Facing the Music

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been writing as much lately. I don’t really have a good reason for that except that I’ve been feeling pretty shitty.

I tend to go through little ups and downs like everyone else, but lately, my downs have been more frequent and more lasting. I’ve felt depressed, hopeless and overall just pretty disinterested in life. It’s a rough place to be, and when I’m in that place, the last thing I want to do is talk to other people about it. Think about it: when is the last time you went on Facebook to update your status to “I feel shitty” or “Life sucks right now” ? I’m thinking never. It’s just not something we go around broadcasting to one another. So it goes without saying that I wasn’t exactly feeling any motivation to write.

Well, I’m back. And as much as I hate to admit it, my latest funk taught me an important lesson: that I don’t have to feel shitty. I have the ability to fight back. True, sometimes it can be helpful to allow yourself to feel shitty — to mope around a little bit and grant yourself some down time. But never for very long. That’s where I went wrong. I felt it, and then I let it compound each day until I was just wallowing in one big pile of shit. It stunk.

Last night, however, I decided I didn’t want to feel shitty anymore. I decided that the next day — today — I was going to take some action. And you know what? It worked. I feel much better today, yet the only thing different is that I DECIDED to feel different. I had been sitting around waiting for things to just magically get better on their own, when the power to change things lay within me all along.

Which brings me to the point of today’s post. What I realized last night and this morning is that I’ve been doing the exact same thing with my eating disorder/anxiety/depression as I did with my latest funk — waiting around for things to magically get better on their own. Now, clearly I do not want to have an eating disorder. Clearly I do not want to feel anxious. And I certainly do not want to feel depressed. But wanting something doesn’t make it so. That requires action. And that’s what I’ve been sorely missing. I’ve been waiting around for my fears to diminish. I’ve been sitting here, thinking that one of these days I’ll wake up and all of a sudden eating will be easy, and I won’t encounter any anxiety and I’ll just be happy and chirpy and feel fucking fantastic. Well, NEWSFLASH Jennifer: NOT GONNA HAPPEN.

Recovering from an eating disorder is fucking hard. Getting to the point where anxiety doesn’t cripple you is hard. Overcoming depression is hard. Y’all, what I’m trying to say is, THIS SHIT IS HARD. There’s simply no way around it. Doing the things that will be required of me to live a more healthy, balanced life is going to be the most difficult thing I will ever do. It’s going to provoke anxiety. It’s going to make me feel really crappy at times. But that’s okay. I know now that to get to the other side of this journey, I have to go THROUGH all that stuff. I can’t just hop on a magic carpet and bypass the tough stuff. But I’m okay with that, because at least now I’m in control. I’d rather be driving through a rainstorm with my hands on the wheel than careening around a lovely meadow in a car without a driver. So while my goal before today was to avoid anxiety at all costs, my goal now is to walk through the anxiety at all costs. Not to shy away, or wait until tomorrow, or use one of my million excuses. I’m going to go on record right now and say there ARE no more excuses. I’m done with that. I’m ready to face the music. I know I’m about to embark on the most difficult journey in my life, but I’m ready. I know it’s going to be hard, and I’m ready for that too. I’m tired of waiting on the sidelines. I want to play in the game. I may get banged up and bruised, but you know what? I’m not afraid. Because I know what’s waiting for me at the finish line, and it’s a hell of a lot better than what’s lurking in the bleachers.

Drifting Without an Anchor

I’ve been feeling rather aimless lately. Largely because my apartment lease ran out at the end of June and I still haven’t found a new place to live. I suppose I should be grateful that I have family that doesn’t mind me staying with them  until I find something, but because my family lives in another state from where I’d been living, I feel like my life is essentially on hold. I don’t have any roots in this state. No real friends to speak of, no job, nothing. Granted, I hadn’t firmly planted roots in the other state either, but I at least felt like I was beginning to. As it stands now, I’m not really sure what to do. Just wait? In case you haven’t picked up on it in my other posts, I’m not exactly good at waiting. Patience is not one of my strong suits. I like to move. I like to know where I’m going. So just about everything about my current situation is uncomfortable.

As all of this was running through my head this morning, I began to draw a connection between my current living situation and the stage I’m in of recovery: Not exactly ‘sick,’ but not exactly ‘recovered’ either. I suppose people call this stage ‘in recovery,’ but to me, ‘no man’s land’ seems like a better term. Without a foot firmly planted in either place, a person begins to feel like they’re floating around, with nothing concrete to hold on to. In a lot of ways, recovering from an eating disorder, or any kind of addiction, is very much a leap of faith. You decide the old ways are no longer working, so you let go of that raft and jump across the abyss to another one that you can’t exactly see yet, but you’re pretty sure it’s there. Somewhere…

Until you find it, though, hidden somewhere in that scary darkness, you’re left treading water in what can seem like shark-infested waters. You don’t have your old weapons to fight the sharks with, but you don’t really have any new ones to hold on to either. Or if you do, you haven’t really mastered how to wield them effectively yet.

