“I wouldn’t want you to throw this all away.” Don’t worry, I won’t.

 

I feel like the tone of this blog has been shifting towards more personal posts lately which has been unintentional but perhaps meant to be? A couple weeks ago I was really concerned with “what to do” about this blog once I become a legit therapist who sees clients as if that were scheduled to happen like, tomorrow. I’ve since calmed down a little and realized I still have time to figure all that out.

As scared as I often am of being so open here, I hope I’m at least doing my part to “shatter the stigma”– the stigma of being a person still struggling with mental illness while out living life in this big scary world.

Yesterday I spent Christmas with my family and it was pretty wonderful. My little sister and her fiance are in town from the east coast and it was great being able to see them along with the rest of my immediate family. We did our yearly tradition of eating dinner at this restaurant on the beach near where my parents live.

During dinner the topic of me applying to “get my second master’s” came up and my dad expressed doubt that this was the best idea. “You’re doing so well where you are now, I’d hate for you to give that up.” This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this concern; hell, I’ve had this very concern myself. Outwardly, I am doing pretty well right now. I have a stable job at a great company and most days I even enjoy what I’m doing. Why would I want to give that all up to take a risk at something that has no guarantees at providing me that same stability? Well, for one, I don’t plan on “giving this all up.” My plan is to stay at my current job for as long as I can while in school, even if that means dropping down to part-time eventually. I don’t plan on leaving the world of research entirely, I just hope to supplement it with something I’ve always dreamed of doing but haven’t been in a place to pursue until now. I know to the casual observer though, this sounds suspect.

The truth is, the past several weeks have not been easy. I’ve been wrestling with this decision and trying to convince myself it will all be worth it in the end. I’ll admit though that I keep coming up against imagined road blocks, many related to my ability to do what I really want to do given my own demons. When I first had this idea, I was so excited that I got this burst of motivation to make a lot of serious changes in my life. For example, I increased my calories quite a bit and told myself I was going to finally let myself get to a healthier weight and stay there because that’s part of what I thought being a successful eating disorder therapist required. I was almost surprised at how “easy” it was at first. My body image concerns became mostly background noise and I was able to ignore them and remain focused on my new life’s ambition, for the first time ever. It was pretty amazing but seemed almost too good to be true.

Sure enough, a few months into this new way of life things started to get a whole lot harder. I’ve become really uncomfortable with my bigger body and I’ve started to question why it’s even necessary. Even if I do plan on working with eating disorders, it will still be quite a while before I’ll be doing that in any direct capacity. What’s the hurry? I might as well take advantage of this time and you know– “get all the eating disorder out of my system”– have one final hurrah. This is the same thing I used to think every time anyone mentioned a higher level of treatment. “Ok, I’ll go into treatment, but not before I lose as much weight as possible and have as much ‘fun’ with behaviors as possible because once I’m in treatment, that will all be taken away from me, and once I’m out, I’ll be in recovery and none of that will be acceptable anymore.” Of course, given my history of many failed treatments, this method was never that effective. Every single time, my “one final hurrah” just sent me into a deeper state of despair and made it that much harder to succeed in treatment.

What’s scary is, I can totally see myself going in for my “one final hurrah” now and never coming out. I’ve seen firsthand from friends who have been fighting this as long as I have, that things really start to shift  around this age. Not only is the body increasingly less resilient to the abuse, but the level of hopelessness that accompanies the deeper stages of this disorder becomes even more ingrained and hard to overcome.

I’m actually glad my dad made that comment at dinner last night, because it caused me to really reconsider the idea of the “one final hurrah.” Whether he meant it or not, I took his comment to mean that he doubted I could succeed at something other than what I’m currently doing. He’s seen how long it’s taken me to get to where I am today, how much I’ve had to struggle and fight. I’m sure it would be very hard for him to see me “throw that all away.”

