I celebrated my five year anniversary in recovery last week. Five years home from The Center for Change. I left that day thinking I could never maintain recovery and now five years later, I wouldn’t say I’m recovered but I would say I’m definantly in solid recovery. CFC has a tradition of having clients write a letter of hope when they leave to read to the current clients. I thought I would share a new letter of hope for anyone that needs it now five years later.
I am writing this letter now after five years in recovery. It doesn’t make me an expert by any means on what it means to be in recovery nor does it mean I can offer advice that you absolutely must follow to get well but I can tell you what has worked for me. As I learned five years ago listening to other women talk about their lives I learned that as much as we like to believe we are unique individuals there are certain things that we all have in common. And I hope what I share hits on those commonalities.
Hope. You must live and breathe hope. If you become hopeless you have given up and you will relapse. You must believe that you can recover. You must believe that you will beat the odds and be one of the ones who lives in full recovery. When you are lying in bed awake in the middle of the night and the hopeless feelings creep in, get out of bed and pull out whatever it is that makes you feel hopeful. Maybe it’s a picture album, maybe it’s a book of quotes, perhaps it’s your goodbye book, maybe it’s the Bible or maybe it’s watching your children sleep or holding your dog. Whatever it is allow it to remind you that there is hope in this world – your job is to hold onto it.
Know that recovery is a choice. You did not choose to get sick but you absolutely 100% can choose to get better. What this looks like may look different depending on where you are in recovery. Choosing wellness in the beginning of recovery simply means showing up to meals and eating what is placed in front of you. In five years the choices may be choosing to continue to eat intuitively when you’ve gained 10 pounds on a medication or making the decision that it’s time to tell the secrets you’ve kept hidden for almost ten years. The bottom line is, is that you must choose recovery each and every day.
Sometimes it is tempting to sub out the eating disorder for another self destructive behavior. You must learn that all things that harm you must go. The suicide attempts must go and so must the cutting. Holding onto remnants of self-destructive behaviors does not mean you are in recovery even if your eating is perfect. You cannot be in recovery until you give up everything that you do to harm yourself. Recovery requires that you to take care of your body.
I firmly believe that recovery does not require you to love your body. It requires you to care for it and to tolerate it but you do not have to LOVE all parts of it. If you are waiting to recover until you love your body or even like it you may wait forever. They say body image is the last piece of the puzzle to fall into place and for me I’m not sure I’ll ever even like what I look like. But I can take care of myself anyways. I can even dress as I want and take time to style my hair. Accepting your body must be the goal. It’s a bonus if you end up liking it or even loving it.
Recovery is a long and winding road. No two people’s journey’s are the same. If you are still struggling don’t despair. There is hope. There is always hope. And if you are in the tedious stages of beginning recovery. It gets better. It gets easier. And if you are like me – feeling lost in sort of a middle ground, stick it out. I have to believe that I’ll feel like I have more solid footing eventually. But overall, I must remember and so must everyone reading this that recovery is worth it. It’s always worth it.
I was messing around on Youtube today and ended up watching videos of Rich Mullins. Rich Mullins was a christian singer in the 90s who is famous for writing the song “Awesome God” and writing many other poetic songs. As a child and young teenager I often listened to his music to calm myself and find comfort. Anyways, I was watching videos of him today which I enjoy doing because he often ends up saying some pretty profound things before he sings and this one really hit home for me.
Sometimes even if you aren’t going to sin, it’s nice to be tempted.
This simple sentence describes why I torture myself by still immersing myself in the eating disorder world. I still check tumblrs of girls active in their eating disorder, read eating disorder books and just generally keep all of my ties to that world. It had previously made no sense why I had done so. I want to be done with my eating disorder. I am in recovery. I’m moving forward. I have better things to do that sit and wallow in that former life. But yet, even if I’m not going to relapse it is nice to be tempted too.
And why is that? Well, a part of me still finds that world familiar and comforting. I go there when I am afraid or think I need structure in life. If I still feel tempted to engage in symptoms it reassures me that I haven’t lost the power to return completely to the disorder. I may choose not to engage but it is somewhat reassuring that the urges are still there. That I’m not recovered because that terrifies me.
