How Are You Doing?

A very dear friend of mine asked me the other day, “How are you doing, really? With everything?” Knowing her and knowing that she had been facing similar struggles to mine, I understood what she meant and truly wanted to know: Are you fully recovered? Was it worth it? Are you still sick? Do you still have an eating disorder? Trying to answer these kinds of questions is always difficult, because there really is no one answer. Things change, time passes, and life throws more and more challenges at you in the wake of your attempted healing process. I began by explaining to her that I take things day-by-day and that my life and mentality look a little bit different with the rise of the sun each morning. And while I admitted to still experiencing a lot of complications and struggles with food, eating, and finding a “healthy” balance of it all, I also told her this:

I remember being so cold everyday that I feared my bones would break or crumble if I moved too quickly. I remember being so uncomfortable in my own skin that I would experience panic attacks while out in public because I knew that people would likely glance my direction. I remember wanting to do nothing but hide, being scared of crossing the street because that required calling some sort of attention to myself, dreading hanging out with even my best friends because I knew that in one way or another, food would be involved. I remember often having to stop in the midst of exercising out of fear that my heart would simply stop beating. I remember my hair thinning and how easily I would bruise, somehow finding pleasure in my own self-destruction. I remember lying about having “already eaten,” hiding food and refusing to communicate about what I was going through, and all of the secrets I allowed myself to keep in order to protect the identity I believed was serving and protecting me. I remember not even looking at any form of carbs (let alone eating them) and going vegan, something I was able to use to my advantage in cutting out more and more food groups masked as an ethical endeavor. I remember those 6 almonds and half of an apple I allowed myself to eat everyday that I believed was enough to keep me alive. I remember all of the exercise, all of the “running off the calories” that left me with nothing inside, all of the laxatives I took to feed my obsession with feeling empty, and how much I harmed myself through it all. I needed to feel weightless, frail, weak, and small. Because disappearing and shrinking myself meant that I could learn to feel less. It meant that I could fade away and ignore my own existence and the pain of reality.

I remember waking up everyday hating myself and my body so much that I couldn’t even manage to stop the tears from streaming down my face, let alone successfully complete all that I needed to throughout the day. I remember the thousands of cancelled plans, lies told about why I couldn’t make it to dinner, relationships lost, and dissociation from myself that I experienced, all of which have caused immense pain and have forced me to reconcile with people and things I have pushed away and perhaps even hurt along the way– including myself. I remember becoming so depressed while away at school after isolating myself so much that I lost the ability to reach out and ask for help, all of the classes I skipped and excuses I made for not being able to make it places when I was really just ashamed of how I looked, fainting in classrooms, enjoying being ill, and how often I would make myself sick just from looking into a mirror. Anorexia took so much from me, and working to reclaim all that I have lost over the past 2 years has been the most challenging journey of my life. I did not die, and yet I had lost all of life’s breath.

As life goes on and time continues to pass, I find myself being asked by more and more people about where I’m at currently, especially when it comes to ED recovery. I always start by telling them that I am better, and I am so much happier. I feel freer than I have in a very long time, and I often tend to forget how far I’ve come, because I know there is so much more work to be done. Still, I know that I owe it to myself to recognize the growth I’ve incurred and how far I have been able to push myself since leaving treatment last summer. I can now wake up in the morning with a variety of thoughts in my head, the majority of which are not surrounding food and exercise. I can now decide that if my body is exhausted, I don’t have to run or exercise as hard as I would normally without hating myself for the rest of the day and needing to punish my body for its inability to do what I asked of it. I can now ingest more than just coffee in the morning, and if I need more later, I can allow myself to have another cup. I can now eat a cookie without having to “make up for it” in the coming days. I can now have something other than a smoothie for dinner, and I can even allow myself to eat after dinner if I want to. I can now survive without intermittent fasting and don’t even think twice about what time I can and can’t have food, because I’m learning to trust my hunger cues again. I can now find it in myself to want to be strong and healthy, not frail and faint. I can now (mostly) go out to dinner with my family or friends without having major anxiety about what I would eat or how I would get out of having to eat. I can now say “yes” to my friends when they ask me if I want to go get a snack in the middle of the day just because, and I can even manage to have frozen yogurt with them on a hot summer day. I can now be out tanning and swimming with my friends without thinking about if I looked thin enough, changing my outfit 27 times, or worrying about what they might think of me. I can now travel across the world and eat gelato with my best friend on the trip of a lifetime and not miss out on part of the experience abroad. I can now make it through the day without measuring my waist or my wrists, trying on clothes to make sure they still fit the same or were slightly looser than the day before, feeling every bone on my body just to make sure that I still could, and even stepping on the scale. I no longer seek my own demise, for I know I am worth more than that, and life is a gift to be lived and enjoyed. I still remember that girl, but I am no longer her.