Well, I don’t plan on throwing it all away, and over these past 24 hours I’ve regained some of my steam. My dad hasn’t (to my knowledge) been reading this blog, nor have we really discussed my reasoning for choosing to go down this new path. Perhaps if he knew these things, he’d feel differently, although in the end it shouldn’t really matter what he thinks. For Christmas I asked for a bunch of therapy-related books, some of the “must reads” for every new therapist. I’m already well into the first book and it’s become even clearer to me that this is what I want to be doing. Has it all become “easy” again, like those first couple months? No, not at all, but I have a renewed sense of hope that somehow, I can and will succeed at this.

 

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How to appreciate the mental aspects of yoga: take two!

I’ve had a pretty complicated relationship with yoga from the start. See this blog for details.

For the past several months I had been toying with the idea of doing Yoga Teacher Training in the spring. I know- what? Haven’t I made enough life-changing decisions recently? Well, I really wanted to deepen my yoga practice and I had always heard that going through teacher training was a great way to do that. It’s “expensive,” but comparatively a drop in the bucket when you consider how much I’ll be shelling out to go back to school.

I took a one month break from yoga back in August in an effort to explore some of my ~feelings~ around it and I came back in September with a renewed love for the activity. I thought all my complicated “yoga issues” were behind me, but I guess that wasn’t exactly true. I keep coming back to my idea that I have to be doing a certain type of yoga every day in order for it to “count.” If the class is only an hour long, it doesn’t count. If the yoga doesn’t make me sweat, it doesn’t count. If I’m doing yoga in my apartment and get sidetracked by my cats for a minute , then that doesn’t count as yoga either.

My studio that I have a membership to doesn’t offer hot yoga, but I kept hearing that hot yoga was the real “legit” yoga so I started paying separately to attend hot yoga classes at a nearby studio that I didn’t even like. It didn’t take me long to figure out that if I’m honest with myself, I really dislike hot yoga. Warm yoga, sure, but 98-100 degree yoga? No thanks. I was eventually able to convince myself how stupid it was to be wasting money on something I wasn’t even enjoying all in the name of becoming more of a “real” yogi.

What kind of yoga do I like? I like the variety of (non-hot!) yoga offered at my original treasured studio– sometimes that means a vigorous vinyasa flow and other times it means a slower more strength-focused hatha class. This is the studio I originally fell in love with and the one I keep coming back to after all my little breaks to find (get over?) myself.

The #yogaeverydamnday movement is strong, and I’ll admit I got sucked into it, thinking I needed to be doing X hours of real “legit” yoga every day in order to consider myself someone who was serious about yoga. Who’s to judge that anyway? Is someone who religiously does 2 hours of hot power yoga a day more serious than someone who does one hour of non-hot yoga most days? What if the person spending less time on the mat is the one who actually succeeds at bringing the principles of yoga into her/his life?

I’m so grateful for my amazing friend Emily for helping me realize that I don’t need to spend thousand of dollars on a teacher training to be able to appreciate the benefits of yoga in my life. I realized my fixation on becoming a “serious yogi” was actually fueling my eating disorder, and there’s no need or room for that right now. My Christmas yoga wish would be to figure out how to simplify the existence of yoga in my life, because I’m pretty sure yoga was never meant to be this complicated.

(This is my spiritually-minded cat Wendy practicing yoga. For the record, she’s not a fan of hot yoga either…)

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Data Collection & Analysis: Follow-up

I wanted to follow-up to my blog from about a week and half ago regarding this new life plan of mine. I received even more incredibly useful feedback since posting it and I’m happy to say I have finally made the decision that I AM going to go through with this!

As I mentioned in the first blog, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this idea since it was presented. I thought that might be a sign it was something I really wanted to do. Well, that’s exactly what it was. I realized that I pretty much had my mind made up even when posting that blog. I guess I just wanted a little more reassurance from others that it was an okay thing to do? I hate that I’m so approval-seeking, and it’s something I’m working on. Even though most people were outwardly very supportive of this decision, I know there are still some people who think it’s a bad/crazy idea and I’m going to have to be okay with that.