But is it right that I like to do that? Is it healthy? No. And it is something I need to work to give up to get to that place where I am fully and firmly planted in recovery. But Rich Mulllin’s simple sentence made sense to me and it was nice to put some words to those feelings I have when I visit those dark corners of the internet or fiction shelves. It’s very human and very normal to struggle to give up those last remnants of addictions or disorders and this was also a nice reminder to me. So I have identified another area of recovery in which to work. I have put some words to my feelings now which for me is always a start. The next step is working through them.
Early Thursday morning my life went chaotic. Which happens sometimes when you have a mental illness/illnesses. I don’t want to go into the details but the final result was that I found myself back in the familiar lounge of the psychiatric hospital I have been in countless (literally, I can’t count them) times before. This was unexpected. There weren’t behavioral signs leading up to this and the psychological ones were a combination of factors that hit all together and all at once. The good news about this is that I think my meds were already correct and I have the therapeutic issues figured out that sent me in so I’m pretty sure this isn’t something that has the ingredients to repeat itself.
The stay itself was productive in that it gave me time to focus on some issues that I’d been avoiding and ‘chill’ out while I reevaluated where I was at. I often find being at the psych. hospital harder sometimes than being at home. Mine has groups that are fairly well ran and a great art studio but on the weekends there is only one group and a whole bunch of time to sit around and be be bored or find something, anything that is allowed to do. I was having to use self-soothing skills that I really hadn’t been practicing for awhile and I was feeling the effects from being out of practice. That was one major thing I realized. I’ve GOT to get back to using my self-soothing skills and also integrate some healthier habits into my life.
For me self-soothing skills are essential to my life. They keep my mind regulated and at peace. I define self-soothing skills as literally what it says something that “soothes me”. This is a little different from a coping skill for me. Coping skills are used in times of distress. Self-soothing skills are used all the time to keep me going. Also known as self-care I guess. So what are some of mine? Well, it’s little things. Coloring is a big one. The repetitive motions and the ability to zone out happily gives me great relief. Crosswords are another one. And so is reading. Ah yes reading. When I’m at home I’ve been neglecting reading. I’ve been on the computer as opposed to reading a book. And the computer does NOT soothe me. It activates me. It’s time for me to take some space away from the computer. Set up some boundaries with it in my life. Not gone – just less time with it.
As for healthier habits. Any exercise has dropped off the face of the earth for me. I throw the ball for Gus to wear him out instead of walking him and that would be so easy to add back in. Or play the Wii for just a little bit of time to get up and moving. Anything, that gets me off the couch. Another is allowing myself to go to bed when I’m sleepy and if that’s at 8:30 so be it. No more sleeping on the couch and waking at 12:30 to move to my room. Others are little things such as meds on time and with food, being direct with practitioners and a few other little things.
So the stay although unexpected was productive. I’m glad to be able to go to a good hospital that allows me to bring Gus and goes out of their way to accommodate us. I feel safe there and they make it as tolerable as possible. The staff by and large is good. And this is sometimes hard to find at a psych. ward/hospital so I’m grateful. But I’m very glad to be out and plan to go back to my life now while implementing some of the things I was reminded of. It’s good to have reminders but I think I’ll take them other ways now, thanks.
So this spring I had a lapse/relapse. I mentioned it in a previous blog entry that it started a few weeks earlier in August. Looking back I see signs way earlier than that. Back to spring and winter but it took times for the thoughts and feelings to turn into full blown behaviors and when they did as my pattern is I sunk downward quickly. There were immediately talks of sending me back to treatment possibly to a transitional IOP program but I resisted this strongly. I have done a total of sixteen months of inpatient and residential and I couldn’t imagine putting my life on hold, leaving Gus and adopting that sick identity one again. So that left one option and that was to let my parents help me.
