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. **

 

 

It’s Just Not That Simple

Hello all!  Happy New Year, and a belated happy holidays!

*Cough* So I totally fell off the grid… and that pisses me off.  Cause you know, you follow all these blogs, and you look forward to the next post that’s going to hit your inbox.  So you wait, and you wait, and you wait… and then it’s been like a week and a half and you start to get frustrated and annoyed because you’re anticipant right?!  The things about successful blogs are consistency.  Like, they don’t have to post every day, because that has the potential to be annoying, but even if the blogger commits to once a week, or once every two, you know that there’ll be something there every Wednesday, or Friday, or Saturday morning for you to enjoy while eating your baked oatmeal slathered in peanut butter.

So you lose your patience and eventually stop following the blog all together because there’s no commitment. And if you’re going to devote quality oatmeal time, there had better be some dedication from the author too.  I mean, it’s oatmeal time!  It’s valuable.

And then you realize, in all your frustration, that you haven’t updated your own blog in… *grimmace, and cough* over a month.

Oops.

So my reasoning, which isn’t necessarily valid, but it’s the truth, is multi-faceted:

  1. December is like statistically, the crazy month in life.  I mean, Christmas shopping, Christmas parties, Christmas decorating… and that’s all before Christmas and New Years themselves!
  2. Sitting down (and thus, committing to writing, as it’s a sitting activity) is still such a struggle.  Anyone who suffers from compulsive exercise issues totally knows what I’m talking about.  Considering that it’s been… hang on… 4.5 months-ish, since I was last allowed to exercise, you’d think that it would get easier.  And it’s true, I’m not totally crawling out of my skin anymore, but I’m still on the edge of taking some Trazadone when I know I’m going to be still for a significant period of time.
  3. I started seeing this totally amazing person… and no offence to all of you, but I’m kind of totally okay with that taking up a good chunk of my free time ❤ .
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Need I mentioned that as I was writing this, said amazing person showed up on my doorstep with flowers and a latte just the way I like it. Yeah, be envious, he’s mine.

4.  I’ve been on and off the recovery bandwagon.

Actually, that’s not entirely true… I’ve been 90% on the recovery bandwagon.  But there’s that 10% on average that just throws you, where you want to give up, where you just CAN’T, where you’re curled up in a ball on your floor sobbing, where the food weigh scale is more friendly than trusting your eyeballs, where you choose a carrot stick instead of cake, where you miss a snack, where you lie and say you had something when you didn’t.  Or where you lie by omission.

And those other days, where the ratio flips, where you’re like 10% recovery, and 90% falling apart at the seams (aka me the last three days).  Where everyone around you becomes concerned, and you feel horrible for putting them through the worries and stress, but you feel powerless to stop it.  Where your mom almost has to force feed you your lunch after your doctor’s appointment, where you cry yourself to sleep, where the only thing keeping you off the treadmill is that last shred of willpower and the knowledge that if you put one foot on it, it’s the beginning of the end.

And when you’re struggling, one of the hardest things to do is write a pro-recovery blog, because when you’re that low, when you’re almost but not quite suicidal, you would feel like a total fraud to tell someone to pursue the freedom of recovery when you can’t find the point yourself.

You all know what I mean.  Chances are if you’ve gone through the recovery process, you’ve been there.

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Image source RecoveryWarriors

One of the biggest questions I get, phrased in one way or another, is

“When are you going to give it up?”

“Are you ready to stop starving yourself now?”

“Mind over matter.  Just do it!”

“Don’t you understand what this puts me through?  Why are you doing this to me?”

“Don’t make me worry about you!”

“Isn’t it about time you started focussing on something else, moving on with your life?”

The odd thing, is that I could keep going for ages.  All the questions, all the interrogations, all the eye rolls, all the sighs, all the begging and pleading, all of the simplicity.  It all comes down to the same question:

“Are you done yet?”

Answer:  It’s just not that simple.

These questions bring up a host of emotions.  Guilt: Do you think I want to cause you mental anguish?  Shame: Why can’t I just be normal? What kind of a person is actually afraid of food? Fear: If I don’t change, will you give up on me?  Will you leave?  Anxiety: Why are you asking me this question in front of a plate of lasagna?! Lonely: You don’t understand… and I can’t make you.  The only way you’d truly understand is if you experienced it, and I wouldn’t wish an eating disorder on my worst enemy. Frustrated: I’m tired of it too! Disgust: With self and with others- it’s not that simple, and why can’t it just be that simple?! Sad: Your impatience, and/or concern makes me sad that I can’t live up to what you desire for me and for yourself. Angry: It’s just not that simple!

