My Mind on Thanksgiving

I hate Thanksgiving.

The large plates of food.

The ‘holiday diet’ trends being advertised everywhere.

Family members telling me they didn’t eat all day just for this meal even though I had to follow my meal plan and still eat breakfast plus my morning snack.

Hearing people justify why they are allowed to eat a second slice of pumpkin pie.

Thanksgiving is a tough holiday for someone with anorexia.

I know the holiday is supposed to be about being thankful, but that doesn’t stop anyone from still making the main deal be about food.

Let me give you an example about what this holiday feels like for me.

Let’s say you’re terrified of spiders. Well imagine waking up completely covered by every type of spider. The spiders are everywhere. Crawling all over you and theres nothing you can do to get them off.

That sense of fear is what I get every time I am faced with a large meal. Sometimes I can shake the thought away fairly quickly, but the fear is still there. I want to escape, but there is no excuse to not participate in Thanksgiving. I want to use avoidance or hide my food, but I am now at a point in my recovery where I know hiding my food will only send me spiraling.

Food terrifies me.

I try to focus on the relationships and the memories I can create rather than the panic attack building up inside me as my plate of food is set in front of me.

I try to take deep breaths and remind myself that everything will be ok- I know I can’t just eat my safe foods every day of the year.

Sometimes I do enjoy my food. Some years I enter Thanksgiving super confident because I feel I have a strong grip on my eating disorder. But no matter how good I feel I can’t shut out the guilt after eating each time.

Recovering from an eating disorder is by far the biggest challenge I have faced.

The thoughts lurk everywhere and while most of the time they are muted; they still can come blaring without an invitation.

However, this year I will try to shake away my fear and enjoy the holiday.

This year I will enjoy a glass of wine AND have a real dessert.

This year I will not let my anorexia take control.

I just ask that whoever reads this, to be careful with your jokes around food.

You may think its harmless to mention things about restricting to enjoy the big meal, but to others like me, it can really hit hard.

I hope that everyone tries to enjoy their food without having to mention ways to compensate for it. I hope that everyone has a great holiday with the people they love.

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Full Recovery?

There are a lot of different opinions about eating disorder recovery and if full recovery is actually possible.

Some people think that yes, an eating disorder surviver will be able to live a completely ED free life. I hate to be a cynic, but I have to disagree with those people.

Some people view this mindset I have as not being ready to let go of the disorder. I won’t deny it, thats definitely a true statement to be made. Letting go of an eating disorder is scary.

When people ask me how I am doing now with my eating disorder, I am not sure how to respond. You see, I am no longer in relapse, but if I told everyone I was fully recovered, that would be a lie.

To be fully recovered from an eating disorder, in my opinion, is to no longer have ANY issues with food. To be fully recovered from an eating disorder is to be able to eat something without guilt or without the thoughts of how to compensate. To be fully recovered is to not compare my body or what I eat to others. To be fully recovered is to be able to look at food or go grocery shopping without feeling like the world is caving in as the anxiety begins to take over.

I have many days without experiencing any of these thoughts, but my eyes are still broken. I still sometimes see a different reflection looking back at me completely skewed from the beast in my head. 

I eat my meals and no longer engage in behaviors because I am focused now on the wonderful life I have created. It is a life without Ana, but Ana still finds her way in. Ana still whispers to me at night with the review of everything I ate that day.

The difference between relapse and recovery is choosing to NOT listen to the disorder. The voice won’t go away, its just a matter of making the choice to not engage in what she says. I have the strength to not listen to Ana. I have the courage to fight her back and question her motives.  I like to think that my anorexia is in remission. The symptoms are not nearly as severe and its possible that I may never relapse again. 

 

Let’s Talk About, Feed.

There’s a lot of hype right now in the eating disorder community about the Netflix movie, To The Bone. However, we really should be talking about the new movie, Feed. (I attached a link to the trailer at the end.)

