I have no idea what I’m doing.

The Question

The day is Saturday, January 15, 2022.

I’m sitting in my desk chair, staring into the lifeless void of Zoom for yet another session.

I think about cancelling. Just like I always do.

“No,” I say to myself. I already rescheduled yesterday.

Maybe I could say I’ve come down with something. That’ll be sure to prevent any further questioning.

Then, a slow and methodical, “How was your week, Kamryn?”

The line I’ve heard a million times and yet still elicits no particular feeling inside. I must have experienced a lapse in judgment and logged on in the midst of my race to avert this meeting.

I never quite know how to answer this question, and I’ve always been unsure of what to tell her when she asks how I am. Since this all started, I think I’ve become accustomed to treating these sessions like some strange version of a coffee date with a friend. Though, I suppose, if that were the case and if I were really doing as well as I try to convince her when answering her opening question, I wouldn’t need to spend an hour staring at her into my computer screen every week.

I feel the sudden panic over what will come out of my mouth.

Which route shall I take today?

The “I’m good! My week was okay, just the usual. Glad it’s the weekend. How are you?”

or…

I decide to be honest.

The result of 3 seconds of bravery, I guess. Or stupidity. It’s impossible to tell the difference most days.

Now that I’ve made it through and am reflecting on the 45 minutes I just had, I think I’ll go with bravery.

The Answer

“My week was hard,” I say. “I’ve had a few panic attacks, and I’ve been more anxious than I’ve felt in a long time. Since I left school.” She asks me why I think this might be.

I hesitate once more.

I warn her about the length and depth of what it is I have racing through my mind.

She reassures me, and bravery leads to honesty once more.

I tell her that I feel I’ve become enveloped in waves of immense overwhelm, perhaps best explained by a sense that I am experiencing my past, present and future simultaneously. As I reflect on my past self/life, and project my goals and dreams into my future self/life, I am struggling to be my present self and to live this life— here and now.

I am honest with her about how saddening and frustrating this intense anxiety has been for me, because everything in my external world (beautiful friendships, a loving relationship, an amazing new job that I enjoy) points towards nothing but peace and contentment, while my inner world continues to lead me into tumult and disarray.

I explain to her that I have made soft, deliberate choices to get myself to this place here and now— one of peace, joy, and relentless, growing hope.

Still, as joyous and peaceful my soul feels, a strange anxious sadness has risen up in me. How can I be more at peace than I have ever been, and yet…

What part of it— this beautiful and evolving life I am working to create— doesn’t feel right?

I frame this as a question, though I intend to follow the paths of my own mind to lead me to something resembling an answer, for I know that only I can navigate these storms.

Time.

I continue on, telling her that I’ve spent so much of my life (all of it, perhaps) working tirelessly. Taking the most difficult roads, and consequently priding myself on them. Choosing the hard thing, scorning at anything that came easily or felt anywhere close to freeing. Feeling the need to push myself past my limits, to seek more intense challenges, and to complicate life.

Somewhere along the way, I learned to define myself by the difficulty of it all.

  • By the seemingly impossible goals I could set.
  • By those I could achieve and reset. And reset.
  • By the sports and hobbies I forced myself to excel in.
  • By academics.
  • By time.

At many points, I say, I even believed that if life wasn’t painful or I wasn’t being punished, that I thought myself to be inadequate; that that meant I was doing something wrong, for life was not designed to be easy.

“For years, I punished myself,” I admit to her.

I begin to cry.

I explain to her that for the first time, life has allowed for the necessary space and time for proper rest (and thereby) proper reflection. And it is now that I am beginning to realize just how harrowing things have been.

Through tears, I tell her that I feel as if my heart is growing heavy in the present with sadness and regret over my past. That I am thinking back to my old self and all those years I spent believing I deserved for things to be so very difficult. I tell her that I’ve only now come to realize how many years passed me by. Ones that I spent hating myself and pushing my mind and body far beyond any expectations I or anyone else could set.

