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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“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 strange strange world.

Yesterday I spent Christmas with my family and it was surprisingly pretty okay. My little sister and her fiance are in town from the east coast and it was great being able to see them. 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 it 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 things started to get a whole lot harder. I’ve become really uncomfortable with the thought of gaining any more weight 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 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 (lol) and none of that will be acceptable anymore.” Given my history of many failed treatments, this method was never effective. Every single time, my “one final hurrah” just sent me into a deeper state of despair beforehand and made it that much harder to succeed in treatment. I’d be planning my relapse before I even left.

What’s scary is, I can totally see myself at some point going in for “one final hurrah” and never coming out. I’ve seen firsthand and 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, because it caused me to really reconsider this idea. 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, and 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 hope. 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.

 

Therapists’ self-disclosure of recovery status (not into coming up with a creative title tonight, haha)

I recently read this article about the pros and cons of therapists’ self-disclosure of their own eating disorder history. I’m not going to say a lot about this now because it’s something that I’m sure will come up more and more the further along I get in this journey, and I expect my opinion to shift some, but I wanted to at least mention it.

I’ve decided that I really do want to work with eating disorders one day– maybe not right away when I start seeing clients, but eventually when I’m ready. Do I disclose that I’ve recovered from my own eating disorder? Do I not mention it but be honest about it if asked? What about this blog? Should I stop writing in it once I’m a practicing therapist? Do I just make sure it stays completely anonymous (which it pretty much is except for the pic in the “About this Blog” section and my gravatar thing)? I know how people love to google their therapists… what if they found this? Would that be absolutely disastrous? Am I getting way ahead of myself in worrying about this so early in my journey? I haven’t even gotten accepted into a program yet, haha… but I like to be prepared. 😉

I’d love to hear your opinions– from the therapist side, the client side, or the average Joe side.

Therapy for the therapist (and everyone else too)

Tonight I saw a new therapist for the first time– someone who miraculously takes my insurance. I pay just a small co-pay for each visit; it’s kind of amazing. Of course I’ve only seen her once, but I think I’m really going to like her. Our first session together was different from most if not all other “first sessions” I’ve had with therapists before. We didn’t do a long detailed assessment where I felt pressure to spit out my entire life story in a span of 50 minutes. We didn’t launch right into “How are we going to fix your eating disorder/depression/anxiety?” She just let me talk about what brought me back to therapy.

It’s been over two years since I’ve been in regular one-on-one therapy. My decision to go back was largely motivated by my recent plan to apply to MFT programs and finally pursue my own dream of becoming a therapist myself. Most programs require that you be in some kind of personal therapy for at least a portion of your time in the program. Even if they didn’t require it, most agree that it’s the smart thing to do. I guess I wanted to get a head start seeing as I’m already experiencing such a wide array of feelings since making the decision to go back to school.

Nearly 12 years ago during one of my inpatient stays for my eating disorder, a fellow patient’s father came up to me during one of the weekly “Multi-family” groups and started making conversation. When he asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I said I ultimately hoped to become a therapist. When I said this he (no joke) started cracking up laughing. “A THERAPIST?!? But you’re… here. In a mental ward. How IRONIC!” um, no not really? It was weird to me that this was apparently the first time he had heard of someone with “mental issues” bad enough to be on a “mental ward” going into the helping profession. Hello nearly every person I know who has pursued this path?

This man had a strange way of saying things, but it was far from the last time I heard someone allude to the assumed distinction between “the therapist” and “the patient” as if they could never be one and the same. It makes me sad that therapy in general is still stigmatized at all. Going to therapy does not make you crazy, mentally ill, or broken. A couple weeks ago I was out with some people from work and we somehow ended up on the topic of therapy. The resulting conversation uncovered that most of us have been or are currently in “therapy.” And guess what? We’re all accomplished, intelligent, hardworking individuals. Kind of amazing.

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!