These all appear to be the tiniest of successes and may even come off as insignificant to anybody who has never experienced the harrowing destruction an eating disorder causes, both physically and mentally. But for me, all of these things seemed more than impossible to me even a few months ago. I never thought I would again find myself in a position where I could manage to have thoughts in my head that didn’t revolve around food, compulsive exercising, restriction, etc., or that I could dedicate my time to people and things other than the size and appearance of my body. I truly thought I had reached the point of no return, but the acknowledgement of these small steps as progress towards a happier and healthier me help me realize that no place I find myself in in this life is permanent. A small step is still a step. I can always change, improve, better myself, and learn how to love and care for people, things, and myself each and everyday. And so is the case for everybody. In case nobody has told you lately, the small things you are doing in your life matter both to yourself and others. Your hard work and intentions don’t go unnoticed, and you deserve to be proud of yourself, your own story/journey, and how far you have managed to come.

I know that despite the progress I know I’ve made, I still have a long road to go. But, the road no longer scares me, and that’s the key. I’m no longer afraid to ask for support if I need it, I’m not terrified of returning to old habits if I have a bad day or even a bad week because I know I can get myself back on track, and I no longer feel trapped in my own body and in this life. That’s what keeps me going and allows me to continue expanding my horizons and pushing myself in spite of whatever setbacks may appear.

I knew that telling my friend all of this and having a conversation with her about my own experience as well as hers could have either tremendously helped her or not at all. Through it all, though, I reminded her that I was in no place to offer advice, nor do I think that my experience is equivalent to hers. I can only share what I have gone through and learned from, and hope for everyone to do the same with their own experiences. I often find it hard to talk about my own struggles with people or constructing posts like this one despite having lots of questions and suggestions to do so, because I know how difficult it can be to separate our own selves and experiences from those of others at times. However, I know that the messages I’ve received asking me to continue writing about it, answering questions, etc. are important and may have the potential to help someone, so I always try my best to articulate what I wish to tell. That being said, I remember our conversation ending with me offering a brief outline of the steps I took and even the logical reasoning and even apologetic behavior I had to practice in order to really begin healing myself.

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I told her that if hating myself could have made me happy, I would have gotten there already. So, I tried something different. I gave myself care when all I wanted was destruction, and that’s when my healing began. I convinced myself that I had spent enough time at war with myself, and that I had forced my body to engage in battles it never wanted to fight. I mentioned that I find it all to be unfair. The way I’ve treated myself, the way the world grooms us to believe that we’re never enough and projects this vision of idealism and perfection, the way capitalist corporations and a population of people profit from the insecurities of women (and men), and the way I see so many people struggling to be okay with themselves and find peace with existing in their own bodies. It’s all so wrong in so many ways, and I’m sorry that this is the world we live in. For me, recovery has never been about learning to love my body. Though that would be amazing, putting that kind of pressure on myself in aiming to be able to look at myself and know that my body is 100% beautiful all the time is just not something I’ve set as a goal/wanted for myself. Rather, I am learning how to give myself permission to fully exist in peace regardless of how my body looks. If that comes in the form of finding myself beautiful, then so be it. But, if it comes in the form of simply loving myself enough to not harm my body, work to change how it exists, and feeding it (no pun intended) only positivity and light that contribute to my overall well-being and the maintenance of my heart and soul, then that’s okay, too. I’ve taught myself to understand that “pretty” and “thin” is not the rent I must pay to exist in this world as a woman. I’ve had to apologize to my body and myself for all of the damage I caused and all of the falsities I enabled myself to believe, and for losing so much time. If I understand anything about the universe, it’s that it waits for no one. Life is short, and the inevitable passage of time only makes it harder for human beings to keep up. That’s the human condition. And as tragic as it is, it is equally as beautiful. Don’t waste time hating yourself. Or your body. You deserve better than that. Take a break. If it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it. Eat the freaking cookie. And the ice cream. I promise you that you won’t look back in 10, 20, or 50 years and regret the fact that you allowed yourself to enjoy the food, people, and experiences life had given you. You owe yourself that and so much more.