  • The late nights into early morning hours I spent every day of my grade school years staying up completing homework, sure that I would never make it anywhere if I didn’t find a way to maintain the #1 spot.
  • The many years of my childhood I spent overtraining for my athletics, certain that my potential and talent rested solely on the performances my body could muster.
  • The years I spent throughout college (and even now) restricting my food and counting every calorie, weighing myself 6x a day and measuring my wrists, believing that my beauty and capacity to be in control of my life depended on the presentation and desirability of my body.

I tell her that I am realizing that the expansion of my life and self has, in many ways, forced me to grow into newer and realer versions of myself. That I am discovering things I never knew about myself whilst reimagining familiar things that have never left me.

And yet, I find myself grappling with the truth that even amidst the mountains of positive change, that change is never unaccompanied by valleys of loss; deaths of the past deserving of mourning, movements away from that which is known, and wandering amongst blurry visions of who and what used to be.

“I wonder if I’ve lost the parts of myself I used to love. Even amongst all the layers I have been so happy to see fall away.”

Is life too easy now?

Surely, something is bound to come up and complicate it all.

Do I deserve this joy?

Surely, I’m underserving somehow.

Am I still a hard worker?

I must wonder— who am I without the hardship?

Time.

I fear I’ve wasted so much of it.

I explain to her that I’ve spent much of my life embedded in works of literature and enmeshed in the world of characters, those which I most deeply identify defined by a type of nostalgic reminiscence— those who spent so much of their lives preparing themselves for their futures, worrying about making the right choices, and living their lives “correctly” (whatever that may mean), only to reach a point of deepened reflection and come to find that in the midst of oscillating between memories of the past and visions of the future, that their present had been lost.

That even though they vowed to live with intention and to live an examined life, that the pressure and constance of the examination had taken away from life.

“I’m worried I’ve become them,” I tell her.

I strive, I achieve, I reflect, and I hope against hope everyday that the choices I’ve made will lead me to flourishing and that the reflections I ultimately come to do not illuminate my deepest, most sincere fear— that I have done it all wrong.

The Lesson

This period of my life is, above all, defined by space. I refrain from calling it emptiness, for I feel anything but. I am perhaps happier than I’ve ever been, and yet, the peace I am experiencing is not without a bit of uneasiness.

I fear I may be aimlessly wandering.

I have no idea what I’m doing.

I know that I am not alone in this, and I also know that such is the truth of life: no one knows what they’re doing, and we all do our best with what we have to make the life we believe ourselves to desire.

We build castles out of things that are important to us, and the paths our hearts lead us through bring us the meaning we’re searching for.

The hard part? Sometimes we don’t know what we’re searching for. And other times, the aim of our insatiable searches change along the course.

I’ve come to find that we change as life changes. And as difficult as this truth is to grapple with (for it consequently means that who and what matters to us changes), there is beauty there.

That we get to make choices about things and people and lives that matter to us. Everyday.

And though we may arrive at these thresholds of reflection and realize that we have made mistakes, that we have built castles out of the wrong things, and that we have outgrown what was once meaningful to us, our corrigibility allows us to make tomorrow different.

We have the opportunity to say, “Maybe now.”

The gift of hindsight has granted me the perspective I once needed, and it has illuminated the holes that lacked the grace and kindness I always wanted.

That I will never fully figure it out, and that maybe it’s all going to be okay anyway.

That perhaps will be nothing more than a cycle of action, evaluation, and reflection, and that at the beginning and end of each cycle, I may very well be a different person than I imagined myself to be.

That I will continue to make choices in accordance with what I find meaningful and beautiful, here and now, with the knowledge that there is no guaranteeing these same sources of meaning and beauty forever.

That there is no telling what change will come, for I will evolve alongside the world.

And that the risk of life is choosing to believe in it all anyways.

To believe in the things that matter to me, here and now.

To believe that I deserve the love, joy, and peace I am experiencing.

To believe in the love that those who surround me are offering me so limitlessly.

To believe in both today and in tomorrow, whatever change may come.

On Grief: A Lost Love

I don’t talk about my mother’s death much because it makes people uncomfortable to hear about grief—particularly young people’s parent loss. It it a topic most people avoid in any and every way possible. And I get it. If I had the choice, I would avoid it, too.