I am always hesitant when it comes to watching movies or shows that portray an eating disorder because I never know if it will trigger me. However, I am so glad I watched Feed and I really encourage everyone I know that doesn’t suffer with an eating disorder to also watch this movie. 

Feed does a phenomenal job at capturing the mental aspect associated with eating disorders. This movie does not glamorize eating disorders in anyway. It does not have a huge emphasis on weight loss. It shows the need for control which is what eating disorders are really all about. It shows what its like in the mind of an eating disorder and how easy it is to believe that the voice is a friend.

Feed is finally something that I feel like will help people to better understand eating disorders. So many people would tell me, “just eat” or assume that because I am eating again, I am cured. Unfortunately its not that easy because of that voice… that nasty voice that doesn’t really go away. 

For me, watching this movie at points was a little hard because it did hit so close to home. My ED told me many of the same exact lines that it told Olivia, the main character in Feed, throughout the movie. There were scenes that I felt so easily could have been taken from my own experiences in recovery. (Like when Olivia made the comment about having to drink her salad dressing…don’t even get me started on the nurses making me drink my leftover cereal milk…)

 So to my eating disorder survivors, tread lightly when watching this because it can be triggering. To those who know someone suffering with an eating disorder this is a MUST watch. And to those who may never be impacted by an ED or think you do not know anyone struggling with an ED, still watch this movie. You may be surprised on what signs you’re missing out on.

here’s a link to the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFqV9xtw0Ig

You can watch Feed on youtube or video on demand.

5 Things I Want You To Know

Now that I am at a strong point in recovery, I want to share some things that I still want others to know:

  • I am not always as strong as I act
      • It is really hard for me to allow others to see me vulnerable, so sometimes putting up a strong front in public makes me believe that I am in control. I am much stronger than I ever was before, but inside I still have my anxiety monster wanting to come out and play. I still really appreciate random check ins every now and then because it reminds me that I am not in this fight alone.
  • Recovery is not linear
      • I still hear Ana everyday; the thoughts really don’t go away, they just get muted. She is still in my head, but I have more strength and control to ignore her. Somedays I may listen to her more than others. That doesn’t mean I relapsed though. It just means that I hit a bump and that’s okay.
  • Sometimes I miss being sick
      • This is very disordered, but sometimes I really miss the comfort of my eating disorder. I do not know how to explain it, but there is a sense of safety that I feel with my anorexia. I have lived with this disease for so long that it has become the norm for me. Being healthy and recovered is new for me and I am not fully comfortable yet with the unexpected.
  • My coping skills are imperative to my health
      • I have my coping skills and they have become like rituals for me. For example, I need to be able to have 30 minutes of just me time everyday. If that ‘Liv Time’ gets interrupted, it really throws me off and causes me to spiral. Even if the interruption is the smallest thing like someone losing my pen cap (sorry, mom). I need to have these moments because recovery is hard and it is so important for me to take a little bit of time to do things that make me happy.
  • I have never been happier
      • I am so in love with my life and I cannot thank my treatment team/support system enough for helping me get here. I went from having to stop halfway up a flight of stairs to being able to play tennis again. My eating disorder took away so many things that made me happy and I can finally enjoy it all again. RECOVERY IS WORTH IT AND LIFE IS A PRECIOUS, BEAUTIFUL THING.

Fat is NOT a feeling: part 2

“I feel so fat right now.” 

What is that even supposed to mean? The last time I checked, fat is NOT a feeling. I wrote a similar post to this a year ago, so let’s make this post “fat is NOT a feeling: part 2” 

When I think I feel fat, here are some things as to what I really mean:

  • I feel sad and upset with myself right now
  • I feel ashamed for eating and loving my body
  • My eating disorder has me convinced that I can never be beautiful if I eat that food

Or I find myself being happy if I feel skinny. 