Now there is a type of treatment for adolescents called Family Based Treatment where the parents take control of the teen/child’s food and are responsible for their recovery (I’m simplifying here). The assumption is that parents know how to feed their child and achieving wellness can be done at home instead of in a treatment center. Now having been to treatment and in treatment with girls who “failed” Maudsley (aka Family Based Treatment – FBT) I was horrified to realize that my family would essentially be doing something like this. I had heard horror story after horror story about how awful it was to give your control of food to your
evil parents. I believe in therapy I wailed something like “I am twenty-five years old I will NOT do Mausldey. How pathetic is that? Also, it’s evil” – paraphrasing.
But if I didn’t wish to return to treatment it was my only option so with pressure from my treatment team I begrudgingly allowed my parents to begin to take control of my food. This meant that they fed me three meals and two snacks. We met with my dietician and agreed how we would tackle fear foods. We all compromised and my voice was heard which was very important as an adult. We did a ladder system (starting with easy foods and working up towards harder ones). My mother was to pick meals and snacks – I could portion myself at dinner but she would watch me and tell me to add more if needed. Snacks she portioned. I also did not eat alone. My parents showed up every morning to eat breakfast with me and then again at noon to eat lunch (dinner was always a meal I ate at my parents). This has gone on from August until now. I am at a point where I am eating independently again but not portioning all of my food. I get my own breakfast but my mother sends a packed lunch and snack with me. I eat dinner with my parents and she feeds me evening snack. Next week I meet with my dietitian and I expect to either be able to portion snacks myself or receive full control of my lunch.
How do I feel about all of this now? Honestly, it’s a relief. I’m so glad I didn’t go to treatment and leave everything here. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I didn’t want to give up my control around food but I’m glad I had my parents step in. At the time my malnourished brain wasn’t thinking correctly and loosing weight (aka relapse) seemed like a great idea. But it was presented firmly to me that this would not be allowed to happen. My therapist and parents made it impossible. I resented that. And at twenty-five I still think that I should be able to control this myself (not because I resent their help but because I am an adult who should be independent). But now I am so grateful for their help. It wasn’t easy for my parents. It took time away from work and their schedules. And I wasn’t always the most fun person to eat with. I’m also sure it was scary to hear the same talk coming out of my mouth that they heard five years ago when I plunged into the deepest parts of my illness. I’m also thankful to my brother who put up with a lot of moodiness and pouting as I ate (not proud of that).
Not everyone has the resources to be able to turn it around outpatient but I’m thankful I could. I also have a sense of security now that no one is going to allow me to get as sick as I was in 2009. The thought of that truly does scare me when I’m thinking correctly. I have been promised that intervention will be taken before then. And this was proven to me here. And as for FBT being evil (or at least my parents and mine modified version) being evil I need to take back some words…
I’ve been struggling with my eating disorder. I’m ashamed to say that but it’s time to be honest. Not to be taken care of, not to be attention seeking but because lying and hiding does me no good. Also, it’s past time to get on track and in my case transparency has been the best motivator for that.
I’ve been in recovery from my eating disorder for almost three full years. I’ve been extremely proud of that. Extremely. In fact, out of everything I’ve done in my life I can say that this was the one thing I have been proudest of because it is the thing I have had to work the hardest for. And now? Well I can see it slowly slipping through my fingers. It’s a scary feeling for me and I know it’s a scary feeling for those around me.
What happened? I don’t exactly know. I suppose it’s been a combination of factors. Med adjustments, depression which caused loss of appetite, stressors, a lingering dissatisfaction with my body which never really went away, change and the biggest one of all – a significant trauma anniversary (which at one point I plan to write about). All of that collided and I let down my guard and the disorder slipped in.
I owe some apologies. At this point in my recovery I can’t slide back into my disorder without some awareness of my actions. There was some familiarity in the behaviors and feelings. They brought relief I was seeking but even that is no excuse. I owe apologies to my friends who fight everyday for stepping away from the battle and for leaving you to fight alone. It invalidates your struggle and for that I am sorry. And it goes without saying that I owe many apologies to those who love me.