I’m planning to apply to five MFT programs for admission next fall (two of those programs actually start the summer before). I picked these programs after extensive research on everything from cost of attendance, geographic location (they’re all in the LA area, amazingly), and flexibility for working students to reputation and program completion/MFT licensing statistics. Hopefully I’ll get into more than one and will have some choice in the matter, although let’s face it– it will probably boil down to which program will put me into the least amount of debt because I’m not exactly rolling in the dough here. 😉

One thing that I thought was very telling occurred when I sat down to start writing my application essays. Every program asks for basically the same content in the essay, just with different length requirements. I figured I’d start with the longest and cut it down from there for the other programs. Now, I love to write (clearly) but normally these things are very hard for me, and I end up procrastinating and then freaking out the week before the application is due. The 10 essays I had to write for my PhD applications 3 years ago were the bane of my existence at the time. This time was different though. I sat down with the intention of just doing some simple outlining and I ended up banging out an entire 3,000 word draft in just a few hours. No informal “breaks” every 15 minutes to check Facebook or my phone, just solid excited writing!

My plan is to continue working full-time (at my current job, which I still love) for as long as I can in the program, but I realize I may have to drop down to part-time once my fieldwork starts during the 2nd year because then I’ll be working as a trainee at an approved site for another 15-20 hrs/week. And yes, I’ll be taking out more student loans, but I can hopefully stay on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness plan and get them all forgiven eventually.

I don’t get excited about things easily (or at least I didn’t used to; I find myself getting excited for more and more things these days which is a refreshing change of pace). I know there are a million things that could go wrong with this plan, but there are also so many things that could go right and that is what I’m excited about!

Data Collection and Analysis: Version Real Life

For the past month, I’ve been consumed by an idea that others might find crazy (and that I found crazy at first as well). Ok, brace yourselves for this… This crazy idea would involve me going back to school to become a licensed mental health professional, most likely via an MFT or MSW program. This idea was/is crazy because:

– As I’ve mentioned many times before (even in this very blog), the clinical route was never for me. Or so I thought.

– I already have a master’s degree (in experimental psych, aka the research/stats side of psychology) that took me long enough to obtain thanks to my crazy maze of a life. I also finally have a job that I enjoy that also took me quite a while to achieve thanks to that same crazy maze of a life. So… why the need to complicate things?

For the past six months I’ve been talking a lot about eating disorders with a former colleague to help her understand them better. It’s been a really great experience– not only have I helped her gain a deeper understanding of what is a very complex disorder, but I’ve also learned some news things about myself. For example, I’ve learned that I’m capable of providing useful knowledge to others based on my own lived experience. This may sound really simple and obvious, but it was a pretty big revelation for me.

About a month ago she brought up the topic of me pursuing a career in therapy (particularly therapy for eating disorders), even though she knew it was something I had in the past rejected. At first I straight out rejected the idea again, saying it was not for me and it would never work, for a million reasons. To be honest, it surprised me that anyone would even suggest this as something for me to seriously consider, because at the time I still saw myself as this crazy f#cked up person and assumed everyone else did as well. And yet, here was this person who I really looked up to and admired telling me that she could totally see me being an amazing therapist. I almost cried tears of joy. Almost.

Just a brief recap of my career aspirations, my original goal back when first choosing psychology as my major as a college freshman a million years ago was to became a practicing therapist. At the time I actually hoped to get my PhD and become a clinical psychologist. However, as the years went by and my eating disorder grew stronger and stronger I realized this was a pretty dead end goal for me. I was never going to be mentally stable enough for that to become a reality, so I switched my focus to research instead. I got my master’s in experimental with the intention of going directly to a PhD program in clinical psych, although my focus was going to be almost purely research/teaching. I mean yeah, I would be getting clinical training whether I liked it or not in a clinical PhD program, but my end goal was to be a researcher; I was only looking to clinical programs because my research interests were clinical. (This all makes 10x more sense if you’re familiar with this field, otherwise you’re probably bored and/or confused to tears right now, haha). Anyway, I ended up frantically withdrawing all of the PhD applications I sent out 3 years ago– for several legit reasons, but also, if I’m honest, because I didn’t think I was stable enough to handle such a grueling career path at the time. I had nightmares of making all of these drastic life changes in pursuit of this path (e.g., cross-country moves, going into more debt) only to have it all come crashing down due to me falling headfirst back into my eating disorder and depression. I mean, let’s face it, that had happened several times before already. So, as the story goes, I put a halt to that plan and found work in the field instead, which is how I ended up where I am today, in a job I genuinely enjoy and feel good about.

