead of crying.

8: Talking instead of isolating.

9: Admitting you made a mistake.

10: Moving on after making a mistake.

11: Eating an ice cream cone instead of a peach.

12: Going out with someone new.

13:  Talking to someone on your lunch break.

14: Admitting when you want to eat out, not waiting for someone else to want to.

15: Showing up for something, regardless of how much you’re shaking at the time, or how much terror you’re feeling.

16: Watching a movie.  And actually WATCHING it, not just going through the motions while your head is elsewhere.

17: Deciding your remote control is more friendly than your tennis shoes.  Or that your tennis shoes are more friendly than your remote control.  It depends on the day.

18: Only skimming the pages instead of reading them.

19: Going out on a Friday night instead of studying all weekend.

20: Allowing yourself to cry on another’s shoulder.

And it’s functioning.  It’s appearing okay, to have it all together.  To be at peace on the outside when the tornado rages within.  It’s not productive.  It’s not powering through.  It’s not MANAGING your struggles.  It’s not even coping.

It’s surviving.  It’s not living.

It’s not being happy.

It’s not being content.

It’s not being at peace.

It’s grasping at moments, at split seconds when the tornado dies down, when the winds aren’t quite as gale-like, and then realizing you can hear the birds chirping.  And taking that moment, that second to exhale.  And to smile.

Because you, unlike those around you, realize:

You’re not at a safe harbour.  You’re just in the eye of the storm.

 

 

 

 

Currently: Our Thoughts are Not Our Stories

Hello everyone!

Guess what else says hello?

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Yep… my breakfast.  You guys, it was so good.  So good that I had to include it in this post.  I did something totally different today and decided to bike to the cafe and have my weekly Skype session with my dietitian over breakfast.  I’ve never done that before and I kinda really loved it.  I’m one of those people who dreams of breakfast… it’s the best meal.  I mean nine times out of ten if you asked me at the end of the day what was the most satisfying thing I ate that day, it would be whatever I decided to have for breakfast that day.  My boyfriend, as well as a plethora of people in my family, are not breakfast people.  Or rather, they simply can’t eat right away when they get up.  I don’t get it.  It kind of makes me sad because I can never share my oatmeal love with people.  Or pancake love.  Or various “for one” crumbles, muffins, and latte loves.  See, the moment my feet hit the floor I’m starving… so waiting more than 45 minutes to eat is SO not happening!

Anyways, I dream of breakfast.  I was lying in bed watching “The Revenant” last night, and my thoughts were drifting to the breakfast I knew I’d be eating in nine hours, and trying to figure out what I felt like making.  It’s actually not disordered… it’s me being super excited about breakfast!  And I mean, you have to plan ahead sometimes because if you have a feeling like you’re going to want overnight oats, or a soaked oat and chia smoothie, you gotta get those goodies in the fridge ahead of time!  And I knew, I KNEW, that I felt like an iced latte and a fresh blueberry muffin.

You remember my muffin issues?  Yeah… it’s not as much of a struggle anymore, but I still really really suck at having them for snacks without a breakdown.  But I also discovered that if I truly honour my cravings, I generally only ever want muffins once.  MAYBE twice, if you’re super lucky.  I’m seriously the most diverse person you’ll ever meet… I hate eating things more than once, or twice in a two or three day period and CRAVE that variety.  Like this week we made pulled pork… yeah, it’s good, but that always makes a TON, and after eating it twice it was like, “GIVE ME ANYTHING ELSE!”

So I live off A LOT of single serving recipes, or rather a combination of recipes and creations I make myself.  It totally feeds my diversity and allows me to eat whatever I truly want in a given moment.  But muffins are one of those really tough ones… there honestly are not that many single serving muffin recipes out there!  I mean, unless you count microwave mug cakes… but those are NOT the same as a freshly baked muffin from the OVEN!

Admit it.  You know it’s true.

And sometimes you want a blueberry buttermilk muffin, but if you’re me you DON’T want to eat twelve of them!  It was super easy when my Dad was around… he was the quintessential normal intuitive eater.  He had absolutely no food rules (🙆🏻!!) and had the metabolism of like a hummingbird.

Side note: Hummingbirds apparently have the highest metabolism of any animal… it kind of makes sense with their speed and ridiculously high heart rate. #gottalovegoogle.

Anyways, I think I get my breakfast love from him.  The first thing he did when he got up was walk into the kitchen and put two slices of bread in the toaster.  He was also a morning person like me… A couple of genetic tics that I’m not hating!

Double side note: Do you even know how many toasters we went through when he was around?  No joke, I swear we went through one every year, or maybe every two years.  SO MUCH TOAST!

Moving along… it was easy with him around.  He ADORED baked goods, and still does.  Give him anything with a bit of sugar and some fluffy floury substance, and he was all over it like white on rice (which by the way is a really odd expression…). So if I felt like muffins, I could make 12 and know that if I had one, or two, he’d easily take care of the rest.  Same with cakes, pies, cookies… actually when it came to cookies, you were lucky if you even got one of those before they were gone.

Now it’s not so easy… if I bake 12 muffins, chances are we’ll only go through three, maybe four before they’re all mouldy, and that’s only if I have help eating some of them.  And don’t give me the whole freeze the rest thing… there was a time when I made like 4 dozen muffins because I felt like having different kinds available.  And then a whole shelf of our freezer was taken up for over a year.  At the moment I have some banana walnut ones in there that I think I made 4 months ago… I’m pretty sure there’s still 10 of them.  The only exception to this was my grandma’s banana bran muffins… man I could easily pound through 3 of those a day.  Once again, just like her cinnamon buns, we’ll never know exactly how she made her little paper-lined cups of heaven.

Long story short:  it just doesn’t work.  So when I felt like a blueberry muffin for breakfast today, I knew the only logical plan was to go to the cafe and buy one.

So I hopped on the bike.  Usually I walk there, but I’ve been craving a bike ride recently because I haven’t had the chance to go, and I FINALLY bought a bike lock, so I can chain it up.  And being relatively new to the biking game, I am of course super nervous about biking to somewhere busy simply because I haven’t done it before.

It went fine though!  And it was WAY faster… like ten minutes and that was a leisurely pace, AND with walking across crosswalks (because I’m not comfortable biking across them, and lets be honest: you ARE supposed to walk your bike across anyways), AND going the longer scenic way that takes like 25-30 minutes to walk as opposed to 15-20.  AND, I managed to figure out the bike lock… I think.

Have you ever had that sinking feeling like you did something wrong, because you weren’t totally confident in what you were doing?

I have this urge to check but I don’t want to pack everything up… so I’ll hope for the best.

Moving along… so I walked into the cafe, first thing when it opened, and you could smell the fresh baked goods!  And I’ve been in a “I’M SO HUNGRY I COULD EAT EVERYTHING!” phase constantly the past few days (so scary!) so I was more than ready for my muffin.  And I walked up to the counter hoping for a blueberry filled fluffy pillow of muffin top joy… and was greeted by raspberry chocolate chip.

Really, I can DO any kind of muffin (I may not be craving it, but I can eat it) EXCEPT one with chocolate chips.  NO.

 

Chocolate chips do not belong in breakfast, and they DEFINITELY do not belong in muffins.  They have made me gag for as long as I can remember.  Not an ED thing either.

So… disappointment.  Because there was no way I was getting a muffin today to attempt to assuage my muffin craving.  But, you can always go back to old faithful: date squares.  I LOVE date squares…. like LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!  And ED hates them… but that’s a moot point.  I haven’t had one probably since September or October, so I was long overdue, and while it was no blueberry muffin it was just as good because I love, love, love them.