You are not alive to pay bills and lose weight. Your body is not your masterpiece. Your life is. Remind yourself of this everyday.

 

The Roller Coaster of Recovery

I am so not ready to write this. My anxiety level is completely through the roof, my palms are sweaty, and anything you can imagine an extraordinarily nervous human being to be doing is most definitely manifesting for me right now haha. I know I’ve written a bit about this before and I’ve been open about other difficult things in the past, but this one just strikes a very different chord with me. I’m not too sure why, but this has always been something I’ve been perhaps the most hesitant to discuss, partly because I find a lot of shame and embarrassment in it, and partly because I never knew if talking about it would be helpful to myself and others, or if it would prove more detrimental. And now, being where I am, I hesitate to talk about this for fear of being hypocritical or looking as if I am moving backwards. I have had very, very minimal moments of opening up about this in the past, but it’s something exceedingly difficult for me. It’s been a very long, often frustrating, difficult and ongoing journey, and although the primary reason for which I am so scared to write this post is because I’m not yet on the other side and can’t speak for overcoming this obstacle (at least in full), I also think it’s necessary and helpful to document steps as time goes by. Whether four steps forward or two back, a step is a step. And I think any movement or direction endured on a path is worth discussing, especially when it revolves around such a hard topic and road to be on. So today, because I’ve received a lot of comments on my single Facebook post about this and have gotten a lot of messages asking me to expand on my experience and how my life is going now in relation to this journey, I’ve decided to 1) take a HUGE breath and prepare for the overwhelming emotion that’s about to overwhelm me, 2) choose to open up my heart and pick my own brain so that I could grant myself the opportunity of helping or even inspiring others, and 3) go into depth about my journey with an eating disorder and the absolute roller coaster of recovery that I’ve been on.

Looking back, I think my relationship with food and exercise has always been a rocky one. As I’ve grown, I’ve come to understand this fact and the reasons for which I believe this to be true, but even still, overcoming such unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior has proven very difficult and seemingly insurmountable. It’s very difficult to look back and try to pinpoint what I think served as the main catalyst for my eating disorder(s), but the truth is, it is so endlessly multi-dimensional that doing so is nothing short of impossible. If I’ve learned anything over the past two years, it’s that eating disorders are complex. Complicated. Psychoanalytical and physical. Overwhelming. All-consuming. Mind-splitting. Powerful as all hell. And in my opinion, pure evil. Trying to constrain the manipulation and power that eating disorders have over both the mind and body is an unfulfilled feat, and speaking from my own experience, understanding so plainly the cause and effects they have had on me, the way I view myself, my relationships and my life is simply impossible.

I was officially diagnosed with both anorexia and orthorexia in June 2018, but I was well aware of the fact that I had an eating disorder far before then. The road I had been on prior to last summer had brought me to this conclusion very early on, and I knew that the mindset and behaviors that I had adopted were anything but healthy. And I knew that. For me, I think that’s the absolute WORST part of living with an eating disorder— being completely aware and conscious of the harm you’re causing yourself and the amount of pain you’re inducing in both your mind and body, yet finding yourself unable to stop and do otherwise. Or worse, not caring enough to stop, change, or do otherwise. I have found myself in this position time and time again, caught in the horribly toxic cycle of self-sabotage and harm and failing to find a way out of it. Even now, it continues to be a constant struggle for me, and it’s hard to realize that despite the amount of work and effort I’ve put into my own recovery from this, it continues to present many conflicts and both internal and external conflicts. It continues to be a roller coaster, something I didn’t expect.

