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. 

 

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Liv vs. Exercise: Part 1

Growing up, I always had a love for fitness. I was very active in sports and trained at a competitive level. Running was always one of my favorite pastimes.

As my eating disorder began to get worse, my relationship with fitness took a very dark turn. I became OBSESSED with the numbers. I would go to the gym with a pre-determined number that I must burn off before I was allowed to leave. I never saw anything disordered about this because it was easy then to just convince myself that I wanted to be in better shape for soccer season.

I would go to the gym sometimes more than once a day being completely controlled by the numbers showing up on the machine. No matter how sick I felt, I could not get myself to stop before I hit the number I decided on for the day because if I stopped, Ana would NOT be happy. It didn’t matter if I came to the verge of blacking out— If I didn’t reach that number I was a failure.

As I started treatment, exercise was one of the first things stripped away from me. My relationship with exercise was not healthy and my team knew my obsession with numbers would not get better if I kept going to the gym or doing my ‘secret’ workout ritual at home. I was furious.

As I got stronger in my recovery, fitness would slowly get re-introduced. During these times, when I would go to the gym, I would cover up the numbers on the machine so I didn’t get obsessive over what I was doing. However, no matter how hard I tried to work out in a healthy way, it didn’t last long before I relapsed over the obsession of numbers and lost my privileges to work out.

It felt like a never ending cycle. I was upset and embarrassed with myself. It only became more challenging when I got to college and my friends all wanted to play intramurals or work out together. I always had to find some excuse as to why I couldn’t play. I was always too embarrassed to share the real reason I couldn’t join them was because I was on exercise restriction.

This summer I started running again for the first time in a long time– I started running a lot. I haven’t been visited by the voice that loves the numbers…or at least I don’t think I have been. The most challenging part in recovery for me now is trying to establish what is disordered vs what is not. My relationship with exercise had been toxic for so long that sometimes I wonder if it will ever be healthy. When I wake up and decide how many miles I want to run, I have to question myself and ask WHY I want to run so bad. Do I want to run because I enjoy it? Or do I want to run because I have to hit a certain number?

Anorexia is one giant mind game and trying to tell the differences between her voice and my own is not always the easiest. This is a chapter of my recovery story that is not yet fully healed and I am not sure when it will be. Will I ever be able to have working out as a part of my life in a healthy way? I really am not sure. I am just taking it moment by moment and doing my best to listen to the needs of my body.

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?  

Nicolette’s Point of View

 A Letter to Ana

Dear Ana,

​My name is Nicolette- you don’t know me very well, but I’ve seen you many times and feel like I know you very well. You see, you know my little sister, Olivia. Oh, you know her, the bubbly, energetic, passionate girl you’ve been stalking for the past…too many years. Somehow you’ve never affected me directly and I’m still not totally sure how you choose your victims. You see, Olivia and I aren’t that different. Sure, she may be a bit louder, chattier, and more adventurous than me (but let’s just keep that between us). However, you have indirectly impacted my life and I’ll always remember the wake you leave behind.

​Olivia and I are three years apart (some people think we’re twins but we both know who has the better brows…me). My parents gave me the best gift a girl could ever ask for, a little sister! Olivia was born to be my personal BFF. Obviously, we had our squabbles, broken Polly Pockets, an arm or a nose occasionally falls off an American Girl Doll, but just your typical sister stuff. For a while, that was all we had to worry about. But that was before you moved in, Ana. That was before you changed everything.

​I still remember the day. We had just moved to our new neighborhood in the cookie-cutter Geneva, IL. We could tell through driving around “the circle” we were going to be living in a neighborhood full of fun and active kids. While I was excited about the possibilities of new friends, maybe even a new ~*crush*~ (in my own defense I was twelve or thirteen and reading waaaay too many Seventeen magazines), I remember lil’ Olivia making the comment “Wow! We’re going to become sticks!”, meaning, we’re going to be playing outside all the time and exercising so we’ll become super skinny! Probably not the first thought someone going into 3rd grade should have…I should know because I am now a third-grade teacher and all those kids care about are Taki’s, Roblux and Five Nights at Freddies, and taking down Donald Trump…but that’s neither here nor there.

​I digress. To me in that moment, bells went off in my head. I remember from reading all those Seventeen Magazine articles about the warning signs of an eating disorder. I often think back to that moment and wonder if I had done something differently in that moment, maybe things would’ve been different. Maybe, if I had said something I wouldn’t have spent lying awake at night while in college wondering if my sister was harming herself, or contemplating harming herself. Even though you don’t know me personally, Ana, I know you and I know what you can do. I remember my stomach being in knots as I listen to my mom crying over the phone, running out of ideas to help my best friend. The amount of stress that puts on a person is inconceivable. A thousand “what ifs” constantly running through my mind. The person you changed my sister into was constantly on my mind. My own relationships suffered from the stress. You changed me, Ana. Maybe you don’t always see the collateral damage outside of your victims, but it’s there. You are more powerful than you know. I could go on telling you about the thoughts that were going through my head, and at times still do, but I don’t want to give you the gratification that without even trying, you almost had another victim.

​Olivia asked me to write something for her NEDA project about how EDs affect the people on the outside. I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to do it at first. I didn’t want to admit that you influenced me because putting all my thoughts and memories that I’ve tried to forget will only make you more real. I’ve realized through my sister, that girl you tried to take down, that this is exactly what you, Ana, need to hear. Yes, there are some nights and periods of my life that I hate thinking back on. Seeing my BFF struggle and hate herself is gut-wrenching. Thinking about those times makes my stomach turn into knots again and my heart start to race. So, take this as a goodbye. We might bump into each other again, either when you try to take my sister away again or one of my “kids” (which I currently have 48 and counting btw, occupational hazards). But through my strong sister and watching the warrior she has become; I’ve learned how to beat you and work through you. I hope I never see you again, but I know I will. You’re clingy and needy and seem to never disappear. We all know that one person who is just always “around’. No one likes that person, Ana, and we can only hope that one day you will be defeated for good. But, until now I’m going to enjoy the occasional glass (or two)…(or three)…(ok the whole bottle) of the cheapest red wine we can find with my sister. And you’re not invited.

 Sincerely,

Nicolette

 PS- You can’t sit with us.

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