Side note: Is this a Canadian thing?  When I was talking to my dietitian, she mentioned that she loved them too, but that they’re near IMPOSSIBLE to find other than at their Whole Foods.  Around here, you’re actually more hard pressed to find a cafe that DOESN’T sell them, thank heavens, because once again, it’s really hard to find a single serve date square recipe too.

So my breakfast was delicious, especially the date square, which I hadn’t tried at this particular cafe before.  I think it’s the best one in town, and it will be a thing again for sure.  And, as far as I know, my bike is still tied up outside.

Win.

Man I get on tangents.  I haven’t written in so long because I’ve had this MASSIVE case of writer’s block… and while I really had an aim at the start of this post, I’ve long since gotten derailed and I’m already 1500 words in and have reached a point where going into ED stuff might make this WAY too long. I guess we’ll just see where we end up at this point…

So guess what!!! It’s my man’s graduation today!

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And while he’s all nonchalant about it, I’m super duper proud of him because I know what he’s gone through to get to this point, and how long he’s been waiting to be able to say, “DONE!”  Plus, yesterday we went to an awards ceremony (which he is also all nonchalant and humble about), where he won three amazing awards that he totally deserved.  And yes, I’m gushing, but it’s totally true and while it might not be a big deal to him, I get to celebrate it and totally brag because that is my job.

#girlfriendrights.

In addition, he’s starting a new job today that is totally more in line with his interests, passions, and hobbies, and while I’m kind of down because I won’t see him as much as a result, I’m also so happy for him and excited for his new opportunities.  Dialectics at its finest.  Truly, the feelings are mostly happy ones.

So the past few days have been pretty full, with today being the fullest I’m guessing.  And it’s funny because you’d think that with all the hubbub and ado, I wouldn’t have time for ED crap.  And yes, this is true, but only partially.  See, I have less time to OVERANALYZE, and limited time to ENGAGE in harmful behaviours, but as a result, or perhaps as a side effect, I have more of an urge to?

It is a well known fact that stress is one of the biggest eating disorder footholds:  the eating disorder thrives on higher levels of anxiety, as well as tensions regardless of whether they are internally or externally driven.  It bases itself on that sense of a lack of control that one has when there is stress in life.

So when my man is stressed because he is struggling with work-related issues, and I can’t do anything about it, I feel powerless, and out of control.  I internalize it, and grasp at strings to try to find something that I can be in charge of and take the reigns on: my weight, shape, and food.

When I have less time to fit in exercise, still have a meal plan, and still want to fully engage in other aspects of my life, I feel like I’m bound and chained to complete the time allotment by any means possible.  I internalize, and I plan.  I set my alarm an hour earlier and sacrifice sleep to “get it all in”.  I eat my lunch super fast at work to maximize time so I have an extra fifteen minutes during a break to shave off of my walking time.

When I have goals to honour my hunger and my cravings from the dietitian for the week, but I’m unexpectedly blindsided by incessant unrelenting hunger for a few days, I panic.  I should jump for joy because, hello, I’m actually getting a clear message from my body, a rarity in a skeleton that has gotten all too used to hunger silence.  On days when your physical hunger signals are ACTUALLY there, it makes identifying cravings so much easier, so this “assignment” would have technically been a piece of kale (I meant to write cake, but I was going fast and that is actually what my fingers typed… I kind of liked it, so I left it 😋). If it involves eating MORE than the meal plan, my brain does not compute.  I internalize, I try to calculate, I make external rules (“If I allow myself to eat now, I cannot have a snackor y, later”, or, “If I have 3 snacks in a day, that’s the same amount I have on an exercise day, so I have to go and do exercise at some point”).

When I honour my hunger and cravings, and it results in me eating scary foods, AND I’m feeling stressed because I’m busy, I experience MORE body dysmorphia and MORE intense body hatred, as well as even HIGHER levels of urgency to engage in old behaviours.  I find myself comparing my plate with those around me, leafing through the paper shredder to find the nutritional info for the Rice Krispie’s, and in my head trying to validate my own consumption based on what those around me eat- regardless of the fact that we are incomparable having different bodies, genders (at times), metabolisms, activity levels, and never being entirely sure what someone else eats as you’re never with someone for a full 24 hours.

I feel as though I am losing “willpower” and as if I am out of control, and by extension gaining weight and fat.  Not that this is would be the end of the world, remember.  But the reality is, I am not losing control and/or gaining weight:  the only thing I am LOSING is ED’s grasp on my reigns and connection to the diet mentality, and the only thing I am GAINING is freedom to make my own decisions and a greater sense of intuition.

But in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to remember this.  It seems like a moot, if not ludicrous point.

And if you’re bombarded by all these things, and your “feelers” are going crazy, you grasp at straws.  You try to maintain composure and stay on the recovery track, you try to appear okay, when a large chunk of you is desperate to go back to that sense of control, to the unsafe place that felt so secure.  You get confused.  You get complacent.  You find yourself at an awards ceremony, bombarded by memories, some good, and others not so much so.  Celebrating someone else’s successes, reminds you of your own, when you sat in a similar situation.  But it also reminds you of all of the times things didn’t go as you thought they would.  It reminds you of where you thought you’d be at this point in your life, versus where you actually are.  And while you’re happy, and while you wouldn’t trade your path or current situation, you play the “what if” game:

What if I’d stayed on?

What if those who know me are disappointed in me?

What if I have climbed as high as I will ever go?

What if I knew then what I would become?  Would it have made a difference?

And all too quickly, these “what if’s” give way to other, even more dangerous ones:

What if I’m not good enough?

What if I’m destined to never recover?

What if I’m too stupid to know how to feed myself “properly”?

What if I’m too lazy?

What if I’m too fat?

What if I should add in more exercise?  You know… tone up, be healthy…

What if I really do need to lose a few pounds?  Five?  Ten? Twenty?

Would I feel better if I did?

And suddenly you’ve lost touch with the reason you’re there.  Suddenly, you are no longer rejoicing in the successes of those around you receiving awards, but instead waiting eagerly for the next woman to be called to the stage, so you can scrutinize.

Is she more put together than me?

Is she prettier than me?

Is she thinner than me?

Does she have less cellulite than me?

If yes, the anxiety and urges climb.  If no, phew… but she’s still probably smarter, has her sh** in order, and will amount to more… to “better”…

I don’t know about you, but last time I checked we were at an event that celebrates academic achievements, not at a bikini contest.

And in this whirlwind you find yourself planning your next opportunity to run a mile, or sneak out for a 15 minute walking session.  Or figuring out which item on your meal plan you can “conveniently” and “uncontrollably” skip.  Or planning your next late night McDonald’s run, or what brownie recipe you will make to stuff your face with at 2 am in a dark corner when no one is watching.

You do you.

Only, not your best you.

Not your real you.

Your ED you.

The difference is, as much as you’re an old hand at slipping into eating disordered behaviours, you’re also dealing with a growing arsenal of tools in your toolkit.  Did you notice that I wrote PLANNING, as opposed to ACTING?

There’s a difference.  And it’s significant.

How many of you were reading this and as it got further along thought, “Damn, that’s it.  It’s the beginning of the end again.  Another struggle, another forced meal, another skipped meal, another relapse.”?  How many of you were foreshadowing my demise?  How many of you were getting anxious thinking, “NO!  But you were doing so well!”?  How many of you were getting anxious thinking, “This was me last night!  You hit the nail on the head!”?

