Haven’t posted in a while because I’m having a hard time putting into words how I’m doing. I’m kind of just chugging along, but thinks feel heavy and I’m tired. Winter term of uni is almost over so it’s crunch time. Plus I need to start thinking about spring term, and I need to meet with an adviser (should have done that years ago…) and figure stuff with my degree out. And I need to start thinking about finding a job again. I’ve not worked since October and it makes me so anxious even just thinking about looking at new jobs. So I’m being crushed by anxiety, which makes me feel depressed and like I’m never going to amount to anything, which makes me anxious, and it just keeps feeding into itself. I need to talk to my psychiatrist about this and look into maybe changing my meds up, but that involves calling my psych’s office because my appointment needs to be rescheduled. I just want to curl into a ball and hide from the world. I don’t want to talk to my doctor or therapist, or an academic adviser. I don’t want to continue with classes. I don’t want to get a job. I don’t want to see my friends. So yeah, I’m struggling, but I can’t afford to take any more time off school, can’t afford to not have an income, can’t avoid life. So onward I go. I’m just so damn tired.
My least favourite part of recovery is when I’m doing just fine, managing well, eating properly, feeling stable, and ED thoughts still hit me like a ton of bricks.
I’ve been in recovery for three damn years and this is still a regular struggle for me. I don’t know if it’s my ED brain realising that I’m doing well without it and deciding to pipe up because heaven forbid I let go of this demon. Maybe it’s too much influence from the people I follow on social media. Maybe I need to distance myself from the internet for a while. Maybe it’s because of the body dysmorphia that’s been nagging me lately. Maybe it’s a combination of all those factors. That’s why eating disorders are so hard to completely recover from.
I’ve been working out regularly and I think I might be building some muscle, but my thighs look absolutely enormous and it makes me feel physically sick. I’ve been working on increasing my intake to make up for the exercise (the irony is not lost on me, here…) and I feel greedy and gross for eating so much. I feel hungry at weird times and it triggers me so much. I’m basically constantly eating small meals/snacks all day and it feels good but also really scary.
I’m just so tired of wanting to starve myself to death. I’m so tired of this still being my first thought every time something bad happens. I’m tired of not wanting to completely let go of my ED. I’m tired of the back and forth between wanting to be fully recovered and not believing in complete recovery. I’m really tired of questioning recovery.
Because recovery is amazing. My body is functioning the best it probably ever has. I have the freedom to not only do so many things that I couldn’t when I was sick, but I can choose to do or not do things based on what I want, not what my ED wants. I can put my energy into being creative, or active, or learning, or whatever I want; I don’t have to be consumed by thoughts of food every second of the day. But I also find myself getting scared by this freedom because it’s still so unfamiliar to me. I am in a place of pretty much constant discomfort because of how much I’m changing and growing and pushing myself and it sucks, but it is what it is and the only way to alleviate discomfort fully is to allow yourself to experience it.
In light of feeling so shitty, here’s a list of some of the people online who inspire the hell out of me; you should definitely check them out:
Mary Jelkovsky/maryscupofteaa – Instagram
Neva Swartzendruber/ditch_the_diet – Instagram
Just a fun fact: this post was originally titled “Undeserving” from January 3rd.
Lately things have been clicking for me like never before. I still hate myself and want to die, but not nearly as intensely as before. My meds are working wonders. I’m seeing my psychiatrist and therapist regularly. I’m going to school. I’m going to the gym. I’m eating not only enough, but in an amazing balance. I’m feeling the most stable I have in probably years.
But what is really different than ever before is that I’m treating myself with respect and consideration. I still feel undeserving, but my actions no longer reflect that. I’m setting boundaries with people who I feel suffocated by. I’m refusing to let people treat me like crap; I’m ending a very, very long friendship if she can’t treat me with more maturity. I’m working out in order to get stronger, not to burn calories and lose weight. I’m eating good, nutrient-dense food as well as what makes me happy. I’m taking time for myself when I need it.
All of these things go directly against my core belief that I am a piece of shit who needs to die, but opposite actions, right? It feels so uncomfortable to treat myself well because I’ve never been in this mindset before, ever, in my almost twenty-three years. But from discomfort comes growth. I can accept it, even if I don’t like it.