But I don’t. And I want to talk about something.

I want to talk about how frequent and acute the waves of grief have been since beginning to feel the lightness and joy return to my life in recent months. How I have fallen in love, felt more myself, and have welcomed back large parts of my heart that I never thought could return to me, but how there never comes a day where these times and feelings are not tainted by pangs of loss; aches reminding me that there was once more to the story, and holes in my life and in my heart widening to remind me of the space that will forever be vacant.

This juxtaposition —that of tremendous joy and utter grief— has led to several otherwise wonderful days and nights ending in tears. Including tonight.

When I delivered my mom’s eulogy 5 years ago, I alluded to an abstract, anticipatory sadness about her absence at my future wedding; at my graduations, job promotions, and even births. But it is not just the big moments where her absence sears through my heart. It’s also the collection of small, beautiful experiences everyday that I will never share with her.

It’s finally saying “I love you” and wishing I could call her and let her know.

It’s introducing my boyfriend to my friends and family, and wishing more than anything that my mom could meet the person who makes my everyday bright and full of joy.

It’s knowing that she would love him almost as much as I do.

It’s facing tremendously hard seasons of life, and only wishing there was a way for me to seek her advice— the kind that always allowed my world to continue spinning.

It’s failing time and time again, and hoping each time to see an encouraging text message appear on my phone.

It’s needing a hug, but knowing that no one’s embrace is quite as warm and inviting as hers.

It’s making difficult decisions that feel life-changing, and making them without the person who provided you the gift of life.

It’s having a birthday come and go, and realizing that another year has passed in which she didn’t sing to your phone’s voicemail.

It’s receiving good news and not quite knowing who to share it with, because the first person on your list can’t receive your calls.

It’s learning and growing every moment of everyday, all without a significant piece of your heart and who you are.

Now I know that the sadness I once spoke of is not abstract. It is here, and it is so very real. On the heaviest of days, I can feel it entering my body demanding to be felt, desperately looking for a home within me.

The tragedy of it all is this: that my happiness cannot come without simultaneous sadness. That everything I experience is felt through the realities of loss; a grief that only reflects a deep, undying love with nowhere to go.

A lost love that knows it can never fully return home or be felt in the way it once did.

I am reminded with every moment of joy, that as life grows fuller and more beautiful, my yearning grows ever deeper.

I am growing into more and more parts of who I am, without the presence or guidance of the one who made me. The challenges of this never fade. This is forever.

I wish we prepared young, bereaved women for the reality of motherless life. I wish we had a language to speak about these experiences without shame or guilt, or without the fear that others would be made uncomfortable. I wish we had a better network of motherless daughters to hold one another’s pain.

If you are here, I am here.

I am holding your pain with mine.

Your grief beats alongside mine; it is home here.

Never lost.

Where Am I Now? Eating Disorder Recovery and Reclaiming My Spot at the (Dinner) Table

CW:// eating disorders

Hey.

Long time, no write.

It’s good to see you again. I’ve missed you.

It’s funny. I sat down at my computer this afternoon and had no plans of writing or publishing anything today, but I quickly found myself navigating the searchbar, locating my blog site, and opening up a blank page. I wasn’t aware that I felt I had any thoughts to share today (especially with it having been so long). But I suppose I came here for a reason, and I now know what I’m meant to write and share.

I’ve begun writing this post a few times now, desperately seeking some alternate topic, higher theme, or interesting story I could tell here today, mainly to distract from what it is I’m feeling. But, as we’re aware of, feelings *know.* I can’t seem to shake what my mind is enduring and fixating on lately, and I know that my own inability to allow escapism to suffice is indicative of a greater need to share openly, to write with transparency, and to live honestly.

I think we owe that to one another.

I imagined that my first blog post of 2021 would be a reflection of my first year of graduate school— an honest depiction of my experience, a vulnerable expression of the wide-ranging feelings I’ve yet to feel dissipate, and a reflection on the many challenges, growing pains, and ultimate triumphs and successes I bore witness to throughout my first year in a PhD program. I still long to write this post, and I know that I will. But right now, I’m not yet ready.