Yeah, you’re right.  It’s a fine line, and a dangerous one.  And it’s one that I’ve been headbutting against a bit more often than I’d like the past week or two, or three.  BUT, remember I mentioned those tools I was talking about?  Yeah, see I’ve been stressed and busy.  Yeah, some days I’ve slipped into old routines, but 98% of the time I haven’t.  Because you can read this and see all the negatives, all the toxic thinking patterns, all the loss of direction, all the steps backwards that take me farther away from recovery as opposed to closer to it… OR you can look at all the amazing positives that have equally come out of the past few weeks:

  1. I have honoured my cravings more in the past two weeks than I have in the past six years.
  2. I took an exercise slip, BUT I admitted it promptly to my dietitian and didn’t hide it.  I lost privileges, BUT have subsequently slowly gained them back.
  3. I have stopped counting my crackers.  It was always 9 or 10 depending on size, or 5 if they were huge… but now it’s a solid reach in the box handful take it or leave it.
  4. I have had three snacks a day some days, even if it almost killed me because I didn’t do exercise that day.
  5. I have been more spontaneous in my free time than I have been in years, and have as such had so much more fun in my relationships with people rather than being in my own head.
  6. I’ve actually drank drinks with calories… a lot of them.  And allowed myself enjoy them.
  7. Although I set my alarm for earlier to exercise… I hit the snooze button.  More than once.
  8. Last night, after all that comparison at the awards ceremony, I built up an ice cream craving, felt really physically hungry again, honoured it even though it killed me to do so-

Side note:  Anyone who knows me well knows that if I have a craving for a restaurant/not make at home food, I NEVER bring it up to others.  I always feel like a glutton and a failure when I crave restaurant or take out food.

  -and ended up buying celebratory DQ Blizzards for myself and my loved ones:

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AND I was hungry so I got a larger size than ED wanted me to… and I ate it.  And it was perfect and delicious.

See, therein lies the difference.  Someone very close to me said, “I just don’t want you to get triggered.”  What she meant was, “I don’t want you to get triggered INTO a relapse.”

See, it’s not about if you’re triggered, or if you have these thoughts.  It’s not about if you really had a difficult time, were under a lot of stress, or even if you goof up a couple times.  We HAVE to be triggered, because being triggered lets us know where our boundaries and limitations are, and give us insight into where the happy medium lies.

For me, the happy medium lies somewhere in between my first bite of my peanut butter baked oatmeal, and the last.  Man, the last bite sucks… until 24 hours later when you can do it all over again!

The difference is, now I can be triggered, but I can act independent of the trigger.  Or at least most of the time.  Our thoughts are not our stories.  They’re not mine, and they’re not yours either.  They’re not who or what or where you really are.

So the next time you find yourself in a whirlwind, ask yourself, “What tool in my toolkit will be the best for me in this situation?”

Sometimes the tool will be a DQ Blizzard.  Sometimes it will be a walk in nature.  Sometimes it will be a spew of verbal diarrhea to get it all out of your head.  Sometimes it will be a list of all the amazing things you’ve done despite being caught in a whirlwind.

Or you can be like me and combine all of them!  You can get a DQ Blizzard, watch a movie, go to bed, wake up, go for a cycle, spew some verbal diarrhea with a dietitian/therapist, and then dispel some more in a ridiculously scattered blog post.

You do you.

The real you.

And now, the real me is hungry… Again.

So imma go find a snack.  Peace.

*PS:  My bike was totally still there! #nailedit. *

**Double PS: Not really… I apparently broke the little thumb lever that releases the lock from the bike frame.  But I just did that to make boyfriend laugh… totally planned it.  And the lock itself still works. So I stand by my #nailedit. **

 

 

Screw it. Let’s do it.

So, it’s raining outside, and life sucks.

How many times have you heard that?

It’s something I could never understand, because, shock of shocks, I love the rain.  I am the happiest person ever when it is raining.  Like this morning, I was lying in bed I had the most amazingly restful sleep.  I didn’t wake up until 5:30, so I was dead to the world, and when I did wake up to roll over, the first sound that greeted my ears was the sound of gentle rainfall.  And the biggest smile came over my face.

Then I took a big breath in, and I could smell it.  That fresh, clean, spring-type smell that comes along with the rain… gosh I love it! I rolled over, and before going back to sleep for a couple hours, I hoped to myself that it would still be raining when I got up.

AND IT WAS!

Cue my happy dance as I prepped my oatmeal in the kitchen this morning, clad in my favourite sweatshirt (seriously, buy it and you will never be more comfortable in your whole life!), and pyjama shorts, spoon of peanut butter in hand.  Then sitting there with this delicious monstrosity:

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And a cup of tea, right by the window, listening to it pour down = bliss.

But this bliss was quickly replaced by the most nagging, annoying anger and frustration that I’ve experienced in quite some time.  I was finishing the last couple bites of oatmeal, and thinking about what I wanted to do next, and all I could think of was how much I wanted to be outside, soaking up all that glorious rain in a walk to the coffee shop to do some writing.  I mean how satisfying would that be:

A day off, that had been preceded by a restful sleep that results in waking up full of energy.  Then commenced with a delicious breakfast involving blueberries (the best berry), followed by a walk in spring rain (the second best rain to summer rain- which is so refreshing because it’s so hot!- because it’s not too cold to walk in), breathing in all those smells!  Then, THEN, a nice, warm latte in a cozy cafe while I get down to creative expressionism.

Can you beat that?!  I think not.

Except… ugh, I have an eating disorder.  But not just an eating disorder: an eating disorder with an exercise obsession. And my dietitian set goals in our session yesterday for me to do different types of movement this week instead of walking, so that I break rigidity and don’t get repetitive and obsessive.  In theory, all practical, and solid plans… except then it had to go and rain!

Part of this is a me problem.  I never learned to ride a bike when I was little.  Plus, now I have my license (finally… stop smirking boyfriend), but I don’t yet know how to drive, and even if I did, I would have to drive WITH someone.  And the dietitian would totally support me going to the cafe to write, but then I’d have to get a ride… not that easy when the other person in your house sleeps till noon.  I don’t want to go at noon.  I want to go now.  I like to write in the morning.

Plus it’s raining, and my favourite time to to walk is when it’s raining!  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not in denial here.  For once, this is not an eating disordered behavior!  I don’t enjoy walking in the rain if it’s pouring so hard it’s bouncing off the streets, or if it’s raining in the middle of fall or winter and the water is actually freezing cold.  And I hate being wet… so if it’s going to involve me coming out on the other side looking like a drowned rodent, I’m out.  HOWEVER, if it’s above 14ºC, not bouncing off the pavement, smells like fresh heaven, and I have access to flip-flops and an umbrella, GET ME OUTSIDE AND ON THE SIDEWALK!  AKA: if it’s like this morning.

So you have the healthy version of me, throwing a hissy fit, because for once, FOR ONCE, it’s me wanting to be on that pavement, not ED, and I’m not feeling motivated by ED in the slightest (something that hasn’t happened in YEARS), and I CAN’T GO!  I can’t go, because I’m supposed to be trying out different forms of activity.  I can’t go because, once again, my eating disorder is in my way of me being my healthy self.

Cue the Googles:

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Note the search term: Ways to get around NOT walking

And what does it come up with?  Helping my baby learn to walk, how to walk around the world, and a science article that promotes walking to work.