  • I am so happy with how I look right now despite the feeling that I will black out.
  • I have no energy to talk to other people but at least I ‘look’ great
  • I can only be happy if I’m skinny 

I have it convinced in my head that being fat is bad but being skinny is good. It makes me believe that if someone is fat they obviously cannot be happy with life. By associating these feelings with the feeling of be fat, it makes me kind of a brat. How can I be advocating for self-love if I still associate fat with those feelings? When I was at my lowest weight I was FAR from happy. When I was at my skinniest I wanted to be dead. Last time I checked, that’s not happiness

Fat does not equal disgust nor does skinny equal happiness. The way our bodies look have no connection to how we should feel.  When I say things like “I feel so fat right now” I need to stop and think how I’m affecting other people. And when I think I feel so “skinny right now” I need to remind myself of those cold hospital rooms. By negatively labeling fat I am just adding to this negative stigma about body image–I am convincing people they need to reflect on their body shape to decide if they’re worthy of happiness. 

Until we are able to come to this conclusion and understanding that our body shape has nothing to do with our outlook on life, we will never be happy. Until we learn to love the person living inside our skin, we will never be happy. 

Fat is not feeling nor is Skinny.  

The Nontraditional Journey

A little over a week ago, something wild happened- I graduated from college.

Yeah, you read that correctly, I Olivia, am officially a college graduate with a full time teaching job. Starting in August, I will be living on my own and teaching fourth grade. I could not be happier because I am finally living the life I dreamed of.

To say my college experience was nontraditional would be an understatement. From transferring universities, taking a semester off, going inpatient for 5 days during my JR year, experiencing wild side effects from years of destroying my body, and the other random shenanigans in this lovely life on mine, it wasn’t always the easiest. To be honest, sometimes I am even I am a little surprised that I was able to graduate on time.

This isn’t going to be some post about how hard I had it. Rather this is about how lucky I am to be supported by people who encouraged me to take these untraditional risks. You see, not many people are given as many chances as I was. Not many people are lucky to have such supportive family and friends. I was a lucky one because I never had to do any of this alone.

My mental illnesses had quite an impact on my past 4 years and to be honest, it sucked. For awhile, I used to be scared that a girl like me could ever actually recover and live a normal life. But I did it and if anyone reading this is in a similar position, just know that you can do it too.

Transitions are scary and college can be a weird time. Trust me, I know. We grow up believing that things need to be a certain way. Ever since a young age we are told that if we want to be happy, we need to graduate college and get a job. I don’t know who started that rumor, but your life doesn’t have to be that way. Its okay to take a semester off. Its okay to transfer universities. Heck its okay to not even go to a university.

When I was 18 years old I had NO IDEA what I was doing and I am glad I had enough courage to go against the norm and take that semester off. Had I not taken that semester off, I would have missed out on those 5 months of self-discovery to figure out what I really wanted to do. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Sure it wasn’t what I was ‘supposed’ to do and some people thought it was ‘crazy’, but that didn’t hurt me. If anything it helped me.

The only mistake we can make is to live a life that isn’t what we want it to be. If you are unhappy think about what you can do to change that. Its so simple really, but yet we love to complicate things because of this pre-determined idea of how things are supposed to be.

I support the nontraditional journey. I support the traditional journey. I support whatever journey you take as long as it truly makes you happy. You will end up where you need to be, but the path to get there is up to you. Make it a good one.

90%

This post contains mentions of numbers so here is a TRIGGER WARNING. This post also contains the raw side of being 90% restored. This is being posted to help people put into perspective why it is so hard to say goodbye to ED. 

Emptiness is a feeling I am all too familiar with. Emptiness is a feeling I came to love and crave. To me, emptiness felt like I was finally succeeding at something.

The emptiness I am referring to above is of my stomach after not eating for 37 straight hours. It is the emptiness that comes from only allowing myself to drink ice-cold water and nibble on the occasional celery stick. However, emptiness can present itself in many different ways.

Sometimes emptiness feels like sitting alone on a Friday night while your friends go out and party. Sometimes emptiness is being unable to express any emotions at all. The worst feeling of emptiness, however, is when it is associated with ‘what used to be.’ The emptiness that consumes you after something you once loved is no longer apart of your life.

