Exciting update from a legit future therapist

I’m back after a year+ long absence! As some of you know, as soon as I made the decision to go back to school to become a therapist (!!!) I got really nervous about blogging. I’ve gone through and taken out most identifying details (although I still use my first name) and I feel okay for now, but I may go back and do another round of edits once I actually start seeing clients (in 3 months!!!). I’m also open to any words of wisdom about how to navigate the online world as a therapist…

The past year has been quite eventful. I just finished up the second semester of my MFT grad program and I’m on track to graduate next summer (2019). I start my year-long practicum this August– I’ll be counseling high school girls. This June I’ll also be leaving my Research Analyst job that I’ve been at for the past four years. As sad as it will be to leave, my passions/priorities have changed and I’m ready to move on with my life.

Probably the biggest change, however, has been with my recovery. Ha, I finally feel like I can use that word without being scared someone will call me a fraud! So, as I’ve written about before in this blog, I consider the starting point of my recovery to be in late 2012. That summer I hit (one of?) my rock bottoms and went inpatient for the very last time. The circumstances weren’t the best (roommate drama overload) but that aside it really did help my depression and got me thinking more clearly. It was only after leaving that I started making any real sustainable progress (i.e., I finally committed to life and gave up trying to kill myself). Eating disorder-wise, things stabilized and I managed to somehow finish my master’s degree and get a really awesome job soon after graduating.

By 2016, I was feeling pretty good but I knew by all DSM accounts I still had an eating disorder. I thought I was okay with that. Then last August something incredible happened. I broke a tooth. Again. Crumbled in my mouth as I was brushing, one of the few natural teeth I had left. And to be honest, I have no way of knowing if that particular incident was a direct result of my purging behaviors (which were way down but still pretty regular), but for whatever reason that was just IT for me. Too many lost teeth, wasted dollars, and lost years over this stupid disease. I decided right then and there that I was DONE with purging. And yes, I had made similar declarations countless times over the years, but this time was different. My eating disorder was no longer serving any real purpose for me, and I didn’t NEED it anymore. I finally had a fulfilling job, dreams, passions… the eating disorder was no longer the main plot-line of my life. It was just getting in the way and draining my money, my time, and my dignity.

That was August 19, 2017. Over eight months later and I’m happy to say that I am STILL completely purge-free. WHAT?!? And the crazy part is, it feels almost completely natural at this point. There is no way in hell I would ever choose to go back to my old life. In the past whenever I’d have a string of a few good days my best friend would be scared to ask how I was doing the next time we talked, or she’d see that I was up all night and would assume I was back at it. However, a few weeks into this good streak she was like, “I don’t get scared to ask anymore, because something is just so different this time and I know you’re never going back.” She felt that 2,000 miles away and I’m not surprised!

So what made this time different? Several things…

  • I started eating more. It really was that simple– well, kind of. 😉 In the past when I tried to stop b/ping, I would wonder why I still had such strong urges to binge even with my “completely normal” daily intake of 850-900 calories. After 20 years of dietitians telling me that was still very restrictive I finally accepted that fact myself. It wasn’t like I just started eating a normal amount of food one day, but gradually I increased my calories each week and within about 2-3 months, my urges were almost completely gone. At about month six I stopped tracking my calories altogether and now I kind of eat… intuitively? That sounds so weird to say, as I never thought that would ever be a reality for me. Who AM I?
  • I stopped obsessively weighing myself. In the past, whenever I imagined stopping b/p for good, I thought I could only do that while remaining under some arbitrarily chosen low weight. The whole “of course I want to recover but only if I can still weigh XX” thing. I finally accepted that was never going to be possible and I kind of just said “to hell with it.” I knew I still needed to gain weight and I finally started being more okay with that idea. At the time I still thought I for sure wanted to work with eating disorders professionally in the near future so that definitely helped. However, instead of trying to meticulously control every aspect of the weight gain process (because that’s just triggered different disordered behaviors in the past), I started just gradually eating more– enough so that I wasn’t always starving and on the verge of bingeing. And I did gain weight, but not nearly as much as I feared, and I was honestly surprised at how quickly my metabolism bounced back. Eventually I stopped weighing myself altogether, which was… pretty terrifying at first but honestly, after 20 years of my crazy weight tracking and measuring systems, I have the (sometimes unfortunate) ability to estimate my weight accurately even without a scale.
  • I let myself eat previously forbidden “b/p only” foods. A big fear was that by stopping b/p, I would only be able to eat a super boring diet of my safest foods. ugh, why even recover? For a while, that kind of was the case, but I slowly started letting myself eat riskier things and at this point I will let myself eat pretty much anything I crave. Seriously. I have no urges to binge on such foods anymore because I never let myself get too hungry and I don’t completely deny myself.
  • I stopped avoiding food-related events and started eating more in public or with friends. This was already a ton better than it had been (there was a time when I was super weird and refused to even talk about food), but it’s gotten even better over the past eight months. I think by now most people know better than to make rude food-related comments directly to me but I’m not afraid to shut them down even if they’re made in general or to other people. Like, if you shame someone for eating a cupcake or feel the need to loudly read off the nutrition facts of the cookies someone nicely brought into the office to share, I may politely tell you to STFU.