The Googles be mocking me…

Cue more frustration.  I’m in a small town, there’s no bus, no train, ridiculously priced taxis that you’re insane to take, I’m stranded, and the cafe is a measly 20 minutes away. My creative expressions are pushing at the inside of my brain to find an outlet, which is just more annoying, and the longer I sit here, the closer the rain is to ending because I live in a desert and it only ever lasts so long and then I might not see it again for months.

Cue my brilliant idea to do lunges to the cafe.  It’s not walking!

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Then I remembered the whole point is to find different activities to do that I ACTUALLY enjoy.  I hate lunges.  I hate lunges more than I hate potatoes, which is saying something.  My hatred for lunges and the pain they bring to my crappy genetically-weak knees, is second only to my hatred for burpees and the elliptical, which also hate my knees.  It is possible that I hate my knees more than I hate lunges, but I have to live with my crappy knees.  I don’t have to live with crappy lunges.

Scratch that idea.

Idea number 2: Skipping to the cafe.

This one was more so amusing than practical.  It actually came from my conversation with the dietitian yesterday, who suggested skipping around my yard instead of walking, followed by a weights session.  But the impracticality arose from how on earth I was going to manage to skip with a laptop.  Cue the idea that someone should invent some sort of laptop transport system that literally straps it to you so it can’t bounce up and down… does this system exist?  I’m envisioning something similar to a baby carrier… although I think that if we created that we’d have some ridiculous activist group claiming that it was a comment on how screwed up our society is that we value our computers as much as we value our babies.  Kind of like the whole Starbucks red cup epidemic, or the suing of Starbucks over ice in their drinks relative to the price…

Man, Starbucks has had a rough year…

Either way, it would have been interesting.  I think people might have thought I was insane skipping up the sidewalk… the things you can get away with when you’re a kid that you definitely cannot when you’re an adult.  But then again, I really loved skipping as a kid, so maybe in the future I should just say, screw what everyone else thinks about my skipping and do it anyways.  But I have to find this laptop carrier first…

Moving on.

Frustration, anger, and annoyance all reaching a climactic level by this point, now coupled with a sense of urgency.  It was after nine, usually the point by which I have already gone, and I was feeling nervous and anxious because I didn’t want to miss the rain and I knew it was only a matter of time.  It never rains all day.  MAKE A DECISION.

My decision can be summed up in precisely two words:

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This is five words… but I was literally referring to the first two.  It was those two that I literally said to myself in that instant as I pushed myself off the chair by the window, slammed by laptop closed, and grabbed my book bag.

Now, of course, while I was walking I had a plethora of time to think.  Being the perfectionist, and non-rule-breaking-type that I am, this can backfire on me, resulting in over analysis, guilt, and anxiety.  It’s the same sort of thing that happens when I’m at work and I don’t wipe down the cupboard doors (a relatively minor thing) because I don’t have time to do them.  It’s on the closing checklist, so if I don’t do it a cornucopia of negative self talk comes up: lazy, not trying hard enough, don’t work hard enough, slacker, etc etc.  Followed by the catastrophizing (what are they going to think of me?  Will they think I take my job for granted? Will they think I don’t care? Will they fire me? Will they cut my hours?)… Needless to say the emphasis of this scenario is exactly this:  I don’t have time.  So realistically, there are many other things that it is MORE IMPORTANT to get done for closing, such as stocking, cleaning windows, etc etc, and if wiping cupboard doors doesn’t get done one day it IS NOT the end of the world, and honestly, if it’s not smattered with stuff it would probably go unnoticed.  But it’s me; chances are, I’m more likely to stay late on my own time to wipe the cupboards than to miss it for one night.

Same thing goes on here:  the rule and assignment was to find alternative ways of movement so that I’m not rigid and ruled with walking and thus redeveloping old obsessive habits.  Here I am, walking to the cafe, when I’m not supposed to, even though it is me NOT ED that is wanting to do it.  This key emphasis is important, but like the cupboards it is considered irrelevant in my mind.  The negative self talk begins as early as the point when I step outside the door: irresponsible, cheating, guilty, unimaginative, stubborn to a fault…

Followed by the catastrophizing:  What is the dietitian going to think?  Is she going to be mad (or worse, disappointed) in me for disobeying the rules?  Is she going to take some activity away (again!-this is an on and off thing, as I push limits too far or let the ED take over)?  AND MORE IMPORTANTLY:  Am I just fooling myself?  Do I only think that it’s me that wants this, but in reality it’s all ED?  Am I jeopardizing my own recovery process by doing this?  I’m walking a fine line, and is it possible I’m letting it go too much?  Is this the beginning of the end again?  I just started to let go of some of the exercise obsession, did I just ruin all I’ve achieved and put myself 10 steps back?

Let’s be honest:  These are all good questions.  Well, actually I take it back… they’re good questions if they’re relevant and possible.  They’re not so good if they make you feel unjustifiably guilty and ashamed of yourself, or create more useless anxiety.  It’s good, especially in recovery, to think about your reasoning and motives for doing things, and the possible complications that can arise from making a particular decision.  In a sense, this is mindfulness in practice: actually being in the moment enough to think about what you’re doing in that moment, rather than mindlessly jumping into something without a second thought.  It is this differentiation that can save you from engaging in disordered behaviour without even realizing this is happening.  It’s your opportunity to interrupt the cycle of thought-emotion-behaviour, and choose what to do.

It’s a good thing.

Where it becomes mindless, is when you’re overanalyzing it.  When you step too far away from the present, and it becomes a cascade of what-if’s resulting in your ultimate destruction and the realization of the worst possible scenario.

So you have me, walking up the street, and then eventually sitting at the cafe, feeling glorious: liberated, fulfilled, satisfied, happy, and completely anger and frustration dissipated… but now shadowed by this nagging guilt and uncertainty of myself and the ramifications of my decisions.  Did I make the “right” choice?

How do we know when it’s “okay” to break the rules?

How do we know whether we’ve made the “right” decision?

Is it ever okay to go against the advice of seasoned professionals, especially in an eating disorder recovery sense, and change the plans?

Did you notice the resounding theme in all these questions?  Let’s examine again:

Okay.  Right. Wrong. Black. White.

Do you see the pattern?  In therapy, a universal practice in the management of anxiety, depression, addiction, and the like, is using knowledge of cognitive distortions to recognize and interrupt toxic thinking patterns.  I’ve mentioned some of these in previous posts, and a few in this one (catastrophizing and overgeneralization, labelling, as well as filtering [I did one thing, and therefore it ruined everything], plus mind reading [she will think/do x]), and now to all be lumped together resulting in one of the patriarchal distortions: all-or-nothing/black-and-white thinking.

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Once again, even in the pursuit of recovery, we become wrapped up in the idea of good vs bad, right vs wrong, success vs failure.  We try so hard to achieve a “perfect” recovery, or if not “perfect” at least striving to always be in pursuit of recovery, that we don’t even realize that we’re putting the same limitations and boundaries on ourselves that got ourselves into this mess in the first place.

It’s something I, as well as many others, come up against on a daily basis.  We become hyper-vigilant, and we transfer our food related anxieties to other aspects, just as when the other aspects of our life became too difficult to handle we transferred the anxiety to food.  I remember when I was in the hospital, the doctor had me hooked up to a heart monitor constantly because they were so terrified that my heart that was going down to 20 something beats per minute in my sleep, and 30-40 something when I was awake,  was just going to give up.  One day I had a scare.

I woke up early in the morning, and went to the bathroom to pee before my weigh in.  I had just sat down on the toilet when suddenly a frantic beating on the door was heard.  It was the head nurse, her voice in a panic, calling my name.

“Tiffany!  What are you doing?”