So where do I go from here? Well, I try. I try to get back on track. I pray that I haven’t gone too far down the rabbit hole and that I can still yet pull myself out. I try with every fiber of my being even with my brain screams that this is wrong. I fight the biology of the disorder with everything I have and everything I have learned. And believe that I can regain the reground I have lost and come the end of February I can celebrate my third year in recovery.
So I recently wrote that I had been admitted to the psych ward twice (the first time just short of three days and the second time just short of a week). What I failed to mention was what I did with my service dogs, Benny and Shona, while I was admitted. This was deliberate. There is so much criticism in the service dog world about how people treat their dogs and represent service dogs as a whole. In fact, there is a whole Facebook page dedicated to finding “fakers” or people they deem irresponsible or misrepresenting service dogs and publicly exposing them. I was reluctant to share my decisions in how I handled my stay and my dogs in fear of judgement and bullying but I am choosing to in order to perhaps help someone else think through how they would like to handle a similar situation.
First, I need to say that I always consider my dog’s needs first before my own. The hospital I go to is a safe environment with a well trained staff. In addition, it sits on a large area of grounds and easy access to these for potty breaks at anytime. In addition, I could take my service dog for short ten to fifteen minute walks. Staff was more than accommodating day or night in allowing me to take Ben or Shona out. Before staying at the hospital I considered my dog’s temperate. Ben is a dog that is not easily effected by other’s emotions. If Ben is a dog that naturally picks up and feels all the feelings around him a psych. hospital would not be the place for him. But Ben is very emotionally stable and stern. He loves people but their emotions don’t effect him negatively (Shona struggles with this more) so Ben was the dog I chose to take with me.
Ben did not remain “on duty” the entire time he was at the hospital. He was allowed to visit with the other patients, play and act like a dog. If he had remained “on duty” the entire time he would have become worn out and burnt out. Instead he had time to just be Ben and be a dog. There were times I needed him on duty but I also made sure he could be Ben. I deliberately made sure I spent time in my room during the day so he could sleep just like he would at home and wouldn’t be overstimulated. This way he got enough rest.
I considered the population of patients. I was not in a severe mentally ill unit. For the most part there were not psychotic patients. Most were struggling like me so Ben was in no danger. He in fact provided much needed relief to these patients and when not working was allowed to be petted, cuddled and hugged. He served as a therapy dog as much as anything. This is important to note. If you are considering taking your dog inpatient you need to be clear to yourself before going in what your boundaries will be. Will you enforce the no petting rule? I did when Ben was on duty but when he was not I allowed him to be petted like a normal dog. This will require interaction. People naturally want to pet your dog. They will ask questions. You will have to be near them. This was hard for me. But Ben craved their attention and in order for me to make the stay positive for him I allowed him to have the attention he desired.
Another factor that made the hospital stay feasible was my parents were able to visit every night. My dad took Ben out for a thirty minute walk each night. So Ben got plenty of exercise and a chance to run. Each day when they were there I evaluated his mood, attitude well-being, exhaustion and stress level to see if he was able to stay another day. If he had indicated he was stressed at all I would have sent him home immediately.
To sum up my experience with Ben I made the right decision to take him with me. It worked for us. It’s not going to work for every situation. It’s a combination of having the right hospital, the right population of patients, the right timing, the right access to resources and the right dog. Ben has come out of his stay a better service dog. His behavior is more focused and concentrated. He learned a lot from his time there. And how do I know he was not harmed from his stay? Every-time I return there for outpatient Ben wags his tail and becomes increasily excited thinking we are returning to the hospital. He would like nothing better. Sorry buddy if I have anything to say about it we are staying far away.
Lately, I’ve been reminded that a lot of my psychiatric illnesses are largely due to a chemical imbalance in my brain. My psychiatrist and I have been messing around with my medications for the past two months or so after taking me off one that was causing more side effects than it was worth and it has been causing havoc with my life, messing with my anxiety and depression. After four plus years of treatment I’ve gotten pretty good at using coping skills. And I have been using coping skills out my ears but nothing was touching the level of anxiety I was having. Nothing. This caused me to be starkly reminded that while there are some things I can do to effect my mental illness there are times when sometimes I can’t because when it comes right down to it – it’s just that an illness. A biological illness similar to diabetes or cancer except this illness originates in the brain.