Anyway, I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with this wandering, prolonged analogy, but it just kind of tumbled out of me as I started to type so I’m going to roll with it. If anything, perhaps this post’s aimlessness will help convey my current state of mind more clearly than my limited vocabulary.

If not, here’s a poem I wrote back on New Year’s Eve of 2010. Maybe it will do the trick.

Darkness presses in

I find it hard to see.

I watch those around me,

but no one ever watches me.

I look for an escape route

but all looks just the same

How to flee these feelings?

How to stop the pain?

I want to curl up in a ball,

pass winter with the bears,

numb the empty heartache,

cut out all my fears.

But the knife I had is gone —

I’ve tossed it in the trash.

Searching for a new way

to cope with living’s wrath.

It’s hard without my feather —

my wicked magic wand

that curious little spell I cast

on its way to being gone.

Now I’m left with a blank canvas–

a virgin page to fill

Looking at it’s blinding

I’m afraid I never will…

 

(To be continued….?)

 

Cleaning Out the Toolbox

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I have a tendency to get anxious.

A LOT.

For NO REASON WHATSOEVER.

And I know I’m not alone.

I hesitate to speak for everyone, because it seems there’s always an exception to the rule, but I would venture so far as to say that we ALL get stressed out from time to time. We get anxious, unsettled and uncomfortable. And unless we’re masochists, we HATE it. As soon as those feelings creep into our awareness, we do whatever we can to get rid of them. QUICKLY.

Some of us zone out in front of the TV or computer, others of us exercise. Some of us eat, others of us don’t. Some of us curl up in a ball and go to sleep, others of us work until we drop. Suffice it to say, our coping mechanisms run the gamut. (If you’re sitting here reading this wondering what the heck I’m talking about, then you’re coping mechanism is probably denial ;)). Some of our coping mechanisms are quite effective, while some of them actually end up causing MORE problems than the very problems we use them to escape.

I was thinking about this earlier today as I puzzled (for the gazillionth time in my life) over why, after twenty plus years, I continue to hold on to the destructive habit of rigidly controlling my food intake despite being perfectly aware of how very destructive it is. For some reason, despite years of treatment, therapy and oodles and oodles of facts and statistics, I continue to engage in behavior that is not at all conducive to the kind of life I want to live.

WHY? What the fuck kind of sense does that make?

On the surface: none. None at all.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you begin to see it makes perfect sense. Since I was twelve years old, I’ve used food and exercise to manage difficult emotions. In the beginning, it worked magnificently. As time went on, it lost its oomph. But by the time I realized what I was doing and how harmful it was, it was too late. It was habit. Try doing something for twenty years, all the while telling yourself how great it is and how awesome it makes you feel, and then suddenly stopping. Yeah. Not so easy. Even if you don’t have personal experience with an eating disorder, you likely can relate on some level. Just look at how many people in the world struggle with obesity and you begin to see what I mean.

So here I am, thirty something years old, and basically the only tools I have in my toolbox to deal with anxiety are food and exercise.

Until I take them out.

You see, I actually have been acquiring some other tools over the years to deal with difficult emotions. They don’t come as easily, and they’re not quite as effective, but they’re a heck of a lot better for me. I have mindfulness, communication, medication… I don’t HAVE to hold on to the dangerous tools I’ve been grasping for so long.

Yeah, I know. It seems terribly obvious and perhaps I should have had this realization much sooner, but when it occurred to me this morning, it hit me with astounding clarity. I was wondering why I continued to reach for the eating disorder when anxiety struck, when what I should have been wondering was why I still kept the eating disorder in the toolbox in the first place. It’s like sticking a kid in a room full of healthy food and telling them not to eat the box of cookies in the middle. Not gonna work. But take the cookies out, and that other food starts to look pretty tasty.

It will take a while to make these new tools as strong as my old ones were in the beginning, but I have a feeling they’ll be much more durable and effective. Besides, who doesn’t like new things? I can’t wait to try them out!

What tools in your toolbox are you neglecting? Which ones could stand to be tossed out? Join me today in a little late spring cleaning 🙂

When Doing Nothing is Something

I’m a do-er.