“I’m… peeing?” I answered, uncomfortable and bewildered.

“Peeing?  That’s it?”

“Yes… would you like me to unlock the door so you can see?”

I guess the calmness of my voice, as well as my bewilderment was enough to convince her, and she told me to just finish and get back to bed.  I finished, opened the door, and she watched me walk back and climb in, at which point she grabbed my wrist checking my pulse.  Worry was evident on her face, but after hanging on for some time, she seemed to calm, and reminded me to stay in bed before she left again.

It was only days after the fact that I found out my heart rate upon standing had skyrocketed to 180 beats per minute, AKA danger zone, and TOTALLY NOT NORMAL for someone just standing up at a toilet.  The minute I laid back down in bed it climbed down to a low 50-ish.

Later that afternoon, I was playing a dice game with a friend that came to visit when suddenly a nurse popped her head in the room and told my friend in a worried voice she had to leave.  The panic in her voice was enough to get me scared.  What was happening?  Why was she making her leave?  What was going on?

Not even two minutes later, people were rushing in with a portable ECG machine, and I was suddenly surrounded by people stripping off my clothes and poking me with electrodes.  They were quick moving, serious, and answered none of my questions when I asked what was going on.  They just told me to lay still, relax, and keep quiet.  “Breathe, they said, “Slowly, calmly, in and out.  Relax.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I found it incredibly difficult to relax in this scenario!

And without more than the reminder to lay still, keep calm, and DON’T get out of bed, they ran off.  And I was left, alone, terrified, unsure what was going on, struggling to breathe because my panic had escalated to a point of terror, in a hospital bed.  At least half an hour passed, and I remember calling my mom on my phone, sobbing, begging her to come up, telling her I was so scared, that I didn’t know what was going on, and that I thought I was dying or something.

It was only after my mom made the half hour drive to the hospital and badgered the nurses for a solid twenty minutes that someone finally told us what was going on.  The heart monitor was showing irregular beats at 216 BPM, and they were scared my heart was stopping and I was having a heart attack, so they had to do an ECG.  Turned out that the machine was glitching, which apparently was common, because the ECG came back totally fine.  They just forgot to come and tell me that everything was good.

Thank you for leaving me alone in a bed panicking for two hours.

Moral of this story: As a result of this day, this episode, I have since developed horrible white coat syndrome.  I PANIC when someone has to take my pulse.  Blood pressure, fine, needles, fine, sew up my gaping hole I made when I sliced my hand at work, totally fine.  But you try to take those two fingers and press them to my wrist or throat… NOT OKAY!  PANIC.  TERROR. Fear that they’re going to find 180, or 216 again, and we’ll have a repeat, except this time it won’t be a false alarm.  It has taken years, literally years, to get a little better.  I don’t turn into a complete basket case.  But I still freak out.

Anyways, the day after that episode, the heart rate monitor that had caused me so much torment, the thing I’d been begging to get taken off for weeks because I was allergic to the tape and it was giving me the most painful welts, became my best friend.  His name was Herbie, and I was chained to him.  I was so scared I was going to have a heart attack and die, that I wanted to keep it on forever, so someone could always be monitoring me.  So I wouldn’t die without anyone realizing I was going before it was too late.  A few days before I was transferred to a bigger specialized center in Vancouver, my doctor wanted to remove the monitor.  He was convinced I was now eating enough and had passed the risk point for refeeding syndrome and that my heart would no longer stop.

Side note: A wikipedia definition for those of you who don’t know about refeeding:

Refeeding syndrome is a syndrome consisting of metabolic disturbances that occur as a result of reinstitution of nutrition to patients who are starved or severely malnourished…Patients can develop fluid and electrolyte disorders, especially hypophosphatemia, along with neurologic, pulmonary, cardiac, neuromuscular, and hematologic complications…

Refeeding increases the basal metabolic rate. Intracellular movement of electrolytes occurs along with a fall in the serum electrolytes, including calcium and magnesium. Levels of serum glucose may rise and the B1 vitamin thiamine may fall. Cardiac arrhythmias are the most common cause of death from refeeding syndrome, with other significant risks including confusion, coma and convulsions and cardiac failure.[citation needed]

This syndrome can occur at the beginning of treatment for anorexia nervosa when patients have an increase in calorie intake and can be lethal.[3] The shifting of electrolytes and fluid balance increases cardiac workload and heart rate. This can lead to acute heart failure. Oxygen consumption is also decreased which strains the respiratory system and can make weaning from ventilation more difficult.

And I freaked out!  I begged and pleaded with him to leave it on.  My anxiety over it being gone when he insisted that it be removed was so high I compulsively checked my pulse almost every minute for almost a whole year, and they had to medicate me with benzodiazepines.  And then I was left on them, became addicted, and then had to eventually wean off of them and go through med withdrawals.  But that’s another story.

“There’s a reason why it has to come off,” he said to me while I was shaking and begging in my bed, “You don’t need it any more.  This is a transference.  You are transferring your anxiety about food, which you can no longer control, to something else.  You have to cope with your anxiety, not just move it around.”

And (tada, roundabout point!  I bet you were wondering where I was going with this!), this less lethal, but anxiety and guilt provoking situation is the same thing.  In the pursuit of recovery, we become just as hyper-vigilant of doing the “right” thing, as I was with monitoring my heart rate, or as we all were when we were vigilantly monitoring /restricting our caloric intake.  We still feel the need to be perfect, so we try to have a perfect recovery.  We over-analyze things, and apply black and white thinking to our recovery mindset too.

I made the choice this morning to ignore the plan, set by a professional, and do an activity that for me has in the past been a known ED behaviour.  Does this mean I did the “wrong” thing?

I don’t think so.

How do we know we did the “right” thing?

First, acknowledge/admit that there is the vast possibility that there is no such thing as a “right” or “wrong” choice.  You didn’t do the “right” thing, anymore than you did the “wrong” thing.  Recovery, just like the rest of life, is not black and white.  In therapy we are taught to stop thinking in ultimatums.  The same thing applies to this process.

Second, is it “okay” to go against the advice of a professional?

Of course.  It’s your life.  Your life, your rules.  HOWEVER, this comes at a cost.  I would say you can ONLY go against the advice of a professional if you are solid in your frame of mind and are completely aware of what your motivations and reasonings are for making a different choice.  Stop making rules for yourself.  You don’t have rules about brownies or burgers anymore, so stop telling yourself you need to make rules about everything.  Everything we are told in recovery is a CHOICE.  No one can force you to do anything.  But you need to be aware of the choices you’re making, and you have to be just as aware of where they’re coming from, as you are of where they’re going to lead you as a result of making it.

There is a point in recovery where you are not aware of where your motives are coming from.  You’re not yet at the point where you can separate that ED voice from your own.  AND sometimes even those who usually can separate it, can’t.  You need to be honest with yourself there.  If you can differentiate, you can choose.  If you can’t differentiate, it’s probably a better idea to stick to the plan.

For me, I knew this morning that it was me, and I was 100% sure of it.  I made a choice, and it was one based on a message that my body was sending me from my HEALTHY SELF.  This was even more evident to me when it was over, because I felt HAPPY, LIBERATED, and STRONG.  Not guilty, conniving, anxious, or ashamed.

Did I question it?  Of course.  Did that questioning result in anxiety and second guessing?  Yes.  And this is where we need to draw the line.  No ruminating.  You made a choice, stick to it.  Don’t rehash it if it doesn’t need to be rehashed.  Chances are, what you’re rehashing is distorted.

What will they think?

Why does it matter?  Screw it, let’s do it.