These were the four biggest things for me, and I realize some people may be thinking these are all pretty food-based things for a disorder that “isn’t actually about food” (ugh, but that phrase…). Keep in mind that I was already well into the recovery mindset back in August 2017, and after 20 years of on-again-off-again therapy of every variety, I had pretty much worked out all the complicated “whys” of my eating disorder and could write a book (or two or three) on everything my ED does for me, the ED identity, blah, blah blah… And that’s not to say that I have it all figured out or that I have stopped going to therapy or anything (never!), but for me at the time the biggest thing was actually taking action with the food part.

So am I “recovered” now? ugh, that term still makes me nervous and knowing how weird people in the sometimes judgey “recovery community” get about it, I usually just avoid it altogether. I don’t intentionally engage in any eating disordered behaviors anymore and haven’t for over eight months. I no longer place ridiculous standards on myself in terms of weight. I don’t “love my body” but I’m honestly less bothered by it now than ever before. I have so much more time and space in my life. For the most part, food has just become food and not something I waste precious brain power obsessing over every day. My worst days now are almost always still better than the best days in my eating disorder. I could go on.

I have no idea if I will eventually see clients with eating disorders. I’m no longer stressing over that idea because I know my experiences will help me regardless of what population I work with.

I’m not sure what the future of this blog will look like (open to suggestions), but I felt a strong urge to bring it back to life and let people know that I may have been wrong two years ago when I preached that “full recovery” wasn’t possible for me or many people. Maybe it is? Maybe I am? Who knows, but I no longer claim to know everything!

Just… wow. I have to pinch myself every so often to remind myself that this is actually my life now. Not that it’s some super glamorous life or anything. I still have problems– lots.  But I’m no longer doing THAT. I got through an entire year of grad school without once reverting back to the thing that just a year ago, I never thought I’d be able to live without. I’m on my way to finally having the career I always dreamed of but never believed was possible. I’m going skydiving with my best friend in July… my friend who has been through every bit of this with me who is now rocking her own life after decades of this shit. There is hope, and I’m so glad I made it this far to be able to say that.

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Moving, planning, and changing: What is realistic and what is self-sabotage?

I’ve moved a lot in recent years– four times since moving out of my parents’ house in 2010, five if you count my couple month stint in St. Louis a few years earlier (which I usually prefer to forget about because WTF was I thinking?!? haha). Last weekend I moved into my latest place, and so far things are going pretty well, minus the currently non-functioning WIFI (grrr… this seems to be an issue whenever I move).

I know it’s common to see moves as “new starts” and I’ll admit I’ve bought into this cliché pretty much every time I’ve moved as an adult. Not once has the experience lived up to my grand expectations. I’ve made some really significant changes over the past few years, just none of them have perfectly coincided with any of my moves. Not a big deal, but knowing this did cause me to second-guess myself when I once again started coming up with big changes I was going to make to go along with this move. Had I not learned my lesson by now? Things don’t magically change for the better when you move to a new place, whether that place is 3,000 miles away or 3 miles away. No, things don’t magically change for the better when you move; you have to plan and work for them just like changes you expect to make at any point in your life. The truth is though, I’ve been meaning to make some pretty big changes for a while now, and the recent move just gave me more of a push to finally get serious about them.