I’ve been existing in a very mindful state and it has made everything so much more tolerable. Radical acceptance is an incredibly difficult concept but it is so, so important. Instead of looking at my unhelpful thoughts and actions as bad things that I need to change — which for me leads to a nasty cycle of trying, failing, feeling like shit for failing, resorting to those same old coping mechanisms, trying to stop doing them, failing, etc. — I can notice them, notice the thoughts I have about them, and allow them to exist. This is the core principle of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and I find it so much more manageable than the cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) approach.
And what’s really wild to me is that I’m working on being mindful and accepting not just because that’s how I’m supposed to be functioning in order to get “better”, but because it truly is good for me. I deserve to be at peace with my mind. I deserve to be as well as I can be. That is so hard for me to wrap my head around and internalise, but I’m working on it. I can accept it.
Wanting to write and knowing what to write do not go hand-in-hand.
I have a deep seated need to write but I often find myself at a loss for what to say. Does this mean my brain and body crave the act of writing? Do I have hidden thoughts and emotions that need to be worked through? Am I just a creature of habit who comes back to the same form of expression time and again?
And my bigger question these days: can my writing benefit others?
I don’t know if my blog posts mean anything to anyone besides myself. That’s fine. I’d like to be able to use my experiences to help others but at the moment it’s enough that writing them is therapeutic for me. I also write a lot of poetry. I don’t share the vast majority of my creative work because a) I am self-conscious, b) it’s pretty dark stuff, and c) I feel like most of it isn’t worth reading. I get really repetitive in my analogies and allusions and stuff. I also have a vast store of stories I want to write but never get around to because procrastinating prevents failure.
I want to submit and publish my writing. I want it to be read by people. I want professionals to approve of my writing and deem it worth reading. I shouldn’t let fear of rejection stop me but I do. So. Opposite actions. That idea can be used for things outside of eating disorder recovery. My brain is telling me not to bother submitting my writing to literary magazines because no one will want it. Okay, so? If one place doesn’t want it, other places might. I won’t know until I try.
Also, I have a hard time being creative while on my laptop these days. I do all of my creative stuff in a notebook, with a pen. Typing, while one of my favourite feelings in the world, has become reserved for schoolwork, research type stuff, only factual writing. Maybe I should try pushing on that. I find myself avoiding this blog lately as I’ve been avoiding thinking about things that make me uncomfortable. But discomfort is where growth happens. So here I am, writing, in order to push through this particular patch of writer’s block and the discomfort that comes with it.
People tell me that I’m a really good writer and I never know what to make of that. Writing comes so easily to me, that what I consider to be mediocre others think is brilliant. I know I’m capable of really great writing, but it’s the basic stuff that I don’t think is worth anything that people tell me is good. Where I’m going with this is that I’m working on bridging the gap between the writing I do for myself and the writing I do with the intention of sharing because maybe the boring fluff is important, too. I’m trying to not be so critical of myself, while also being able to critique and improve my writing. It’s a bit of a balancing act.
The bottom line is that I write for the same reason I breathe — to live. I write because I need to. My brain is swirling with thoughts and ideas and if I don’t write then my head will explode. I write out my thoughts so that I can see them and study them without them floating away like they do in my head. I write so that I can build my ideas up and develop networks of thoughts that are not only easier to understand, but that can be shared. I write because it brings me joy. I write because it challenges me. Writing is recreational, scholarly, and ambitious for me. Writing is how I consider my past and how I plan for the future. Writing is a way of life and I don’t plan on stopping, ever.
I feel cocky admitting it but I was one of those kids who did well in school without ever having to put in effort. I loved school, loved learning, had a pretty easy time grasping new concepts, and my obsession with reading gave me an impressive vocabulary and understanding of language. This came back to bite me in the ass, though, when I started university. I had no study habits and no concept of having to spend hours and hours on a subject. As a result, I had some pretty rough grades my first couple semesters.
As a perfectionist, I expect nothing less than 100% and A+ grades in every course. However, I am mortally afraid of my best not being good enough, so I spin myself into a cycle of procrastinate, not do as well as I want, beat myself up, but procrastinate further because if I don’t give it my all, then that’s a reason for not getting perfect marks. If I give it my all and still don’t make a solid 100%, then I’m just a flat out failure.
