Totally Unprepared: Losing Sight of the Shore

You guys… I’ve broken out the scarves.

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I actually love fall, but it’s moments like this that remind me that after fall comes winter, and winter means cold. And wet, cold, snow.  I don’t like being cold, wet, or in the snow.

I think I’m a wimpy Canadian.  Or a spoiled one.  Perhaps if I grew up in Alberta or Saskatchewan and was used to -40˚C I wouldn’t have this problem.  It’s like Boyfriend, who grew up in a part of the country that frequently had snow up to your waist, and hit the minus 30s and 40s on the regular in the winter… yeah, he has NO problem with the cold.  Living where we do now he doesn’t even wear a winter jacket.  Meanwhile there’s me who piles on the the parka and three sweaters as soon as it gets around zero.

Yep, I think if I had lived somewhere else and been used to cold, I’d be different.  Perhaps I’d own long-johns, actually enjoy hockey, and put maple syrup on my pancakes.  And I’d have a pet polar bear named Alfie living in the backyard.

(Joke.  I reaffirm, we do not have pet polar bears, live in igloos, or take baths in maple syrup… as far as I know.  But the world is made up of all kinds of people.)

Perhaps that would have prepared me for what is to come.  I was Skyping with one of my best friends last night, and she announced excitedly that her and her fiancé had finally set a date for their wedding, and I was super excited for them… until she said it was going to be on December 31st.  That in and of itself isn’t the WORST thing… but she also happens to live in one of the coldest places in Canada.  Hence, me in bridesmaid territory, that reads, “I’m going to be in -40˚C, in the middle of winter, in a dress, not wearing 400 layers of clothing, and be ridiculously unprepared for this.”

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image source (side note: Boyfriend would argue I NEED this sweater…)

I’m happy for her, I am.  But is it okay to say I’m absolutely terrified as well?

There are so many things coming up lately that I feel ridiculously unprepared for.

I started a new job this week as a mixer/shaper/person at a bakery, another job I’m ridiculously unprepared and unqualified for.  I have no formal training… and a strong tendency to make yeast breads that are flat.  RISE, damn you!

So I’m literally running on a passion for food, being a morning person (yay 4-5 am shifts!), knowing that I REALLY REALLY want to learn how to do this, and hoping to high heaven I can keep it together long enough to not make unleavened bread unintentionally out of every single loaf I am in charge of starting.

Either that or the whole bakery will be really prepared for Passover.

I was also unprepared for the change that was going to happen in my dietitian’s appointment a couple weeks back.  To clarify, I’m not relapsing.  I’m not falling apart.  BUT I did lose A LOT of exercise privileges (that spelling SO doesn’t look right but autocorrect is telling me it is!) because we’re running along the lines of, “What kind of life do you want to have?”

I know as soon as I admit I’m doing something compulsively, and not because I’m genuinely wanting to do it, we’re going to deal with the issue.  And that’s why it took me so long to bring it up, even though I knew I’d have to cross that bridge eventually.  I knew, and still know, the way to reduce behaviour related anxiety is to stop engaging in the compulsive behaviour without coming up with more compensatory measures.  And then sit with it.  OVER, and OVER.

AKA:  I want to exercise to change my body… therefore I must STOP exercising to change my body, and NOT restrict food to make up for a lack of activity.

“What kind of life do you want to create for yourself?”

“Is this behaviour worth the emotional toll it is taking?”

“What are you willing to give up to create the life you want?”

(Side note: If you start singing, “Let it go”, I will come and murder you in your sleep.  Sorry, not sorry.)

If you hope to recover, you have to be willing to let go of things. At the moment, that means for me, I need to let go of compulsive exercise, or exercise to impact what I look like.  AND at the moment, that means really cutting everything down, down, down, so I can sit with that anxiety and work through it.  If you hope to recover, you have to be willing to let go of things.  I know this seems like an obvious statement, but when put into practice it’s actually quite a difficult thing.

Picture yourself on a sailing trip, when your boat hits an unseen high reef and instantly springs an irreparable leak.  Because you’re such a daredevil and do things on impulse (yeah, I know… but bear with me here), you planned this trip spur of the moment, without telling anyone you were going, and went solo.  And you also decided that nothing could be better than finding Jaws in his natural habitat (because Nemo and Free Willy are so last season), so you decided to sail to known shark infested waters.  Knowing the boat was toast, and you have to go somewhere, you swim rapidly to the closest sprig of land nearby; a tiny island.  You make it there safe, but there’s no one living there, and limited resources.  You might be fine for a while, but eventually you’re going to have to make a move.