Even though I finally feel good about what I’m doing, I’d be lying if I said I never wondered what could have been or even what could still be. Over the past couple years, as I’ve made once unimaginable progress with my eating disorder, I’ve found I’m more and more eager to  share what I’ve learned in hopes of giving other people hope that a better life may very well exist for them as well. I started this blog in March in hopes of reaching others and I’ve been talking a lot recently to fellow sufferers about how I was able to make changes that I never thought I’d be able to make.

Over the past month, I’ve reached out to many people from various parts of my life, past and present. I’ve contacted old therapists, co-workers, bosses, friends, etc. I’ve talked to people currently in the clinical field as well as people who started down that route who ultimately went in a different direction. I’ve asked them to share their own experiences with me, and perhaps a bit selfishly, I’ve asked them what they think about me ever succeeding in such a role. I really wanted to get a diverse and balanced perspective, and that’s exactly what I got. While everyone I talked to was supportive of me choosing to go down such a path if I so ultimately chose, some were more optimistic than others and many offered their real concerns and hesitations. This is exactly what I was looking for– real, honest feedback! The problem is, I’m now left with the difficult job of analyzing it all and deciding what the final conclusion is. And I know it’s not that simple. This is not my work as a research analyst; life choices like this are not a simple matter of some nifty data analysis and reporting.

I’m not looking to start a whole new career. As I’ve said before, I truly do enjoy and find fulfillment from my current line of work. I get to use some of my best skills to make data meaningful to people who can then use that data to inform practice and programs. My goal would not be to replace this but to supplement it with a new clinical skill-set. I guess ideally I would see myself continuing to work in the non-profit research sector while also holding a part-time private practice. The agency where I currently work is rife with people who maintain small private practices outside of their full-time jobs so I know it’s possible, I just wonder if it’s possible/feasible for me?

Now, I’m a very practical and risk-averse person, so to say I’ve carefully examined all the messy logistics and financials of this idea would be an understatement. I’ve kind of been obsessing over it for the past month. 😉 It would be a lot of work, none of it easy. There are programs that would allow me to continue working full-time through the first year or so (before I’d start my supervised clinical hours), but it would definitely take some adjustments. I’d have to take out more student loans, and somehow find the time and financial space to complete all my internship hours to eventually become licensed (i.e., to become licensed as an MFT you need to accumulate 3,000 supervised hours, most of which are usually unpaid while you’re still in school and very low paid once you have your degree). If I applied to programs soon for fall 2017 admittance, I’d realistically be looking at about 3 years of school and another 1-2 years before becoming licensed and able to start building my own practice, so about 5 years in all (and 6 years from now). I’d probably be 38 before I’d even have a chance of starting to live that life I’m so ideally imagining– working full-time in the non-profit research arena while also maintaining a small but thriving private practice. If it all worked that way though, it would totally be worth it to me. Hell, 38 is not that old. I’d still have several decades of working years left (and let’s face it, I’ll probably never be able to afford retirement so I’ll be working until I’m dead 😉 ).

Of course, I’m a pessimist by nature so it’s really hard for me to picture any of this working out even slightly as planned. I’ve come up with pretty much every imaginable reason why it wouldn’t work, and yet somehow, I haven’t been able to fully release the idea from my brain, which I’m starting to take as a sign that I must really want this on some deep level.