If you were solid in your decision making, there’s nothing to question.

Screw it, let’s do it.

Will it appease the ED?  Maybe.  But that’s not black and white either.  Just because the eating disorder is happy, doesn’t necessarily mean it was the wrong choice.  It just means that you have to be extra (but not hyper) vigilant in the decisions you make in the near future, because chances are ED will try to needle its way in because it’s active.  You have to be able to once again analyze your motives before you make future choices.

Jenni Schaefer writes in her book Life Without ED that we have three selves: ED, anti-ED (always rebelling against ED), and our intelligent self.  You could also look at this as black, white, and grey.  Sometimes you got extremes, but almost always it’s some kind of mix (AKA, your intelligent self).  Chances are a choice you make will have a ramification, and often times that choice will impact ED, but the more choices you make, and just because that happens doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  We don’t want ED, and we don’t ALWAYS want anti-ED, sometimes we need the grey.

So if you find yourself questioning, if you need to make a decision, if you’re finding yourself frustrated, unsure, and trapped, sometimes you need to take a step out of the box.  And sometimes, that step is unconventional.  Sometimes, that choice breaks the “rules”, and sometimes it doesn’t.  You do you.

And when it all comes down to it, sometimes you just gotta say:

“Screw it.  Let’s do it.”

Exercise or Exorcise?

Hello from a rather comfortable table in a very crowded cafe!

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So I’m feeling kind of guilty.

I mean I haven’t written in a while, which is an issue of itself. But it isn’t for lack of attempts… if you could log on to my laptop you would find at least 15 or 20 partially written and scrapped blog posts. I just didn’t know what to say, what to write, what I wanted to focus on. Two hours of work… then two seconds to the trash can. Nothing was coming together.

I recently got back from two days of travelling, eating out, and drinking enough Starbucks to get my fix before we headed back home to the blasphemous land lacking the famous green siren.

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Aw, yeah.

Yeah, we have no Starbucks at home…  and a bunch of coffee shops that literally sell the most disgusting coffee (as in brand of coffee) known to man.  And the ones that don’t use the most disgusting coffee, use the most disgusting soy milk.  It’s a real struggle.  Anyone who is bound to the land of non-dairy milk knows the issues.

Reality: 98% of non dairy milk tastes like the inside of a garbage disposal.  Or a spoiled can of refried beans.  And most coffee shops elect to use the cheapest soy milk because they want to maximize profit.

The cheapest soy milk tastes about as good as my dog’s breath smells.

Just so you know, my dog has had ongoing dental issues and almost all of his teeth pulled out.  Aka: his breath is NOT pleasant.

I mean come on, you already charge an additional 50-75 cents for the soy milk in the first place.  Which means that after anywhere from 5-10 lattes you’ve paid for the cost of the milk.  Perhaps even less if you’re using the cheap stuff.  At least give us something that tastes good.

Hint: You’d probably sell more of the soy lattes if they didn’t taste like underpants.

#petpeeve.

Moving on.

The aforementioned coffee shop I am sitting at now is an exception to this generality.  They make a better ICED latte than Starbucks.  Win.

Get me out of this town.

Or buy me a Starbucks.  A personal one that makes me lattes and double smoked bacon breakfast sandwiches, but doesn’t charge me a dime.

I’d be fine with that.

So, back to this guilt thing.  I’m trying this new thing with my dietitian to address my sitting issues, mainly being my inability to do it.  And combining the sitting issues with my food issues, and my exercise issues, to like hit the trifecta of my issues.

I totally used trifecta in the wrong sense of the word… but I get tired of using words like plethora and gamut.  So I no longer care.  It sounded cool.

So I have to walk to the coffee shop, once a week, and walk home, which assuming I don’t take detours is somewhere between 20-30 min each way, unless I’m doing my speed demon old tempos.  And I’m trying not to do that… minus the first time.

So the amount of exercise is contained. Check.

And since my old exercise routine was incredibly predictable I have to keep changing it up. I can do one walk a week.  That’s it.  Add one yoga session a week, maximum half hour.  That’s it.  Add another random exercise session, maximum half hour, that is neither a walk nor a yoga session.  And that is not running, HIIT, or pilates because, guess what, those are my old obsessions and 7 hours a day in a nutshell.  There you have my weekly exercise regime: three times a week, three different activities, maximum 30 minutes a session.  And if any component is not met, the alternative is doing nothing.  AKA, that regime is my maximum, not my minimum.

Cue me this week, trying to come up with a third activity when I don’t know how to bike, swim, roller-skate, skateboard, completely lack hand-eye coordination (or just coordination in general), and don’t have money for a fitness class, but damn it, I’m going to come up with something because the part of me that is still obsessed has to maximize on exercise time not minimize it.

Perhaps one day I won’t feel that urge.

Perhaps one day I’ll discover my inner Michael Jordan instead of my blatant Jim Carrey/Snooki sans alcohol klutziness.

Don’t crush my dreams.

And then there’s the whole food=exercise=calories=food=exercise=calories=… you get the idea, thing.  So when we exercise, or do activity, we make up for it.  I add food to the meal plan.  So I walk to the coffee shop, and I have a snack.  Latte, muffin, loaf, lunch, whatever it may be.  As long as it has an additional component to what I normally have.

And the third component of the trifecta: that sitting.  I have to sit, in the cafe, until lunch working on the blog.  Which is important because I really do love to blog.  And that’s one thing I really struggle to do standing up: it’s hard to concentrate.

But after all of my travelling the past couple days, I wasn’t feeling coffee-y.  But I still wanted to do my coffee shop, blog, and walk day yesterday, because it was gorgeous out and I actually was feeling inspired to write.  Carpe diem and all that jazz.

But what do you do when you’re craving just tea and a pear for snack, but you have to go to a cafe that doesn’t sell fresh fruit?

Answer:  You sneak a pear in, buy a tea, and most stealthily eat it in the corner facing away from the cashier.

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Cue the guilt.

You’re so not supposed to bring outside food into a restaurant.  But I did buy a tea!

It wasn’t exactly the most mindful of practices… every time someone came near my table, I threw the pear into my lap on a napkin.  Don’t do as I do.

Anyways, moving on.

You all know about my sitting problems, right? As in I can’t do it. As in I found ways to knit standing up, almost figured out knitting on a treadmill, figured out how to mount a laptop to my treadmill so I could watch Netflix without guilt, and will purposely do the laundry in as many trips to the basement as possible to maximize walking and standing time. As in, I have rules about what time of day I’m allowed to sit, how long for, and if you try to get me to deviate from this I’m an inconsolable ball of nerves ready to bite your head off. As in people have had to wrestle me to the ground mid-afternoon. Seriously.

I have issues.

And it’s an issue I haven’t been too keen to address, because the very thought of sitting for extended periods of time, as relaxing as it sounds in some distant corner of my mind, fills me with as much dread as eating Chinese food… no. It fills me with more dread than eating chinese food. Yep, sitting is potentially more terrifying than eating at this point. That kind of says something. Unless you combine sitting and eating. Mind blown.

I see dead people.

Okay no, I don’t. But it’s like the equivalent level of fear. Where is that line from anyways? Some horror movie…

The Hills Have Eyes?

Moving on.

So anyways, this issue pervaded through hospitalization. I finally was well enough that they were convinced I literally wasn’t going to just drop dead on the floor at a moments notice, so they started to give me passes from the hospital for a snack, or a meal, or to get a coffee, or to simply move beyond the jail-barred (literally) eating disorder ward door. And there’s a bus stop right outside the door. And I’m supposed to take the bus.