Instead, I’m ready to talk about another hard thing: eating disorder recovery.

It’s always difficult for me to know where to begin. In my experience, I’ve found that things move so quickly in recovery (or in relapse) that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of what’s going right, what’s going wrong, or even what feels the hardest in the mundane everydayness of it all. Even now, as I sit here writing, I’m wondering if I have my thoughts ordered well enough to compose a post most reflective of how I find myself doing these days.

It’s no secret that recovery is hard. There’s not a single aspect of healing from an eating disorder that is easy, nor is it a journey that I feel ever truly ends. There’s an undeniable discomfort in the re-feeding process (for restrictive EDs), and weight restoration is something I’ve found to be particularly difficult in my own recovery, both physically and mentally. Nobody prepares you for tackling the harrowing kind of fear, guilt, and shame that accompanies the consistent and active watch of your changing body, perhaps into the body (or level of health) you vowed to abandon forever. Beyond the weight, though, challenges I never anticipated have arisen in my pathway towards recovery throughout the years, many of which I never really talk about.

Maybe it’s because I’m afraid that vocalizing them will make them real.

Maybe it’s because I think I can overcome my own obstacles without any enlistment of help or support.

Maybe it’s because I don’t like the possibility that I could be failing at my own recovery— a signal of that loss of *control* I so deeply despise.

Or maybe it’s because there’s a part of me that still remains; one that fails to care for my well-being and chases my own destruction.

But now, a little over three years into my recovery journey, I am beginning to understand the importance of radical honesty. The kind of vulnerability and openness that holds a key to unlocking the same in others, thereby making the world a safer, more honest, and true place. The courageous kind of acknowledgment of mistakes, hardships, and shortcomings, no matter how difficult, for it is only then that we can begin to imagine a culture in which leaning on one another and carrying each other through the darkest of times is the beating heart of all that we do.

That is the world I yearn for, so that is the world I must work to create.

Still, honesty is hard. Even after all these years.

When I first left treatment, I didn’t feel ready. I knew that I wasn’t, but in light of the circle of honest vulnerability I’m advocating for here, I didn’t care. I entered a partial hospitalization program involuntarily, and though I quickly accepted my lack of a choice in the matter, I promised myself that once I got through the summer months of program that I could abandon this whole “recovery” thing forever. In other words, the consolation prize I conjured up for myself was, in fact, the rapid and graceful return of the eating disorder that had almost taken my life and had landed me in the state I was in.

Promising myself the safe return of my eating disorder is what fueled me throughout my stay in treatment. I arrived everyday at 8am, cried my way through three meals and two snacks, and quietly sat my way through individual and group therapy sessions, only subconsciously focused on the gift of my eventual exit. I remember days where I maintained attempts to be present, to work my way through the underlying pains that helped cultivate my eating disorder voice, and to attach a greater value to my recovery as opposed to my disorder, but these days were few and far between and the attempts futile. Sure, I made it through the days okay with no observable breakdowns. But, the moment I returned to my car, there I was; on the road again, fighting the urge to rid my body of the nourishment I had just given it, sobbing my way through motivational podcasts, wondering if I would ever be able to have a life again.

The truth is that I had no intentions of “getting better,” that I possessed no will to recover, and that everyday, I still faced overwhelming, all-encompassing desires to pursue my own invisibility and disappearance. I so badly wanted to escape the pains and perceivable chaos of my life that I convinced myself it would be easier to give up and give into the deadly symptoms of my condition, for at least that would gift me with a sense of control and esteem.

I was experiencing deep pain, and I was chasing it. And, I was good at it.

The summer went by, I gained the weight I needed to in order to leave treatment and return to school in the fall, and, just like I had promised, I abandoned my own recovery immediately upon my return. The relief I felt no longer having to weigh out my portions of food in front of a dietician, no longer having to check in with a therapist about the heaviness of the mental disorder, or sitting in rooms desperately willing the clock to move at a faster speed was unlike any I had ever felt before.