I’ve seen a thousand and a half blog posts that rant about how eating disorders are NOT a choice.  And it’s 100% true- you don’t choose to have an eating disorder any more than you choose to have high blood pressure, or heart disease.  And I commend those who speak out against the stereotype.  But, I do not want this to turn into another rant about how modern society disregards the severity of eating disorders, chalks them up as first world problems, female problems, or choices, forgetting that they’re mental health conditions with a high mortality rate.  We know it happens.  The bush is beaten, the horse is flogged, we’ve run that one into the ground.  Let’s move on.

Let’s focus on recovery.  Let’s focus on the process of letting go.  Let’s look at WHY it’s not so simple.  Why is it not a choice?  Why can’t I just do mind over matter, and banish the eating disorder from my vision, peripheral and central.

Answer: It doesn’t leave, and it plays with you. It’s always there, and sometimes it’s so loud that you can’t ignore it. You wake up in the morning, never knowing if it’s going to be a good day or a bad one, and you never know if, or when, or what is going to set it off.

Sometimes it’s simple.  Take just before New Years, for example, when I somehow forgot to take my anti-anxiety medication for 5 days in a row.  Legitimately forgot because I somehow managed to miss putting it in with all my vitamins (yay zinc!) for the week.  Needless to say, there were multiple ED breakdowns, some very vicious words thrown around (sorry Mom!), and a lot of food freak outs.  Simple cause, simple fix: take your meds!

Sometimes, it’s not that easy of a fix.  Meds help, but they don’t fix the problem.  Sometimes, the trigger can be so small you don’t even realize it until it’s too late.

You wake up, and roll over in bed and your hand accidentally touches your stomach, and in that instant, you realize that you can no longer feel the groove of your intestine (yes, I’m serious), and suddenly you freak out.  You’re huge, you’re worthless, you need to go for a run, you need to miss breakfast, or a snack, or both.  You need dry lettuce instead of a sandwich.

You walk by a mirror, and catch a glimpse of yourself.  Does that shirt look tighter than it did two days ago?  Suddenly you see your chipmunk cheeks, your thunder thighs, and your almost overweight body staring back at you.

Someone tells you their New Years Resolution is to lose 30 lbs, though they look perfectly great the way they are, and you start to compare.  Are her thighs bigger than mine?  No… well if she has to lose thirty, I have to lose at least 50.

Someone talks about their run, or their diet, or how bad carbs are for you, and suddenly you find yourself living off of kale wraps and throwing stevia in everything instead of sugar and doing laundry in 80 trips to the basement instead of 2…

These are all triggers.  We know triggers.  We anticipate triggers.  We plan for triggers, and work on coping skills so that when eating disordered behaviour urges arise as a result, we can do something instead of engaging in a behaviour.

But as much as we plan for triggers, as much as we know that the behaviour goes against recovery, as much as we know that we’re setting ourselves back by engaging in these negative cycles, sometimes, YOU JUST CAN’T STOP.

They tell you not to calorie count.  You try your best.  But you wake up and start making your breakfast and without you even trying, your brain starts adding the numbers:

One egg: 70

1 tbsp peanut butter: 100

1/3 c rolled oats: 105

I’ll stop there.  I didn’t have to look these things up.  I didn’t have to use a fancy calculator like MyFitnessPal.  The numbers just came to me without me even trying.  The numbers are engrained. You don’t struggle for three years without having them memorized.  And in the time it takes to add an ingredient to the bowl, I know exactly how much is in there, especially if I happened to use a measuring cup or spoon, a behaviour that I can often quell but still haunts me more often than I would like.

They tell you not to equate your food with your movement.  They take away the treadmill, the stair stepper, or the jogging shoes.  And it’s tough.  And you go through withdrawals that are much the same to those of a drug addict.  No, I’m not even kidding.  My mom can vouch for the amount of times I’ve sat, shaking on the couch, so paralyzed by terror and intense urges to strap on the Nikes that it’s taking literally everything out of me.  Where you get a glazed look in your eyes because you’re so lost in your head that you can’t even be present in the room.