Yeah… that never happened.

I walked. I maximized time. I had half an hour, or two hours, or whatever it might have been. I knew I needed to do the food related task they assigned, and perfectionist that I am, I would do it. But I would order the coffee, the sandwich, the scone, etc to go. And I’d wind along side streets. I’d google-map my trip in advance, add 5 min to the walking times in case I happened to be slow (which let’s get serious… maximizing time here. I wasn’t slow.) and then when I got close to the hospital again, I’d pace back and forth along a nearby street until it was time to return. Food eaten, and hopefully appropriately compensated for. As much as possible anyways.

Then I went to residential. And they took away my movement. Completely. Bed to chair to table to chair to bed. That was it. For a week. And I was going stir crazy. But I hid it well… so well that after the first week was up, I could claim that my bowels were not working (which was somewhat true… when you starve yourself they stop working. Before I was hospitalized I hadn’t had a bowel movement in at least a month… I can’t remember. I mean, there’s nothing in there to process. TMI? Perhaps, but it’s the truth. No shame.), and that I needed to go on “poo-walks” to get them moving. I appeared solid, I appeared resolute, and I appeared outwardly calm. And those bowels weren’t working, so it was a half truth as opposed to a whole lie. One week of nothing, but then that was done. Back to the movement, to the lack of sitting. Check.

I left residential, four months later, completely entrenched in the movement and obsessive exercise portion of my eating disorder, but oblivious even to myself that this was a problem. This was “healthy”! Movement, moving, is “healthy”! And all the way through I never gave it up. Outpatient: sure, I was eating enough, but I was exercising again for hours (or hour if it was extremely high intensity… really I had a minimal supposed “calorie burn” which was a ridiculously high number… that was the amount of formal exercise I had to have) And then in addition, I had my time rules that allowed me to sit at certain hours of the day. All the time in between, I was ate least standing, ideally walking. I developed ways to incorporate otherwise relaxing activities into the activity grind so that I no longer actually had to relax while doing them. Because that would be the worst, laziest thing in the world. Obviously.

All my favourite activities suddenly became a part of my prison. Drawing? Either at certain hours of the day or not at all. Netflix/television? Only on the treadmill. Knitting? Standing up at the kitchen counter. Reading a book? Between my toes as I did crunches. Piano? No bench required. Everything that used to remotely bring me any kind of joy I found a way to make torturous. I found a way to suck the happiness out of every simple pleasure constantly, and the only thing that made this existence bearable was the anticipation of the incredible high that denial, restriction, rules, and following them to a T gave me. Somehow you can tolerate a lot of physical pain, a lot of emotional turmoil, and the incredibly quick deterioration of relationships if in the end you know you’re going to get the greatest high. Unfortunately, the high lasts as long as it takes to realize that you’re denying yourself something. Which is literally as long as it takes to read that sentence.

So what… three seconds? Maximum.

And then you’re on to planning the next denial, awaiting the wave of the next high, and the literal second of relief you experience when you realize that in that moment, literal moment, you have done enough to stop the whirlwind of thoughts, emotions, and pain, and simply exist for a second. You’ve done enough to stop and feel yourself inhale, or exhale, before moving on to the next thing. The next skipped meal, the next set of 30 reps, the next light-headed footstep.

There were of course the other times where I just existed for a second.  Where all the thoughts stopped.  Where my world for a second was silent.  I imagine they would have been somewhat relaxing had I been awake for them…

Oh, right.  I forgot to mention those times were the times I blacked out.

Once it was mid run on the treadmill.  I fell forward and slid back, waking up in a crumpled pile between the the door and the edge of the still-running treadmill, a pile of blood on the floor coming equally from my completely skinned chin, and even moreso from my gauged kneecap that almost cut through to the bone.  I still have rather evident scars from both of those, and I don’t expect them to ever disappear.

Fun fact: I started my current job about four or five days after this.  I remember going to the interview, my chin shredded, and being asked, “Did you fall off your bike?  That’s an impressive case of road rash!”  I went with whatever anyone said to avoid admitting the truth.  “Actually, I’m close to death and I passed out while exercising on my treadmill because my body can no longer handle the physical exertion and it’s just trying to preserve itself by FORCING me to stop.  But please hire me for a job where I’m walking around and on my feet for eight hours a day!”  Yeah, I knew that wouldn’t fly.  Plus, I totally didn’t have a problem…

Another time it was mid walk with my dog on Main Street.  I tore up my exercise hoody and skinned my hand and elbow as I fell forward against a cement garbage can.  Or at least that’s what I gathered from when I came to the realization of the cold cement against my blistered skin.  The crowd of onlookers who were very concerned thought I had tripped over my dog’s leash.

I’m fairly sure that’s not what happened, but then again I don’t remember it too clearly.

And the third time was simply getting up from my couch in the living room.  I got up, felt instantly light headed, and staggered forward into the television, slicing all four fingers on one hand on the sharp underside, and permanently giving our flatscreen a leftward tilt.

It’s funny how you wake up, and you kind of know how you got there.  It’s like you remember the start of the fall, and then next thing you know you’re in a pile on the floor.  But those few seconds after you wake up are remarkably calm too.  Calm and shaky.

But you know, it’s like another three second thing.  And then you’re back to planning your denials.

I remember the pain, vaguely.  When you’re that sick, it’s almost as if your body doesn’t have the energy to really allow your nerves to react to pain.  Either that, or you become so used to being in pain that you don’t recognize it for what it is, and it just becomes normal. But I do remember pain.  I remember the dread that came before every exercise session.  I remember my body screaming at me as I laced up my shoes:

Please, please, please don’t do this to me.

I’m so tired.

I’m begging you… I really don’t want to do this.  I really don’t know if I can.

I hurt.

And going anyway.  Every day.  Hours a day.  Pounding the pavement, and swearing, literally swearing out loud every time someone smiled at me, or said hello, or looked at me with any trace of happiness as they passed me on the street as soon as they were out of ear shot.  Swearing at any car or truck that was loud because it hurt my ears, distracted me, gave me more discomfort.  As if the noise was shredding me as much as the physical activity was.

Fuck you.

That was my favourite.  Every time they were out of ear shot, I’d utter it.  How dare you be happy when life is hell?  What is there to be happy about? This is hell.

I remember coming home from a session and going to the bathroom, gingerly peeling off my socks and applying a new bandage to my feet.  My feet were a mess of callouses, blisters, and gashes just from the wear and tear of constant exertion and bone on skin contact with no adipose tissue to cushion them.  Every single toe was swollen and tomato red, and eventually they were all covered in white bandages.  I ended up with pinprick pressure point sores that felt like bee stings every time you put weight on them along the soles of my feet.  They were so painful I even went to the doctor with them.  I remember the look on his face when I removed my shoes and he saw my almost completely bandaged feet, and then when he looked underneath and saw the bloody, blistered mess that lay beneath the surface.  I asked him what I could do to get rid of the pinprick sores.

“Stop exercising,” he said, simply but seriously. “That’s the only thing that will make them go away.  I know it’s hard, and I know you don’t want to, but it’s the only way to get rid of them.”

That wasn’t happening.  I resolved that clearly I was doomed to have to endure the pain.  Price you have to pay for being “healthy”.  “No pain, no gain.”