Now before I get too carried away with this, I should mention the pretty huge part that I haven’t really touched on yet, which is the question of whether I’m even in a place to be considering this, mental stability wise. This idea originally focused on working specifically with eating disorders, which was perhaps why I initially had such a strong pessimistic reaction to it. Yes, I’m doing a million times better than I have been in the past, but I’m the first to admit I’m not fully recovered, and may never will be. As someone who’s been exposed to quite a few “recovered” ED therapists, I know firsthand how important it is that these people be actually recovered. While people with lived experience have the potential to be great therapists, I’ll admit I’ve come across more people in the eating disorder world who were actually worse therapists because of this. They say or do quite triggering things without even being aware, or they inaccurately assume things about their clients’ eating disorders based on what they think is a universal experience. They fail to recognize the incredibly unique experience of each individual. When confronted with this these things, they often get defensive and even angry. I think a big part of my reluctance to consider this a serious career possibility until now has been a fear of being like these people. Yes, I want to help people and I truly believe my life experiences could be an asset, but I also know there’s a huge risk in assuming that to be true.

I would never, ever want to risk being a negative influence on my clients, so I quickly decided that I’d have to commit to being more in recovery than I currently am if I ever planned to work with clients with eating disorders. Part of this would mean finally getting to an actual healthy weight (not just “better for me” which I currently am and have been for a while, but like, actually a legit non-underweight BMI). Could I do this? I think I could, but who really knows? At first the thought of this actually made me excited… like I finally had a reason or “excuse” to loosen up my control a little bit. I could allow myself to eat more, and even if I gained a little weight, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, because I’d be doing it for a greater purpose. Would it really be that easy though? Is it really wise to get better for the sake of others, especially others who I plan on legitimately helping through this very issue? And what about my own personal philosophy that I’ve been preaching for the past six months, ever since starting this blog, that “full recovery” may not be for everyone and that’s okay? So now I’m saying it actually is necessary, at least if you want to help others? Or is that even what I’m saying? Who’s to say that getting to a healthy weight would mean I was magically 100% recovered anyway? And would that be okay?

These are all complicated questions that probably no one can answer for me. The bottom line is that if I do pursue this path, I would not limit myself to the treatment of eating disorders because I’m not fully convinced I’m capable of being “recovered enough” in that area. It’s a specialty I would ultimately love to pursue, but I’m also not willing to risk the health and safety of others to make it happen. While I truly do think that starting down this path would help me take my own recovery to the next level, I know that’s not the reason to pursue anything. I would be doing this to help others, and if I happened to help myself in the process, great, but at the end of the day my goal would be to help people in the way I best felt I could, whether that be specifically with eating disorders or other issues.

Does this all sound completely out there and unrealistic? If it does, feel free to tell me. I’m still on my quest to gather as much information as I can about the feasibility and soundness of this plan. I don’t do well with indecision and the unknown so I’m hoping to make a decision about whether or not to take the next steps to make this dream a reality within the next week or so. I know the real decision is mine, but I also really enjoy and appreciate hearing so many different perspectives from the people whose opinions I value most. If you don’t feel comfortable replying directly to this blog or on Facebook, feel free to message or email me privately. I love data! The more the better! 🙂

 

When the “best years of your life” are an awkward disappointment: College and eating disorders

Seeing as it’s “that time of year again,” I wanted to write a blog about college and eating disorders. For a lot of people, college is the first time they ever live away from home. I think it’s pretty well known that major life transitions are common times for mental health issues to develop. However, transitions can be just as difficult for those already dealing with these issues.

I was very excited to go off to college my freshman year. I didn’t have that great of a high school experience, but everyone kept telling me that college would be so much better. “People are more mature in college. You can totally reinvent yourself and you’ll definitely fit in because there are no cliques or ‘popular kids’ in college. You’ll love it!” Well, maybe. I guess it depends on where you go. I went to a fairly small liberal arts school for my first three years of college, and I found it to be eerily similar to high school. My freshman dorm quickly became divided into high school-like cliques. There was drama and gossip and people still had to work hard to fit in. Honestly though, that stuff exists everywhere, even in the adult working world. I think I was just mildly disappointed that it wasn’t the drastic culture shift that so many people tried to to claim it would be.