Usually when I move, I make really ambitious statements like “Once I move, I’m never going to purge again!” which is pretty funny considering up until this most recent move, the first thing I checked out in every apartment I looked at was the bathroom to make sure it was “purge-friendly” (sorry if this is TMI for some people, but it’s just reality for many people with chronic EDs). Every time, I would fail at this goal by night one or two and then I’d just laugh it off like, “Well, this is me! It’s just what I do!” It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I was able to make any meaningful dent in this particular behavior. At the risk of possibly revealing too much to people who may have thought I was doing better than I am, it’s still a behavior that exists for me. It is considerably less frequent and not nearly the burden it was for the majority of my life, but it does still exist. All of the same urges are still there, I’m just better at fighting (most) of them, but I still give in at times. It’s still something I have to think about and factor into my every day life (i.e., how to avoid it or how to do it without letting it completely spiral out of control).

I have never lied about my progress and it is 100% the truth that I’m doing better now than I’ve ever done before. Overall, I’m a pretty happy person these days (which I never thought I’d be able to say) and I’m able to live a pretty full and active life. That said, certain things about my eating disorder are still pretty present and bothersome and I’m just now realizing it’s okay to admit that while also maintaining that my life is pretty good right now. It can be both.

I’ve said before that the main thing that has allowed me to make any progress has been accepting that I’ll have this eating disorder forever and that the myth of “full recovery” doesn’t really exist for many people with long-term EDs. I still feel this way. However, I’m now more open to the fact that maybe I still have room to get better from here. I’ve talked a lot about the progress I made in the first couple years after leaving treatment the last time in 2012. Since then, things have been pretty stagnant ED-wise (although lots of awesome stuff has happened since then in other areas of my life). For some reason, I kept thinking this was as good as it was going to get for me. After all, I’m no longer b/ping for 10 straight hours a night, avoiding any and all social food situations, or refusing to leave my room if my weight is even 1/10th of a lb higher than the previous day. As long as things are more than a step up from that, I figured I should just shut up and be grateful!

The truth is though, even considering the very reduced rate at which I’m engaging in that behavior now compared to before, there are still many, many reasons why I wish I wasn’t doing it at all. I wrote all of these reasons down, along with the reasons I continue to do it (because yes, those exist too, I’m not doing this because it’s fun). There have always been points on each side, but the difference now is that the “reasons not to do it” far outweigh the “reasons to do it.” There’s no comparison. In fact, I’d say the “reasons to do it” are actually reasons WHY I still do it and not reasons WHY I WANT to do it, because I don’t want to do it. Not at all. It did used to give me something, but now it doesn’t really give me anything that I can’t get in other ways. I do it almost completely out of habit now, and possibly still to some degree, out of a physical need. My dietitian has been reminding me for years that I’m still not eating enough, and while on some level I know she’s right, it’s also hard to accept considering what my intake is now compared to at all other points in my ED. I usually think, “but I’ve gotten by on so much less food!” which is true. However, “getting by” usually meant resorting to hours of  b/ping each night and only having enough energy to do the bare minimum with my day. There’s no way in hell I’d be able to do all that I’m doing now on that little food (kept down) and that level of b/p intensity.

Over the past several years, I have actually made many attempts to reduce this behavior further. I’ve taken up yoga, started this blog, meditated, read many dumb self-help books, seen several psychiatrists to change up my meds, etc. Some of these things have helped a little, but nothing has been a total game-changer. I’ve even changed up many food-related things, hoping that would help. I’ve played with the times I eat, the setting in which I eat, the ratio of macro-nutrients in what I eat, etc. The one thing I haven’t changed, however, is the amount of food I eat. Well, that isn’t entirely true. I’ve made minor changes, like increased my overall calories by 60, 70, 80 or even when I’m feeling really daring—100 calories. Rarely have these small increases made a difference in my hunger levels or how I feel physically though, and I just end up getting mad at myself for “wasting” the added calories for no noticeable benefit (i.e., feeling less hungry during the day and having fewer urges to b/p). Throughout all of these attempts, my dietitian would encourage me to make bigger increases to notice a difference and I would really want to. I would tell myself that even if I took a major plunge and increased by 4-500 a day, I’d still be eating less than most people. But, what if I gained weight? Let’s face it, I’ve gained on less food thanks to my lovely f#cked metabolism, so it’s quite possible that I would, at least at first. One day I hope to be able to tolerate being a truly “normal” weight, but I’m not there yet and as controversial as it may be to some of the hardcore ~recovery warriors~ out there, remaining within the confines of the “underweight” BMI range while still being otherwise healthy is what’s kept me from completely relapsing since 2012, and I’m grateful to have people in my life who understand/support that.