I went back to San Diego, jaded but unhealed, only with the intention to revert to my old ways. I couldn’t wait to restrict again, to get back to exercising compulsively, and to watch my body shrink once again, along with the size of my life.

The cycle continued for the remainder of my third/final year of undergrad, but I was somehow able to make it through. Amidst all of the self-sabotage, I had still managed to return to campus and graduate a year early; an accomplishment that, looking back, I largely attributed to the level of “control” I believed to have in my life and my capacity to manage everything, in spite of the relentless turmoil I felt inside my head and with my body.

My real recovery didn’t begin until the summer following graduation in May 2019. They say that there is nothing like traveling to open your eyes, widen your horizons, and remind you of the vast and beautiful intricacies of life like seeing the world, and I felt every bit of this cliché. It was in Paris that I began to feel the first waves of freedom, perhaps most apparent in the shape of croissants, lattes, and macarons. I remember the visceral feeling of the guilt falling off of my shoulders more and more everyday, and even though I couldn’t understand why, I was happy.

These waves of freedom were accompanied by the welcome arrival of new and beautiful perspectives, more reflective of such vastness, limitlessness, and wonder of the world, and less so of the binding and inescapable cage of shame I had constructed so deliberately.

I felt myself longing for more freedom. To hold onto the feeling. To chase that freedom and wonder, rather than the control and smallness that had defined my recent years.

Still, I kept waiting for that wistfulness to leave me. I wondered if it might leave me when I returned home. If I would be able to silence the voices in my head pushing only for my own destruction should they arise again. I feared that my brain might be able to conjure up a spell that trapped my “free self” back into the web of my disorder the moment I stepped off the plane.

Maybe brains can do that, but mine didn’t.

After that trip, the eating disorder voices never returned. And if they did, I was unaware, for I was so deeply cherishing the freedom and life I had just gained back. That trip marked the beginning stages of my recovery, undoubtedly defined by small steps forward and large leaps back. Still, I no longer felt the everlasting pang in my chest, urging me to do all I could to become small and insignificant. To make my body as small and weak as possible, so that my life may ultimately mirror its model. I wanted to recover, and I wanted to chase that kind of freedom that I now knew to be possible forever.

Since then, my recovery has bore witness to the highest of mountain tops and the steepest of valleys. There have been some good days, but there have been many more hard ones. The discomfort of relinquishing control in return for freedom is a transaction I am continually working on and one that never seems to subside, and I endure raging body dysmorphia more days than others. I still often cry at the end of long days, particularly when I have tried to challenge myself and indulge in a fear food, have fought the urge to over-exercise, or refrain from compensating my caloric intake with laxative abuse. And most of the time, I don’t feel happy about or proud of my attempts to leave ED behind and to recover instead.

This lack of joy and pride might seem trivial, but it is not. In fact, it has been precisely these feelings (or lack of) that have brought on practical complications in my recovery and have prompted lapses and relapses time and time again. Once proud of wearing my badge of “recovering anorexic,” I have also known myself to spend weeks, even months at a time, beckoning the re-entrance of my disorder back into my life. Though difficult to admit, restricting food, pushing my body to exercise compulsively, and sustaining my life at the size of my self-imposed cage is still one of the greater comforts I constantly seek. Anorexia has convinced me that this cage of control is safe and protective, that it serves me in deepening my will and preserving my ethic, and that it will never leave me.

COVID has not been kind to those of us in eating disorder recovery. I have found myself falling back into comfortable patterns to keep my symptoms manageable, desperately clinging onto things I know are at best inhibiting and at worst wholly sabotaging.

Alone and bombarded by media messaging about diet and exercise, I resented my nourished body. With my social routines so wildly disrupted, I struggled to know how to move and eat intuitively. I would spend hours looking at my body in the mirror— pinching, checking, weighing, obsessing— wondering if it was the glass or my brain that was warped. I am currently facing the weight of these challenges still.