People who know about my struggles with anorexia look at me and often see a success story (although sometimes I am not sure why.) I mean, yes, I am finally starting to get my life together and now the smiles you see on my face actually are genuine, but I would not consider myself a success story- not yet.

After 6 months, I have finally restored 90% of my body weight. It took 6 months of having to eat roughly 3,000+ calories a day, but my body is finally starting to show signs of healing. That’s a good thing, right?

I know that the size 0 pants I have been wearing this past year were just temporary, but now that I can no longer squeeze into these pants, I can’t help but feel empty. I know that I should delete the pictures I have on my phone of my body with my protruding rib cage and hip bones, but yet I cant help but lay in my bed at night comparing my old body with the one I am living in now.

Do I still sound like a success story?

When I hear other people talk about their eating disorder or when I watch a show where a character ends up revealing that she struggled with an eating disorder, I cant help but feel like a failure because I used to be that girl. I find myself getting competitive with these strangers and fictional characters. I think to myself that I was so much better at my eating disorder. But then I remember that I already ate breakfast, lunch, and a snack that day and I can’t help but freak out over what I am becoming. I am losing my eating disorder and it terrifies me.

I am currently in the most dangerous part in my recovery because this is when every meal I eat is accompanied by Relapse screaming in my face. Ana knows that her reign is close to being over so she pulls out everything she can to stay with me a little bit longer. I love my healthier life, but I can’t help but lust after my eating disorder. I know I need to be 100% to reach my goals, but how do you say goodbye to someone who has been apart of you for the past 14 years?

The Best Detox

Summer is just around the corner ladies and gentleman and you know what that means! It is time for some good ol’ Spring-cleaning AND spring cleansing! Ah yes, the time where many people start going on detox diets to help shed that winter weight gain to get ready for their ~bikini~ body.  In the past I used to engage in a really great spring detox that really only helped me get ready for my own deathbed.  This spring, however, I have the BEST detoxifying cleanse to help prepare EVERYONE for summer and the rest of their life!

This year I am participating in a negativity detox that will help me to flush out all the toxins in my life. Let me just put my disclaimer in right now. I am not a certified detoxer. I am just a twenty-something writing my own foolproof way to live a healthier and happier life.

Stop and just think for a moment about the things in your life that bring you the most happiness and jot them down somewhere. Try to jot down 3 things. 

For me the things that bring me the most happiness are working with kids, spending quality time with the meaningful relationships in my life, and writing. 

Now think about the things in your life that stop you from being able to engage in the activities that bring you the most happiness.  Maybe it is that ‘great’ friend of yours who is always putting you down. Maybe it is your job or your area of study. Whatever it is that prevents you from living a fulfilling life, jot them down elsewhere.  (Side note, think about how ‘great’ the friendship really is if every time you are together he/she only tries to put you down.)  

There are a lot of things in my life that are filled with toxins. I have too many relationships in my life that are extremely manipulative; relationships where I constantly question my worth and relationships that make me feel like I need to change who I am in order to be valued. I have people like this creeping in every domain of my life. I work with people like this, I spend time with people like this, and I consider myself ‘friends’ with people like this. Sometimes, I even am like this. When I let my eating disorder in, I am the most manipulative and nastiest person. Not everyone sees this side. When I become like this, I only tear down myself. 

My eating disorder is by far the biggest parasite in my life. She is a parasite that feeds on destroying my happiness. She is a parasite that gets off by watching me spiral out of control.  

Addressing the toxins in your life is the first place to start with this detox. This detox takes time. Like all detoxes, one needs to fully commit. If you want to see the results, you must stick with it. You are working to flush out the poisons. There may be times where you think you’re making a mistake or that this is too hard. That is when you need to dig deep and really find your strength. Do you want to live a venomous life that inhibits you from reaching your full potential? 

This is the only cleanse we all need. Our bodies are not designed to thrive on raw vegetables and juice cleanses. We need to work to cleanse our mind and our life of the toxins in order to be able to fully appreciate what we have.