So yeah, I might gain weight, but hopefully not much and hopefully just temporarily. I have proof that it is physically possible for someone with a functioning metabolism to maintain my current BMI while eating quite a bit more than I’m eating now, so I guess I’ll just pray that my metabolism regulates after the initial increase. It has before and I guess it can again.

The thing is, I’ve made so many plans to do exactly what I’m talking about and I always end up backing out or abandoning it after a day or two when it gets too hard. I actually enjoy the planning process. I absolutely love making plans for things I would allow myself to eat (without compensation) if I could. I makes lists of all the foods I’ve dreamed of for so long but haven’t allowed myself to eat (at all or without purging) and I get really excited. If only I just got to eat one of those foods on a regular basis, that would be awesome. I get excited about the possibility of eating a bigger snack at night that I can extend to take X amount of time to eat instead of only X amount of time, which pathetically makes me so happy because omg, food!!! And then I smile when I think about  actually getting to enjoy the food and not have to worry about ~getting rid of it~ immediately after. It is all so exciting and fun to think about.

Reality, however, is far less thrilling than the planning phase. In reality adding new foods or increasing amounts of a food is usually more anxiety-provoking and guilt-laden than it is exciting, so much that it often doesn’t feel worth the effort. This is where I always get stuck. Can’t I just remain in the exciting planning phase forever?

I realize this may all sound crazy to some non-EDed readers. I just think there should be no shame in being a little more honest about some of the things I still deal with, even while appearing so healthy and functional to the outside world. I know when I was deep in my ED and would look at people like the current me, I would assume what they had was so out of reach. I want to show people that it is possible to have really cool shit going on in your life even while you still struggle with many of the same ED things, but it’s also always possible to continue making progress and working towards a better “recovery” than what you currently know.

I promise I will finally get to my point. When I decided to move, I decided it would be the perfect time to finally take the plunge and increase my calories by a real amount, because if there’s any chance it might help further reduce that behavior I so deeply hate but can’t completely stop, it would be worth it. I didn’t want to bring the same problems associated with that behavior to yet another apartment (and there are many– things people wouldn’t even think about until they happen, and they all suck). This time I didn’t make the overly ambitious statement of “I’m never going to purge again!” I also didn’t come in with the expectation that my new ~plan of action~ would begin perfectly on Day 1 of living in my new place (which is good because this week has been riddled with unexpected and shitty events, none of which have been conducive to starting this new plan). What I have done is make very detailed and honest lists of why I’m doing this, the good things that will come out of it, and the bad things that could happen as a result of continuing not to do it. I’ve read these lists over and over to myself and have tried to imagine how good I’ll feel once I’m finally able to make a bigger dent in this behavior that  continues to follow me wherever I go.

Will it finally “work” this time? What does it “working” even look like or entail? Will I last longer than a day or two this time? Well, my friends, 13906825_10100726571122622_5367965971188160289_nI make no promises. I don’t want to be that obnoxious person who proclaims to the world via the internet that she is finally DONE with her eating disorder, like FOR REAL this time because life is now SO AWESOMELY AWESOME that there’s no room or reason for  some dumb eating disorder… only to come back a week or two later to report that sadly, she was wrong.  Life actually still sucks and the eating disorder is her only reliable friend, so like… back to square one. No, I will not be that person. I do feel that this time is “different” for me, but I’m not naïve enough to think it will all go exactly as planned.

As per usual with me though, the plan starts Monday. In the meantime, I will continue badgering Charter to finally fix my WIFI because phone typing long blog entries is not fun. 😉