It remains an active choice for me to make everyday whether or not I want to value my recovery. Right now, things are hard. Truthfully, I’ve doubted my ability to continue on and to face the relentless, seemingly insurmountable challenges my own mind presents me with, looking out for my moments of vulnerability. I feel fragile, and I don’t think people understand that much. I wake up everyday hoping that it will be an easier one— that I will be able to consume what I need in order to sustain myself and bolster my recovery; that I will be able to maintain the will to do so.

The exhaustion has set in deeply lately, and I am once again fighting the urge to give in. In many ways, I feel as if I am back to square one and that I have completely failed myself. My recovery was going well, until it wasn’t.

And so things go.

As the world reopens, new challenges have emerged. It still feels like being stabbed in the heart when people comment on my body, or when people compare my body to other women’s. I mean that literally— I feel a physical pain in my chest when I am reduced to my bodily appearance; the body I am still working on tolerating. I am self-conscious about eating and exercise in front of others.

My social recovery muscles are quite atrophied from prolonged disuse. And all of a sudden, I feel that my body is on display again. There is social pressure to share photos online, stroll the beaches in bikinis, and wear short skirts to parties. But participating in these activities opens me up to commentary from others, and I run the risk of feeling like I am being punched in the chest repeatedly. Even comments that are positively valenced or complimentary in nature often result in me feeling like an object, rather than a person with a kind heart, a tough backbone, and a creative mind.

As we start reuniting with loved ones, I hope you will consider the ways that those of us navigating ED recovery have struggled over the last few months. I hope you will consider the unique challenges we are facing as we reenter the world. I hope you will remember the visceral pain of being objectified. I hope you will be conscious of the ways that you talk about bodies, food, eating, and dieting.

It is possible that someone with an eating disorder, or someone who may develop an eating disorder, is listening.

Today, though, I am choosing to reflect and think of how much I lost in the deepest valleys of my eating disorder and remind myself that healing can look like a million little things. It can look like eating a croissant on a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower, or it can look like getting milk in your coffee. It can look like getting lost in thought and reading a book in solitude, or it can look like phoning a friend for support in a time of need. It can look like going out to a restaurant you once feared and challenging yourself as best you can, or it can look like sitting in the safeness of comfort for awhile, so long as the comfort is looking out for you. That’s the beautiful thing about healing— like so much else in this life, there’s no guidebook or manuscript telling us what to do. So we can do anything and everything.

Looking back, I lost so much more than the weight I so desperately wanted to lose so that I could *finally* be happy. Feel successful. Be in control.

I lost friendships. Relationships. The ability to develop meaningful connections and communicate effectively. To be honest and to not hide away for fear of being found out. The will to show up for those I love and to be the friend, sister, and daughter they all deserve.

I lost the capacity to think without a clouded mind. The ability to concentrate. The energy to tend to the thoughts and ideas I love contemplating. Mental clarity.

I lost any ounce of space I once had to allow my brain to think about anything outside of food and my body— everything but the obsessive thoughts that inhibited my everyday.

I lost memories and moments that should have been cherished. Experiences I wasn’t present for. Conversations I couldn’t participate in. I lost time.

I lost my peace. An understanding of myself and who I was, what I wanted for my life, and what my ambitions allowed me to dream up.

I lost my joy, the simple pleasures I once found, and my love for life. I lost my smile and any ability to see beyond the destructive and harmful cage I so carefully constructed for myself.

I lost the weight, but I lost so, so much more than that.

The most insidious thing about eating disorders is that they have a way of manipulating your brain into believing that you’re in control. That you can handle it. That you’re doing something good for you and your body, your esteem and your soul. That you’re behaving in such a way that will enhance your life and make you “better” in one way or another.

It’s far simpler in hindsight to understand how deeply I was entrenched in my illness and how everything I once thought to protect and serve me was only slowly killing me. Still, how much I missed out on is not lost on me.

Somewhere along the way, I believed that my disorder protected me. That it was what made me strong. I lost sight of what really did, and I’m working towards forgiving myself for that everyday.

Here’s your sign to forgive yourself, too.

I will reclaim my seat at the dinner table, and I will regain momentum in my recovery, no matter how difficult it feels or how long the years. We can do hard things. One step and one day at a time. 🤍