But the thing about food and exercise addictions, be it an addiction to gorging yourself or to restricting yourself, is that unlike an alcoholic, you can’t get rid of your fix.  You can’t go without food, and you can’t go without movement.  I can’t elect to not shovel my driveway in the winter, or rake my leaves in the fall.  I can’t choose to never vacuum the house.  I can’t choose to not do laundry, because my laundry machine’s location gives me a few stair steppers.  I can’t change the distance between different places at work any more than I can change the amount of times I have to go to the back to get something as opposed to staying out front.  I can’t elect to never eat again, or that will end just as poorly as it started.

In addition, we live in a world where restriction, deprivation, and intense physical activity is glorified and adored, and where the worst possible thing you could ever be is overweight or fat.  One who manages to go for a 7 km run every day is praised, while one who elects that they are tired decide to honour that by not pushing themselves that day are condemned.  Similarily, if we can find yet another way to use cauliflower instead of flour to make a typically carb-laden dish, we are regarded as “healthy” and “clean” and are glorified, regardless of the fact that it tastes nothing like the original, and quite often is a flavourless pile of mush. Those who decide to listen to their burger cravings and eat an actual beef burger with cheese, better do it in secret, or claim that this was a “cheat” day rather than admit that they actually like something that tastes good.  Because how dare you!?

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So for those in recovery from an eating disorder of any sort, or exercise obsession, the task becomes not to behave like the norm, but rather to do the opposite.  And not only is this met with resistance by the sufferer, but also by those around them who buy into the current diet mentality, clean eating epidemic, or exercise craze.  Often times, the same people who ask you “Are you done (with your eating disorder) yet?” are the same people that discourage you from sitting and watching a movie instead of going for a hike, or look on disapprovingly when you order fries instead of a side salad.  They are the same people who tell you about the next 10 lbs they have to lose, or the latest findings about how butter or bacon is basically slow acting arsenic.

I don’t know, am I done yet?  Or, rather, are YOU done yet?

I’m not trying to be ungrateful.  I’m not trying to condemn those who care enough about someone to even ask or be concerned about where they are at and where they are going.  And I’m not trying to minimize the pain that caregivers, families, and friends go through alongside the one suffering from an eating disorder. I’m not trying to create a bully, scapegoat, demon, or antagonist to the recovery process.  I’m not trying to blame.

But what I am trying to do is show a myriad of factors that make recovery, and the recovery process not that simple.

Because you’re right.  In the end, it does come down to mind over matter.  But considering the eating disorder is a disease of the mind, it’s kind of difficult to put your mind OVER anything.  Your mind is a little unreliable.

I know I shouldn’t fear pasta… but I still do.

I know I shouldn’t condemn a cookie… but I still do.

I know that I’ve been to rehab, outpatient, relapse, and outpatient again… but I’m still struggling.

I know that I hide it well… but every bite is still hard.

I know that I enjoy watching a movie… but every 10 seconds a little voice beats me up telling me I could be doing so much more.

I know that I could have died multiple times, that I’m lucky I didn’t… but I can’t just stop.

And if you think that that knowledge doesn’t piss me off, doesn’t frustrate me to all ends, and doesn’t make me feel so ridiculous when I try to explain that I’m crying over a piece of bread, then think again.

I know how to fight it, but sometimes I just can’t.  Sometimes the fear, the anxiety, the stress, the guilt, the shame, the unknown, and the power of the eating disorder voice is too much.

And that’s okay too.  Because that’s the reality of recovery.  You have slips, you fall, you take 10 steps back, followed by a giant leap forward.

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Image Source Recovery Warriors

I’ve heard once that on average, the time taken for eating disorder recovery (not full, not completely voiceless, but rather the true ability to choose not to engage and not to listen and not to focus on eating disordered things and just act and eat normally) takes 7 years.  7 YEARS!  And that’s without a significant relapse… i.e., if you have a significant relapse, as I did, you can start your clock again.

And that’s not meant to depress you.  It’s not meant to make you feel like it’s hopeless.  It’s not meant to make you give up.  Rather, it’s meant to empower you and educate you.

If you’re the person asking, “Are you done yet?”, perhaps this shows you how difficult it is, how long it takes, and how crucial it is to not minimize the process.

If you’re the one being asked, “Are you done yet?”, perhaps this makes you realize that no, chances are you’re not, but that’s okay.  And you don’t need to feel ashamed for not being able to just put mind over matter and give it up the same way that one gives up chocolate for lent.  Don’t minimize yourself, your struggle, or your process.  Don’t be ashamed for being exactly where you’re at.  Don’t be ashamed for crying over a slice of bread.  And don’t be ashamed that you’re struggling.

Because it’s just not that simple.