School is very intertwined with my depression, anxiety, and eating disorder. I get anxious about not being perfect, depressed because I’m not perfect and therefore will never amount to anything, and I use ED behaviours to distract from those things while simultaneously sabotaging myself because I starved brain can’t function. I had to actually drop out of my second year of university because my eating disorder got so bad that I could’t even leave my bed. I almost didn’t graduate high school on time because had I had to take the provincial math exam, I would have failed and therefor not been allowed to graduate. Thankfully there’s an exemption allowed from exams for students whose mental health impacts their ability to do school, so I didn’t have to take the exam and was able to marginally pass math. I compare myself to every other student. I feel stupid compared to the students who have better grades than me. I feel stupid compared to the students who are able to handle a fuller course load than me, or able to work more hours at a job than me while still doing well in school. I see people succeed and interalise it as I’m doing worse than them, I must be a failure.
The reality is that I am a mentally ill individual who cannot function as highly as most of my peers. I make myself an obstacle in the way of achieving what I want so that I can blame myself for being stupid and pathetic, rather than face the reality that I might not be capable of getting top marks. And the reality is that school isn’t about having a perfect transcript; school is about learning. I am going to school to learn, not prove myself to my professors or my department or my peers or my family. I am going to school for my own benefit, no one else’s.
Going forward, I am going to be shifting my focus back onto school as a place of growth and learning. I want to love school again. I want to be interested in the subjects I’m learning and not just slog through them because I have to. I want to expand my knowledge in the subjects I choose because they benefit me as a person. My goal is to be a writer, and I don’t need a university degree for that. Originally I set the career goal of becoming an English professor, but I realised that as much as that would be interesting and fulfilling, it was a way to avoid failure if I can’t make it as a writer. Just like avoiding my schoolwork in the hopes that I don’t have to acknowledge my best not being good enough. To become a professor I’d need to do my PhD, and for that I’d need my Masters, and for that an Honours Bachelors degree with a 3.7 GPA, and that all became too far removed from why I wanted to become a prof in the first place; I may end up becoming a professor one day, because I love sharing knowledge that I’m passionate about and I love being in academia and constantly learning. But for right now, I’m going to focus on school as a learning experience that will help me become a better writer, and I’m going to focus on my writing because that’s what brings me the most joy and makes me feel the most whole. A poor mark on a paper is a doorway to asking questions and bettering my understanding and improving myself. A good mark is proof that I’ve worked hard, not a sign of intelligence. I know that I’m school-smart and I want that to be enough. I want learning to be my safe haven in this world. I am going to work on being mindful and enjoy my school experience for what it is, not what I think it should be. I’m going to take my time and finish my degree at my own pace. I’m going to make my writing a priority and work with my creativity to expand and grow into the best writer I can be.
The burning question that haunts us all.
We let ourselves become so consumed by our disorders that we lose our sense of self. We strive to fit into diagnostic criteria. We lose interest in life. We stop doing the things we used to love because we’re so very busy being sick.
Part of recovery is letting go of our disorders. But that leaves us without something that defined us for so long. Part of recovery is figuring out who we are without our disorders. Trying to remember who we were before we got sick. Trying to figure out who we want to be. Feeling average and unimportant without our illness to make us special.
I’m going to make this post about me, rather than a general us. Because part of recovery is allowing myself to think about myself and my own needs.
Who was I before my eating disorder?
I used to ride horses. I was actually pretty good for a while. I stopped being good when my body stopped being able to handle that kind of physical activity, and when my brain couldn’t concentrate enough to be safe. I used to play basketball. I used to write about things other than my sadness. I used to be able to hang out with friends without feeling alienated by my disorders.
Some of those things I’ll never be able to get back. I’ll never be able to feel totally connected with my friends, but that’s okay because my experiences separate me in ways that have made me kinder, wiser, and more understanding. I don’t want to play basketball anymore because it reminds me of feeling inadequate.
But I want to ride again. I want to write about anything and everything, not just fixate on my illness. And I want to find out what parts of me went ignored through my teenage years because I was too sick to notice them.