This has become more and more apparent as we try and find the right combination of meds for me. It’s a balancing act as we try to find meds that stop nightmares, help with sleep, catch my anxiety and combat my depression. And part of this balancing act is sometimes stays in the psychiatric hospital. I had a short stay right after Thanksgiving where we made some changes to my meds. These changes unfortunately resulted in me being extremely sedated and sleeping for 16-17 hours a day. Not good. And didn’t help my depression at all. In fact it made it worse. Therefore, resulting in a second stay last week lasting until Christmas Eve.
I am blessed to have access to a good facility about 40 minutes away. And I am lucky that my regular psychiatrist (who is a genius with medication) was the doctor on call. During this second stay I stayed longer while we messed with my medication and I dealt with some side effects. And there are usually side effects to medication. Some more benign than others. I was relieved that this time the side effects weren’t so great as to pull me off the new medication. It seems to be helping. *crossing my fingers*
So back to the beginning of the post – my depression and anxiety is at least partly chemical. Honestly, this scares me more than if it was simply attributed to my trauma. If it was only due to trauma I could “get over it” but a biological basis? Well, I can’t control my brain anymore than someone can control their blood sugars or the number of cancer cells in their body. I’m having to surrender my control. Take each day as it comes and hope and pray that this medication change is at least a temporary fix.
We are headed into the holidays and many people may not realize how tough of time this can be for those who suffer from mental illnesses. Not just eating disorders but all mental illnesses. Holidays bring wonderful things – family, friends, traditions, fun and a multitude of other things but they also bring stress. I think that even a person without a diagnosed mental illness would agree with this.
In this case of eating disorders I suppose it goes without saying that Thanksgiving wouldn’t be that person’s favorite holiday. I am thankfully at a place in my life where I can enjoy the day spent with family and even enjoy the food but I spent several years anxious and unsure during the meal. In fact two years in a row I spent Thanksgiving inside a treatment center. However, Thanksgiving can also be difficult for someone suffering from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD or other psychiatric illness. Large groups of people can cause anxiety for some, seeing relatives that you haven’t seen for some time and a fear of being judged can be very fear provoking and just an upset in routine can be destabilizing.
In the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas I have been known to crash and crash hard landing in the hospital or treatment (I spent three consecutive Christmas’s in treatment – that sucked). This year I feel more stable and ready to enjoy the holidays than ever but I remember those days and look around me at others with a lot of compassion. Also, although I feel stable and 90% sure I won’t need the assistance of the hospital I also know that it could be hard to manage some of the stress that comes up. I love Christmas so very much that sometimes the anticipation simply becomes too much to bear. Odd right? But this adds to my anxiety level and I can become destabilized because of this. As the holidays approach look around you at those who could be suffering. Understand that it is not that they don’t enjoy being with you or dislike the concept of the holidays – it is simply the change in routine and the anxieties that Thanksgiving and Christmas can bring that can cause symptoms. I love the holidays but as much as I do I struggle with them and I think I can speak for many when I say that I wish I didn’t. I wish I could simply sit back and enjoy them. However, I have to fight through a lot of things in order to do this. At this point in my life I’m capable of doing it. But at one point I wasn’t. So have some compassion. Show some understanding and simply be there for others this holiday season.
I recently read this blog from momastery.com. I haven’t talked much in detail about my brief college years on here and I will one day but for now I wanted to share this blog because in many, many ways it sums up what I felt during that time and what I feel now looking back. There are some distinct differences (I had a net – a net that ultimately saved me) but also many frightening similarities. So please take a look at:
“I Have No Idea What to Title This. I’m Not Even Sure you Should READ it. Nets. We’ll call it NETs”.
Filed under coping skills, depression, eating disorder, eating disorders, friends, Identity, Independence, life events, Life Story, New Life, PTSD, quotes, Recovery, school, survivor, the past