Oh, and you’re a recovering pyromaniac who can’t risk lighting a fire…

And you’re also suffering from aichmophobia (fear of sharp/pointed things) and petraphobia  (fear of rocks), so using a stick to write SOS in the sand, or writing it out of rocks is not an option.  You’re an aichmophobic, petraphobic, pyromaniac, who is somehow also an impulsive daredevil living on the edge…

Basically, you’re a walking enigmatic contradiction that should have been in therapy YEARS ago. (My apologies for the judgment if YOU are actually an aichmophobic petraphobic pyromaniac.  It’s not personal.)

But I digress… point is, you’re royally screwed.  And the daredevil you’re trying so hard to be figures this out because contrary to your rash actions you’re not actually stupid.  And once a daredevil figures out that luck has run out, that daredevil is terrified.

You’re unprepared.  You’re at a precipice.  You’re on your own.  You make the decisions.  You have to save yourself.

So regardless of the danger, you know you eventually have to leave the island.  Even though jaws may be circling around, you face certain death or possible death.  You have to work up the courage to leave, and that takes time and perseverance.

So the first time, you swim out maybe ten meters.  You test the waters.  But you’re not ready, and you’re not able to keep going, so you swim back.  And the next time, you swim out maybe 15 meters… and then you swim back.  The cycle keeps going… hours, days… I’d say weeks but if you’re on an island with no resources you probably don’t have that long.  Each time you make it out a little further, until eventually you have to take that last step and lose sight of the spit of land in the hopes of a better option just out of sight.

Luckily, just out of sight is another island where they are currently filming the next ridiculous reality TV show that’s somewhat Lord-of-the-Flies-esque probably with convicts because we all like to make TV shows about life in prison recently.  And there’s plenty of donuts and burnt coffee to satisfy your hunger and caffeine needs… as well as a way off the island assuming you’re not like Piggy.

Wow… you know I try to be emotionally deep, but my sarcasm and overly critical nature sometimes gets the best of me…

The point is: Just like a life or death situation on an island, you are faced with a life or death situation in recovery.  Just like you have to literally lose sight of the shore to escape a uncharted island, you have to lose sight of what is comfortable and familiar in recovery in order to create a life worth living for the long term.

AKA:

 

I know I’ve used it before, but I’m using it again because it’s so important.

What are you willing to give up to create the life you want?

What shore do you need to lose sight of to cross the ocean?

And, are you willing to take that risk, even if you’re feeling unprepared, because the grass might just be greener on the other side?

Basically, regardless of how unprepared I feel, I realize that staying on my island is certain death.  No, I’m not currently dying.  No, I’m not relapsing.  No, I’m not back at the point of life or death, eat or die, in the hospital, organs shutting down, and all that fun jazz… although you might be.  But just as severe as a physical death, emotional death is significant.

The reality is:  If I don’t start to leave parts of the eating disorder behind, I cannot create the life that I want to live.  And if I cannot create the life that I want to live, I will never feel satisfied, content, or at peace with myself or with my situation.  And if I don’t feel satisfied, physically, and emotionally, that is just as bad as a physical death.

I have to give a lot up.  And I’m grossly unprepared to do it.

  1. The idea of a lack of cellulite
  2. The thigh gap
  3. Allowing the ED to buffer me and give an excuse for me to put life on hold
  4. Exercising to manipulate my body
  5. The idea that health=thinness
  6. All food rules, and judgements about foods
  7. The need to feel in control all the time
  8. Perfectionism and not allowing myself to make mistakes

I’m sure there’s a lot more.  And do I know what will happen when I give these things up?

Nope.

Not a clue.

BUT, if I hold on to them, I am doomed to stay where I am.  And that’s not a place I want to be.

So I let the exercise go these past two weeks.  I let go of the hour of activity after work…for a few days.  And then I brought it back.  And then I let it go for a few more.  And I brought it back.  And then we did again, for longer.

I swam 10 meters from the shore, and then I returned.  Then I swam 15, and back I went.  The cycle continued, and continues.  And that’s okay.

It’s okay if it’s a process.  It’s okay if it takes a long time.  It’s okay if it isn’t all or nothing.  Because it’s hard, and you need to swim back when you’re struggling to tread water.

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But eventually, prepared or not, you have to lose sight of the shore.  You have to not look back.  You have to put all your energy into going only forward.  Because where your going has to become more important than where you’ve been.

It isn’t easy.  But nothing worth doing ever is.

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.