When you look back on it in your mind’s eye, everything is in this soft fog.  On some level, you realize how sick you were.  As you write it out, without all the frills, and just stick to the cold, hard, undiluted facts, you see how many times that blackout could have turned into a blackhole.  How many times could I have fallen and never gotten up?  How many mornings did I start my day trying to avoid sitting, when I should have been thinking, perhaps if I don’t sit, this might be the last time I ever do?  And then the fog comes in and softens that reality, smoothes it over and glazes it so it doesn’t seem that bad.

Even the memory of my doctor looking at me, tears in his eyes, saying “If you don’t get off the treadmill, you are going to die.”, is soft, fluffy, like a movie.  Somehow detached from my life.  Okay, maybe I’ll die, but then I can just reinsert the DVD and I’ll be alive again.

I can still hear his words in my head, “Yesterday I was with my other anorexic patient.  I saw her two days before and she was okay.  Yesterday she woke up in the morning and started her treadmill, and 20 minutes into the workout she collapsed.  Her heart gave out.  She had a heart attack.  And now she’s dead.  She was 16.”

“She wasn’t me,” I said, dark circles under my eyes, wiggling my feet on the bench to move something because I was forced to sit in his office.  “She wasn’t trying to get better.  She was probably eating nothing.  I’m still eating.  I’m trying to get better.”

“She WAS you,” he said. “She was exactly like you.  She was in recovery.  She was eating, probably around the same amount that you are.  She was trying to get better.  But she couldn’t stop moving.  She couldn’t stop running.  She couldn’t stop walking.  And she wasn’t eating ENOUGH.  Just like you’re not eating ENOUGH.  Her body weight was too low.  Her organs were failing.  Eventually, they gave up.”

He slid his chair forward, looking me directly in the eyes.  “If you can’t stop moving… if you can’t stop getting on the treadmill… if you keep doing what you’re doing, you WILL die.  I don’t know when… it could be a month from now, or it could be tomorrow.  But you will.  And that would be a tremendous loss.  I don’t want to bury another patient.”

That was last August.

Soon after I started working with my current dietitian.  That choice changed, and saved my life.  That choice, as well as the choice to stop getting on the treadmill, and it wasn’t an easy choice to make.  But eventually you get so tired, and I don’t mean physically, I mean emotionally.  Mentally.  You enjoy the highs, but you get tired of the unbearable pain and torture of the incredible lows for only 3 seconds of bliss.

So I stopped exercising.  Even now, just starting to add back in exercise after being off of it since August, I still have sores on my feet. The pinprick sores are still there, as well as a couple blisters that haven’t yet totally healed. That’s eight months. You know how bad it was, if after eight months it’s almost, but not completely healed.

I stopped exercising… but that didn’t mean I was sitting.  I was still standing.  For everything.  My rules about time were, and are still in place.  I can sit until 9 am, at which point I must be up.  Now, months and months later, I’m allowed to sit for lunch, and as long as it takes me to drink a cup of tea afterwards.  Then I must be standing again until 6 pm at the earliest.  If I work until 8, all the better.

Where does this come from?

Does it come only from the eating disorder?  Is it just a symptom and complication of the overall problem?

I’d love to say yes.  But no, it doesn’t.

How many times have you sat and ate a brownie, and felt guilty about it?

How many restaurants have you gone to with the girls, and then lamented how many hours on the treadmill you would have to do to make up for whatever you ate or drank?

Have you seen the episode of “That’s So Raven” where they decide to lose weight and walk to the mall?

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How many joggers have you seen on the streets and then immediately felt guilty because you weren’t doing the same thing?

Society hails exercise and movement as the be all that ends all.  With our society being habitually and epidemically fat-phobic, not just in nutritional content, but also from a physical perspective, we are now groomed from a young age to look at movement and exercise as a black or white concept.

Movement/Exercise= Good.  Important. A+.

And inversely: Resting/Inactivity= Bad. Hazardous.  Fail.

Treadmills and other exercise equipment are branded with giant, innaccurate displays of calories burned with no option to turn off the display.

Exercise is no longer about the joy of moving your body.  It’s no longer about being outside, breathing fresh air, and allowing your body to carry you physically through life and relationships.  That is secondary.

These positive and simple benefits of exercise and activity, the real reason we move- to relieve stress, to interact with people and the world around us, and to encourage mind and body connection and mental health- is downplayed as additional benefits to a much more “important” picture:

The Bowflex ad tells me I can go from a size 14 to a size 4 if I use their equipment.

The trainer tells me that I can add 6 inches in muscle size if I do these exercises.

And if I supplement this regime with the paleo, Atkins, Weight Watchers, Vegan, Vegetarian, or what have you diet, I’m guaranteed to be beach body ready by summer.

And my doctor supports this because exercise is always good.  Weight must always fall in the BMI charts.  And because all the diet pills don’t work, exercise is the new magic bean.

Exercise is viewed by society at large as the optimal definition of health.  And by health, I mean weight and shape.  In other words, the main reason we exercise is to control our weight and shape.  And thanks to all the calorie counters out there (MyFitnessPal, exercise equipment, CalorieKing, etc), not only is exercise a means to control our weight and shape, it is also a way to justify or “allow” us to eat.

Suddenly our whole existence is consumed by our consumption and our calisthenics.  If I want to look like x, I have to eat y, and in order to eat y, I must do z.  The whole theory of eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full is shot out the window, and replaced by a simple mathematical equation.  And mindfulness goes with it.

And because we are all so fat-phobic, and so consumed with this “healthy” way of life, the idea of NOT exercising, NOT moving your body, and NOT following this Nirvana-esque equation is mind boggling to many, not just those with an eating disorder.

When I was forced to stop exercising, even at my lowest weight, when I was a walking skeleton and passing out, I was met with resistance.  Resistance in my own head, but even more frustratingly from those around me.  Family, friends, even health care professionals.

“Well, the dietitian has taken away exercise.  I can’t do anything.”

“Not even walk?”

“No.”

“But… that’s so unhealthy!”

“But… that can’t be right!”

“Maybe you should get a second opinion!”

“But… that’s not balanced.  You HAVE to exercise!”

“But… you don’t want to get FAT though do you?”

“If you stop you’ll get fat, and you want to be toned!  You should still exercise so it doesn’t all come back as fat!”

As if that was the WORST THING IN THE WORLD!?

Let me remind you all:  My heart rate is 40 something lying down, 150 something when standing, and I’ve passed out just trying to get up off the couch.  In what world is it still considered a good idea to strap on your sneakers when you’re like this?!

In what world is a pregnant woman praised in a yoga class for staying thin when they’re trying to bring another life into this world?!

In what world is it considered healthy when my feet are bruised, bleeding, and covered in bandages because of the extent of abuse they have suffered, in the name of “health” and “fitness”?

In what world am I praised for literally running to my deathbed?

In what world do I go to the doctors two weeks after stopping exercise, still totally entrenched and medically unstable, to be met with plans by the same doctor who begged me to stop, to reincorporate exercise again?  Albeit, it was in the distant future, but still.  It should not have even been on the table yet.

Something needs to change.

Movement/Exercise DOES NOT ALWAYS = Good. Important. A+.

And inversely: Resting/InactivityDOES NOT ALWAYS = Bad. Hazardous. Fail.

Exercise does not mean exorcism, and it doesn’t equal health or happiness.  It’s time to start shifting our perspectives as a whole.  Not just as an eating disorder sufferer, survivor, recovery warrior, or support person, but as a society.  It’s time to come back to the basics.

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Why do we do what we do?

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Why do we move our bodies?

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Why are we strapping on our shoes and pounding the pavement?

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Are we exercising, or exorcising?

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If it’s to influence our shape or size, why is that so important?

 

And if it is that important:

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Is it worth digging our own graves?