At the time I was heading off to college, I had already been struggling with my eating disorder for six years. By the end of high school, though, I had at least reached a kind of stasis with my ED that I expected to maintain through college. After all, every one kept telling me college was so much better than high school, so I figured I’d be super happy throughout and have every reason to do well. I said goodbye to my therapist of five years; I figured I’d just go back to her if things started to slip but I really didn’t see that happening. This was definitely a mistake. Things did start to slip, almost right away, but I was too ashamed to admit that I wasn’t thriving in the amazing college scene so I suffered in silence for the first year.

I started having major issues accepting my body. Going in I could at least somewhat accept it– I was significantly bigger than I was at the worst of my anorexia, but I was still technically underweight and could see that most people probably still saw me as ‘thin.’ Within a couple months of starting college, that was no longer enough. I started really missing my old (smaller, sicker) body and my eating disordered behaviors intensified. This is when I first began to struggle with bingeing/purging, a behavior that still to this day remains incredibly shameful for me.

There were also certain factors specific to the college experience that probably didn’t help. For example, my dorm’s Resident Director (who managed all of the RAs) was really into encouraging us to record our calories and participate in these awkward weight loss challenges. She posted signs on the elevators advising us to take the stairs instead, complete with handy pictures of food crossed out with red x’s. Drink all the alcohol and smoke all the pot you want, but whatever you do– SAY NO TO THE COOKIES!!! Yeah, she was weird… I also had two friends who were always trying to get me to join their diet groups, even though they knew about my history with eating disorders. None of these things were solely to blame for my relapse, but they certainly made what I was doing seem more socially acceptable, at least at first.

It was also in college that my anxiety related to eating with others became pretty extreme. Eating with people was never an easy thing for me, but I could at least make myself do it when absolutely necessary and I went into college hopeful that I’d be able to eat with my friends from time to time. While I started the year off going to the dining hall with the few friends I made, this quickly became an almost impossible task for me, perhaps largely due to my increasing b/p behaviors which I kept strictly secret.

During the first few weeks of going to the dining hall, I noticed a girl who I knew had an eating disorder. She was quite thin, but even aside from that, it was clear to me. She had all the physical signs of chronic purging, and she always sat alone and ate the same exact foods in the same order. She would finish each meal with a huge bowl of ice cream and then would disappear. I’ll admit at first I was almost envious that she at least had the ability to eat out in the open like that, because my bingeing (and actually at that point, eating anything at all) always had to be completely secretive which made it harder to maintain this behavior that I hated and was so ashamed of but unfortunately couldn’t stop. I also just felt really bad for her though, and often wanted to run up and hug her (but yes, that would have been super creepy so I restrained myself).

I later learned from a mutual friend that this girl did indeed have an eating disorder, and that her original roommates had voted her out of the suite they were living in because they couldn’t deal with her b/ping. Little did I know at the time, this very same scenario would play out for me my junior year.

Now, I want to say something about college counseling centers. Some really suck. I’m sure there are good college counseling centers out there, but the two experiences I had (at two different schools), were really shitty. If you have access to a qualified therapist outside of the school, you’re probably best off sticking them them. I find a lot of therapists staffed at college counseling centers will claim to have experience with eating disorders when they really do not. I was dragged to my first college’s counseling center by my roommates and it could not have been more of a disaster. I was made to feel even more ashamed and at fault than I already felt, and I spent the rest of my time at that school going out of my way to avoid running into these crazy “experts.”