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I began to look at food as an enemy. THE enemy. I began to experience episodes of anxiety upon thinking about or having to be in a setting surrounded by food. I could no longer go to a restaurant without panicking and often wanting to cry throughout the entire meal. I cut out carbs and fats completely, simply because I had grown so terrified of them. I would wake up at 6 am every morning to run at least ten miles, go straight to the gym to do more cardio, go for another 5-mile run, and ensure that I walked at the fastest pace possible at all times, so as to burn the highest number of calories. The calorie-counting I adopted was completely obsessive— I know for a fact that I still have memorized the nutrition facts of every single box of granola bars, crackers, cereal, fruit, vegetable, and every food item imaginable, something that still haunts me everyday. I would weigh myself at least 6 times a day, somehow expecting a large shift to occur within mere hours of the day. I would body check to no end, feeling the structure of my face and even measuring my wrists to ensure that I hadn’t gained any weight from the day before. I restricted myself so much that I would reach the point of faintness everyday, then be overcome with a sickening sense of pride, for I had convinced myself that I had “done well” or succeeded” that day. I began to base my entire self-worth off of my size, outward appearance, and what I looked like (despite the fact that what I continued to see in the mirror was complete dysmorphic). Each day, I chose a number of calories that I just COULD NOT surpass, and if I did, I remember feeling as if the entire world was crumbling on top of me and like I was the greatest failure that there had ever been. What I hated the most of all, though, were the ways in which the eating disorder was able to completely control me, dictate my mind, and manipulate the way I conducted myself and treated my own body and my relationships with others. I became so deceitful and dishonest with my friends and family, doing everything I could to protect this new identity I had acquired, for it was the most important thing to me. I suddenly became aware of how much I depended on the eating disorder to cope with whatever I was going through and to remind me of who I am, for I had lost all sense of myself along the way. I became nothing more than an empty shadow, desperately seeking to re-find myself while simultaneously fighting to the death to preserve what I thought I needed most. I lied countless times to everyone around me, especially those who tried most to help. Because the truth was, I didn’t want help. I wanted to be this way, and I wanted to hurt myself. I was unsure why, but I did. And so, I continued.

These behaviors I embodied and practiced did not come on suddenly, however. I remember turning to exercise shortly after my mom passed away, in the hopes of it serving as somewhat of a distraction from the unbearable fate that had become my reality. It began innocently, running just a few short miles a day to escape, the perfect form of therapy. I used the time when I was running to be in my own head and process her death, what it meant for my family and me, and how I could possibly move forward, and I remember feeling euphoric in doing so. Growing up a soccer player, I was also, by default, a natural runner. I had always looked at exercise as a necessity, for it allowed me to stay in shape, to thrive as an athlete, and it fed my internal perfectionism in the realm of athletics. After my mom passed, running was my natural instinct pointing me to a coping skill. Like a machine, I reflected back on my time training for soccer and the constant need to be strong, fit, and muscular. I began running to feel these things again, so as to remind myself of a time where I thought I was truly fulfilled and doing what I succeeded at. As time went on, though, I no longer wanted to be strong. There was a very clear and significant shift in my mind that led me to hate feeling muscular and strong. I didn’t want to be strong, I wanted to be thin. The feeling of euphoria and release I consistently felt in exercising so compulsively only brought me to rely more heavily on exercise for security and comfort, and the toxicity began as soon as I realized I was addicted to exercise. I remember starting to notice how enthralled I was by exercise and the way in which it impacted my life, seeing that I only felt fulfilled after running at least 15 miles a day (not even exaggerating, it was seriously 15), doing hard cardio for at least another hour, and fulfilling my “calorie burn goal” for the day. While I don’t find it at all necessary or helpful to mention numbers of calories or weight statistics because that is NEVER helpful for someone in recovery or anyone else involved in the process, I will say that the physical changes my body underwent and continues to struggle through are major and what ultimately led those in my life to become involved and try to step in.swirls clipart underlines #947I’ll never forget the intervention my roommate and the rest of my friends at school staged for me in the spring of last year. Despite my secrecy, lies, and promises that I was “getting better” and that there was nothing to worry about, they worried. They worried because they care and they love me, and although I may have been agitated then, I know that their love and companionship drove them to want to help me, and that is the most I could ask of any friends. To this day, I haven’t found the words to thank them enough for caring so relentlessly. After my friends had confronted me and asked me to begin attempting to help myself, the concern of my family members cascaded. I remember coming home one weekend to visit my dad and the rest of my family, dodging any comments anyone made about the weight I had lost, how “sick” I looked, and how concerned everyone was getting. One moment I’ll never forget happened right before I entered treatment over the summer, when I broke down in front of my dad and just cried, “I just want to be normal. Why can’t I be normal?”, to which my Dad replied, “Kamryn, what do you think normal is? You think this is normal?” That conversation still runs through my mind today, and the response my dad gave me is what I remind myself of every time I’m struggling or am feeling particularly low.