I got into practicing witchcraft when I first started recovering. It honestly gave me so much comfort and inspiration and I wouldn’t be me without it now. I’m rediscovering my love for yoga and exercise of all kinds, without calorie counting and changing my body looming over me. I still love to read and write. I love plants and gardening and nature. I love watching nature documentaries and lame tv shows. I love cleaning and organising, and it helps both my depression and anxiety. I love having deep discussions and debates with people because I can finally think about things besides my eating disorder. I am passionate about the environment and social issues. I love learning more than almost anything. I love tea and coffee without using them as appetite suppressants, and I love fancy Starbucks drinks without having to make it as low calorie as possible. I love museums and art galleries. I love hiking and being outdoors.
But I am more than just the things I love. And this is where I struggle. It’s so hard for me to acknowledge the things I am, because that requires acknowledging good things about me and that goes against my core belief that I am a shit human being worth nothing.
But I am strong. I am brave, because I’m still here and still fighting and still pushing myself to do better. I am polite. I am kind. I am almost crying while writing this because I cannot fathom being nice to myself. I am a good writer. I am a hard worker. I am empathetic almost to a fault, but that’s okay. I am quiet and introverted. I am extremely self-aware and introspective. I am a good friend, or at least I try to be. I am honest and genuine. I may hate myself but I am working on being okay with being me.
I don’t need to be a whole, perfectly defined person. I don’t need to check off imaginary boxes of traits in order to be a whole person. It’s okay if I’m not sure of everything. It’s okay if I am constantly changing and evolving and developing. Right here in this moment, I am me and that is enough. I don’t need an anorexia nervosa diagnosis to define me and determine my worth. I don’t need to be a certain weight or bmi in order to be good enough as a person. I don’t need my ability to starve myself to be the most interesting thing about me. And one day I won’t feel like I need recovering from an eating disorder to define so much of who I am.
This should be subtitled: And other people’s perceptions of my size.
I do a lot of my shopping with either my mom or (in the past) my ex best friend. Because I have body dysmorphic disorder, I don’t have an accurate perception of my shape or size, so I typically bounce things off of the person I’m with. Things like “do you think this would fit me?” “does this look too small?” “could I pull this off?” It’s also important to note that I typically avoid changing rooms at all costs, because weird lighting and store mirrors wreak havoc on my brain. So there’s some degree of guess work that goes into my clothes shopping.
Sizes are an arbitrary measurement and usually vary from brand to brand and style to style within each brand, so this complicates things further. Especially when your eating disorder brain is telling you that you need to be a certain size, because that certain size isn’t always the same. I can’t go into a store thinking that I’m a certain size and only looking for things in that size because it won’t be accurate, unless it’s a brand and style I’m really familiar with. Even then, things aren’t always uniform. I fit from an extra small to a large. That in itself is a mind fuck and it stresses me out to no end.
Back to the people I shop with. When I would be out with my ex bff, she always picked out things in small and extra small sizes, regardless of how tiny those things might be. I honestly have underwear she helped me pick out that’s two sizes too small but technically still fits so I wear it anyway. She would always make comments about how small I was/am. It was validation for my ED but frustrating and embarrassing in recovery.
Shopping with my mom, however, is almost the opposite. I’ll pick up an article of clothing and she’ll say things like “that looks tiny” or “that looks like it would be too tight” and then I end up feeling confused because what if I see myself as smaller than she does? Am I bigger than I think? I’m trying to shop second hand these days, but this means that I’ll find something in only one size; I’ll find something I like in a size I think will fit, and my mom will make a comment about it being too small. That hurts. And it confuses the hell out of me because I have no idea what I look like and I rely so heavily on having help, and that help essentially tells me I’m big.
Having to go up a size feels like the end of the world, but what I found out is that when clothes fit comfortably (i.e. not too tight because I’m trying to fit into a small or extra small) things actually end up looking better. It’s really hard to accept going up in sizes, but once you realise that the number is stupid and impermanent, it gets a bit easier. And it’s a learning process. You’ll end up having a dozen different sizes in your closet. Right now, I’m just working on feeling comfortable in the clothes I buy regardless of what the little tag says.