At the end of my junior year I got stuck in a cycle of revolving door inpatient admissions that eventually led to me taking an extra four years to finally graduate. Today, at the old age of 32, I can recognize that while this seemed like the end of the world at the time, it actually wasn’t. I did eventually graduate and even went on to get a master’s degree. That said, if I could magically go back in time I would absolutely do things differently. Sometimes it really is necessary to leave school and get more treatment. I don’t regret ever doing this, I just regret doing it as many times as I did. I wish I would have put more effort and time into making the first few rounds really worthwhile, so that the subsequent times wouldn’t have been necessary. There were also times when I wish my treatment team would have given me more of a chance to turn things around on my own, instead of throwing me back in treatment as soon as I struggled. Hindsight is 20/20 though, right?

I used to get really sad when I’d hear people talk about the great college experiences they had. Mine were filled with lots of shame, secrecy, tears, and hospitals. Can I go back and do it all over again? Like, the whole freshman dorm experience? It could be a reality show– 32 year old ‘cat lady’ poses as a college freshman and infiltrates most popular dorm. Will she finally be cool??

I no longer let myself get sad. I had lots of experiences, and not all of them were good, and some were really, really bad. However, I eventually managed to move on and had it not been for those crazy eight years, I probably never would have ended up here, in Los Angeles, with a graduate degree and a life I finally like.

Sleep: A Strange (or Not-So-Strange) Enemy

I’ve gone through large portions of my life being chronically sleep-deprived for one reason or another. In the early years of my eating disorder, I didn’t like sleeping because it felt like a waste of time that could be spent doing anything else that burned more calories. I would pace around my room for hours every night forcing myself to stay awake until the last possible moment, when I could no longer keep my eyes open. Once I started binge/purging, I was often kept up by that. I would be so tired but also so hungry that the urges were impossible to ignore. Nine times out of ten, I would choose b/ping over sleep. Some nights I would get less than an hour of sleep before having to leave for class or work the next morning. I struggled to stay awake during these daytime activities and sometimes crashed as soon as I got home, which then just led to an even later start to my nighttime b/ping. It was a vicious cycle.

When I first started writing this blog, I remembered my sleep issues all occurring in the presence of my eating disorder. Then I recalled a funny conversation I had with some family members several months ago that made me realize I was actually weird about sleep even before my ED officially began. My mom and my aunt were talking about taking long family car trips and my mom said, “My kids usually slept most of the way, except Rebecca- I don’t think I ever saw her asleep in the car. I guess she just never got tired!” This sparked memories of those long 10+ hour car rides we used to take to visit family out of state and I replied, “It wasn’t that I never got tired, it was that I always forced myself to stay awake in the car. I was miserable!” I saw sleeping as a sign of weakness. At 5, 6, 7 years old. What a weirdo. No one ever told me sleeping was bad or anything; I came to that conclusion all on my own.

When I first got into therapy, a lot of professionals tried to insinuate that my parents held me to unattainable standards or even that they put strict limitations on what I could eat, do, say, etc. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. My parents held me to very reasonable standards and were not at all restrictive about how I lived my life, what food I could eat, etc. No one ever told me I was only allowed to sleep X hours a night or that I couldn’t eat X type of food. All those rules came entirely from my own strange brain. And not only that, but once I imposed those rules and had people take notice of my weird behavior, I thought it was absolutely essential to uphold that version of myself. Once I became known as the kid who didn’t sleep in the car, I had to be extra careful about never to allowing myself to fall asleep in the car. Once people knew me as the kid who never ate in front of people, I couldn’t let that version of myself die either. It made no rational sense but it was the way I lived most of my life.

One of the first things I noticed about inpatient facilities for eating disorders was how obsessed they were with sleep. Upon my first admission, I was immediately put on medication to help me sleep, before I was even asked if I had trouble sleeping. If a nurse noticed me still awake during one of their routine checks during the night (usually every 10-15 minutes), they would ask what was wrong and if I needed more meds to sleep. Apparently anyone who took longer than 15-20 minutes to fall asleep at night had severe insomnia!