So this year, and every year, I am going to be detoxing the negativity away. I am going to pay close attention to the things that are in my control.  We can all be in control of our life and we can all decide if we want to make it a life that emphasizes on love, or hate. I know what kind of life I prefer. Do you?  

Marlena’s Story

My name is Marlena and I’m a recovering bulimic.

I never looked sick. As a matter of fact, I’ve always been heavier which allowed my eating disorder to fly under the radar. No one expects the “fat girl” to be knocking on death’s door. However, I’m one of the lucky ones. I still struggle daily, but I’m alive.

The thing about bulimia is that it’s deceptive. It’s painful, secretive, and hard to catch which is a huge factor in why I struggled for 4 years without anyone catching on. It’s not a pretty blonde girl leaning her head over the toilet with her hair pulled back and her finger down her throat. It’s not politely refusing a cupcake. Bulimia is hair falling out and holes in your esophagus. It’s scarred knuckles from where your teeth break the skin and smelling like vomit no matter how often you brush your teeth.

There are so many days that I just want to give up because relapsing is what is comfortable. It’s safe and what I know. But with the help of my treatment team and support system, I’ve been striving to stay on track and build a bright future for myself because I’m one of the lucky ones because I’m still alive.

Bridget’s Story

“Anorexia is one disease I was certain I’d never suffer from. Growing up, I ate whatever I wanted, worked out and had a healthy relationship with food. I even remember making immature remarks with my best friend in high school about a girl who clearly suffered from bulimia, not understanding how serious the disease was. “How the hell could you not eat, and how could you do that to your body?” I wondered. I was sure that girl with the eating disorder would NEVER be me.

In the fall of 2012, I began college. Constant school stress, high levels of anxiety (which I’ve since been diagnosed with) and no longer having my support group from home took its toll on me. At first I lost my appetite because I was simply too stressed to eat. Slowly, it became intentional. Anorexia creeped its way into my life until it controlled me completely. I worked out 2-3 times per day. I obsessively counted calories, challenging myself to consume as little as possible on any given day. I weighed myself twice, sometimes 3 times a day, getting a secret high every time the number on the scale dropped lower.
I was extremely sick, but on the outside I appeared fine. Friends and family commented on how skinny I looked, but I told them I simply was working out and eating well. I had a 4.0, had joined a sorority and made plenty of friends. But nobody knew how sick I truly was. I convinced myself I was fine and that I didn’t need help. It wasn’t until my older sister reached out to my best friend from home in November that I was confronted about having a problem.
I lied. I got angry, and I pretended like she was crazy for thinking anything was wrong. But slowly, the walls that I had built up to convince myself I was OK came tumbling down. I had no energy, my immune system was a wreck, and I became so depressed I was sleeping at least 10 hours a night. It wasn’t any way I wanted to continue living.
So, I started the long process of recovery. I tried multiple therapists (none helped me personally, but that isn’t to say therapy can’t help others). But as my college years continued and I battled ED tendencies on and off, I started to find connections to why I couldn’t eat. It all came back to anxiety and having control to attempt to limit my anxiety. I craved control of my life so badly that I chose the one thing I knew I could always control: my food intake.
When I had a relapse my senior year of college, I finally saw a doctor. I was so ashamed, but I told him the truth. And he helped me. He didn’t judge me or think I was exaggerating. He listened and decided anxiety medication was the best step forward. A year later, I’m on a daily anxiety/depression medicine that has worked wonders. I have no urges to go back to my old ED habits, and I am the happiest I have ever been. I still have progress to make, though. I have yet to return to running and working out, but that is my next step (and one that I fully know I am capable of doing).
Recovery is a long process, but one that is worth the pain it takes to get there. I’m no longer bitter or angry at my disease because it showed me I am strong enough to overcome any obstacle life throws my way. To anyone suffering, do not hesitate to seek help. And to anyone who knows someone suffering, I encourage you to speak up. It saved my life, and it could save someone else.”
-Bridget Brady, 23, Chicago