My journey in entering treatment and becoming a partial hospitalization patient at an Eating Disorder Treatment Center over the summer is something I never once anticipated or expected for myself, nor was it something I wanted. I went in so incredibly angry, for it wasn’t on my own accord, nor was it something I had properly planned for (which is basically my worst nightmare). My entrance into treatment was a result of my dad becoming aware of my reliance on laxatives, which for him was the straw that broke the camel’s back. So I went into treatment, unsure of what I was to do or what would come of it, and I was angry. Angry because I could no longer work to manipulate and so intensely control the one aspect of my life that I had worked so hard to convince myself was completely under my control— my diet and exercise. I went from exercising at least three times a day and skipping every meal, only snacking on a few things to keep myself going, to being forced to eat 2 meals in front of an entire table of people and being prevented from exercising. And though I hated it at the beginning, I will say that my journey in treatment was something I will never forget. Not only have I come to realize how needful it was, but it also allowed me to meet a variety of wonderful, admirable people, most of whom I now consider lifelong friends. Those 6 weeks were some of the longest and most difficult for me, for it forced me to tap into the emotionality I had so long suppressed and refused to acknowledge. But I regret no part of my journey there, and there is so much to say about my time, what I learned, how I adjusted, etc., that I will most likely make a whole separate post about that. But for now, reflecting on my time in treatment and realizing how worthwhile, valuable, and teachable it was is something that I cherish and try to remember every time I find myself turning to unhealthy or past habits of mine.

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Now, I have completed another semester of school and have only one left of college. It has been about 6 months since I left treatment, and boy, the road has been anything but smooth, easy and encouraging. I wish I could say that things are easy for me now and that I’m doing better and I no longer participate in any of the toxic outward behaviors or harmful patterns of thought I worked so long and hard to come out of. But the truth it, things are still hard. Maybe now more than ever. I still feel as if I’m at war with myself everyday, and my mind is constantly taking on two different personas— one that pushes me to care for myself, my goals, and who I truly am. and one that antagonistically pushes me to continue feeding the eating disorder and all of the behaviors that have destroyed me. Even so, I refuse to be destroyed. I will continue to keep fighting, no matter how difficult this journey continues to be. I’ve never been one to quit, and now is no the time for me to begin doing so. So, I will continue to push on, despite the fact that most days I still find myself sifting through hateful self-talk, exercising compulsively, and restricting my food as my greatest coping mechanism. I’m not here to say that I’m all better and that with the snap of my fingers all of my problems magically went away. Rather, I’m here to share the sometimes agonizing journey I have experienced and continue to be on, for I know that the strength, wisdom, and hope that I have inside of me will eventually lift me out of this darkness, as it has countless timed before. I forget how to love myself most days, but I am trying with every rise of the sun. And right now, that is enough. I’m trying, and that is all that I can ask of myself. Being such a perfectionist has forced me to be irrationally and unequivocally hard on myself my entire life, and though it is one of the hardest feats of my life trying to unlearn the pattern of setting unrealistic standards/expectations on myself and building my self-worth off of numbers, grades, trophies, and achievements of any sort, I am trying everyday to dissolve this wall I’ve built. Being gentle and kind to myself has never been easy, but I realize now that these things are absolutely necessary in order to live a life full of love and joy. And that is what I both want for myself and know is true of what I deserve on this earth. I forgive myself for all of the years I’ve lost to hating myself and my body, and pushing myself to unhealthy and unattainable limits in ALL aspects of my life. I am me and that is enough. I ask for nothing more. My pursuit of perfection has been nothing but toxic and detrimental for every part of me, so I now choose to strive for progress (more on this to come). I know that I am so much more than my body, than my weight, than the manipulative and destructive thoughts that constantly force me to doubt myself and question my worth, and more than any oppositional force that has worked so hard to use my very own strengths in a malicious way to bring me down. I am so much more, and I deserve so much more. I’m better than subtly succumbing to things that work to destroy me and granting these things the absolute power to control MY mind and presence on this earth. Right? So, I will continue on. And that alone is a victory, at least for today.

More on this roller coaster to come. Thank you all for the continued love & support. It means more that I can say.