Or in Fraggle Rock lingo, a doozer.

Down at Fraggle Rock

Down at Fraggle Rock.

Remember them? Those guys were always busy. Working, moving around,  building things. I never really knew what they were building, or if the work they were doing had any real purpose, but man could they go to town.

In fact, if my sources are correct, these little green guys purposely built their structures out of something the Fraggles liked to eat, basically ensuring that they would never be without work. So their work really had no purpose other than to provide them with a constant stream of something to do.

Sadly, that sounds a lot like me. And I’d venture to say I’m not alone.

We live in a doing world where our actions define us. Think about it. What’s one of the first questions you’re asked when you first meet someone?

“What do you do?”

Not “what do you enjoy?”, “what are your hobbies?”, or even just a friendly “tell me about yourself.” Nope. It’s always “Hello. Nice to meet you. What do you do? 

This question is especially hard for me to answer right now since from the outside I don’t appear to be doing anything. I guess I could say I do a bit of freelance writing, which I do, but essentially I’m unemployed. I have tentative plans to go back to school for a masters degree next fall, but right now? Nada.

Except that’s not really true either. For all intents and purposes it may look that way, but if you could see the work I have to do every day just to stay sane and continually moving toward this thing I call “recovery,” you would think differently. I may not be employed as a doctor, lawyer or teacher, but I’m working my butt off, doing the most important job I’ll ever do, and that’s reclaiming my life, my health and my sanity. I guess you could say I’m taking a sabbatical to focus on ME. Something I’ve avoided for the better part of my life.

Except how do you explain that to someone you’ve just met?

I do wish it didn’t seem so important to people, but it’s only natural when we’re indoctrinated from a young age to believe that what we do is who we are, when really who we are should define what we do. And personally, I’d like to answer that question of who I am before I go off blindly doing other things.

I was thinking about this a couple of days ago after a conversation I had with my therapist. She works a lot with me on mindfulness, and that particular day she asked how I would feel about practicing some techniques to help me bring my anxiety level down. Basically this consisted of sitting still, scanning my body for sensations, and paying attention to my breath. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s not doing anything. When it comes to me and my recovery, I have a tendency to want to get down to work and really get my hands dirty. Let’s tear this sucker out by the roots and be done with it, you know? And yet this lady wants me to sit quietly and notice how I’m feeling? What kind of bullshit is that? Let’s get to work!

In this case, though, what seemed like doing nothing was in fact just what I needed. When I get anxious and wound up, the last thing I need is to rev myself up even more by being in constant motion. I need to slow down, take a breath, and BE. It sounds simple, but when you’re in panic mode, it can be the hardest thing on earth.

I had a chance to try it out the other day on my own when I was facing some unwanted thoughts. They wanted me to do one thing, but the real me wanted to do something else. So I stopped. And I didn’t DO anything. I just stood there, feeling whatever there was to be felt, and let it be. And you know what? It worked.

Sometimes doing nothing really is the greatest accomplishment of all.

 

 

It’s Not a Problem Part II: This time with Science!

I’ve become somewhat obsessed with TED talks lately, and after writing my last post I realized I had listened to one not too long ago that proves just how powerful the way we think about things can be.

In this particular talk, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal discusses her discovery that how you feel about stress in your life makes a big difference in whether or not that stress is bad for you. If you’re like me, you probably learned from a young age how harmful stress is to your health — that it can lead to heart attacks, immune deficiency, high blood pressure, etc.  Just google “stress health impacts” and you’ll see what I mean. McGonigal actually spent much of her career spreading those same messages, only to find out recently that they were perhaps a bit misguided. To come to this conclusion, she relied on studies like the one conducted by researchers at the University of Madison-Wisconsin, in which roughly 30,000 people were asked to rate their stress level over the past year as well as to indicate whether they believed stress affected their health minimally, moderately, or a lot. The researchers then followed these people over a period of eight years and used death records to note the passing of any of the participants. Perhaps not surprisingly, people who reported high levels of stress and who believed that stress impacted their health a great deal were 43 percent more likely to have died. However, people who reported high levels of stress but who believed that stress only affected their health minimally were the least likely to die. Even less so than people reporting low levels of stress.

It turns out stress can actually be good for you if, well, if you don’t stress out about it!

I highly recommend watching or listening to the talk in its entirety for all the details. And if you get as hooked on TED as I am, be sure to check out the handy TED talks app and the TED radio hour podcast on NPR.

And lest this sound too much like a commercial, know that I am in no way affiliated with TED, NPR or Kelly McGonigal — just a fan. However, if you have connections, don’t be afraid to give them my name.