I never liked taking meds for sleep because they always left me extremely sleepy in the mornings. I would struggle to stay awake in groups and sometimes even meals. As if meals weren’t hard enough, I had to continuously pinch myself to stay awake. When I would ask to be taken off the meds or when I refused to take them, it would go down in my chart and I’d be labeled a “difficult patient,” all because I didn’t want to fall asleep in my cereal.

This was a theme throughout most of the inpatient and residential facilities I passed through over the years. Many places had doctors prescribe patients powerful antipsychotics as sleep aids. I remember the first time I was handed Seroquel; I was so confused. I knew my meds, and I knew that Seroquel was an antipsychotic. Why was I being given an antipsychotic when I displayed no psychotic symptoms? I quickly learned this was becoming the new trend in the mental health world– prescribing antipsychotics for their “off-label” uses, many of which included drowsiness. Seroquel, Risperdal, Geodon, Zyprexa– I’ve been on them all that some point, mostly for the sole purpose of helping me sleep, even when I never asked for help in the first place. Speaking of Zyprexa, it is also commonly prescribed to anorexics to “help them gain weight,” as weight gain is a common side effect of the drug. Because, you know, that is totally the answer– give someone who is already terrified of gaining weight a drug with a known side effect of weight gain. That will totally work! They won’t suspect a thing! That one is wrong and ineffective on so many levels, but doctors still use it.

There is nothing inherently wrong with using medication to treat (actual) insomnia. The problem I had with these facilities’ obsession with sleep was that they did what this article referred to as “medicalizing sleep.” Sure, there are countless physiological processes that occur during sleep, many of which have been studied in depth. However, the overall concept of sleep itself is impossible to measure. We’re also constantly being fed mixed messages about sleep. We’re repeatedly being told how important a good night’s sleep is, how adults require a solid X hours of sleep per night while children and the elderly need X (it’s always changing). Entire clinics are devoted to helping people learn to “sleep smarter” and doctors are handing out medication for sleep like it’s candy, including powerful antipsychotics. On the flip side, we set multiple alarms to make sure we wake up at the same ungodly hour each morning, and some professions have people working 60 and 70 hours a week. How do we reconcile these two mindsets? We’re being told that the quantity and quality of our sleep has critical implications, and yet we’re being expected to endorse lifestyles that make getting sufficient sleep impossible.

The idea of sleep being a sign of weakness was probably not completely invented by my own strange brain. My parents did not instill this into me, but modern society might have. When we run into people we haven’t seen in a while and they ask how we are, chances are both sides will say something like “I’ve been so busy!” It’s good to be seen as busy. It makes us feel productive and useful and sometimes it can even be a source of competition. We’ve all probably been a part of many “who’s the busiest?” conversations, either at work or amongst family or friends. “I am so busy this week. I have to do x, y, and z, all while managing Project A.” Then someone chimes in, “Is that all? That’s nothing compared to my week. I have to do a, b, c, and d on top of managing Project x, y, and z.” And so goes the game of one-upping; everyone wants to be seen as the busiest. Bonus points for mentioning how much sleep you’ve sacrificed.

There are countless parallels that can be drawn between sleep and eating. I know I’m not the only person with an eating disorder to have these warped ideas about sleep. I like to think that the distorted thoughts and behaviors I have (or had) around sleep developed much like my distorted thoughts and behaviors around food did. No one single person drilled these ideas into me, nor did society force them upon me. It was likely a combination of my innate personality traits interacting with the messages I received and interpreted (in my own way) from society. I’m lucky to have, over time, cultivated a progressively less black-and-white view of these things. Sleep is not all bad or a sign of weakness, and neither is food. I can admit to liking both now, which seems like such a silly thing to even point out. Sleep and eating are both basic human needs, and yet for so long I could not allow myself to admit to liking either one. Well shit, the secret’s out. I do love sleep. And food. Never believe an anorexic who says she/he dislikes food. Everyone likes food, and I’d even venture to say that most people who develop anorexia (or any eating disorder) probably “like food” even more than the average person. Otherwise, there would really be no disorder… but that’s a topic for another blog. 😉

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. 😉