First Love

Here’s another poem I wrote along the lines of the one I wrote yesterday. It’s a little depressing, but then, eating disorders are depressing. No point in glossing over that or pretending my past didn’t happen. As depressing as parts of it have been, it’s also made me who I am, and for that I’m grateful. Which I guess is all to say, don’t feel sorry for me — Ed may have been my first love (now Ex-love), but he certainly won’t be my last.

First Love

My pen hovers aimlessly over the page

College ruled, like we used in

high school, a time for first loves and

first kisses.

The empty page stares back at me,

taunting.

“Don’t you have anything worth writing about?”

I hear

laughter, glasses clinking, joints passed around

at parties I missed.

More important things to do

I thought

Didn’t like those people anyway

with their Abercrombie jeans and Victoria Secret panties

ripped off in the heat of the moment

or at least that’s how it is on TV.

I wouldn’t know,

I missed that too.

Too much going on, Too much to take care of, Too much

Too much,

Too much.

Empty Life

I’m taking a poetry class right now, and I’m finding I don’t have many powerful events from my life to write about. Sadly, much of my life has been consumed by an eating disorder, which I guess is a powerful event all its own. Understandably, much of my poetry focuses on it, the feelings its brought up, and its effect on me and my life. Here is one of those poems.

The Dance

Music blares from the unseen speakers,

Some artist I don’t know

Screaming words I can’t understand.

I have a feeling I’ve been here before

In a dream, perhaps

naked

Like I feel now

eyes piercing my sallow skin

stares I read like Tarot cards.

The track stops. Conversations don’t.

The speakers slow

to realize there’s no need to shout.

Secrets no longer secret

Camouflage destroyed.

Someone starts it up again

but too late.

The damage is done.

They know

They all know.

Ed asks me to dance

and I gladly oblige.

The Folly of “Awareness Weeks”

It’s that time of year again — Eating Disorder Awareness Week begins today and runs through this coming Saturday. The theme this year is again “I had no idea,” alluding to the fact that so many people know so little about eating disorders and the truth behind them.

While this is true, and I would absolutely LOVE it if everyone truly understood what eating disorders were like and what they were caused by, I’m not sure that’s a reasonable goal. Should more people be aware of the signs of eating disorders so they can be caught sooner before progressing to chronicity? Of course. Should children be taught better coping skills so they don’t feel the NEED to begin habits that will lead to something like an eating disorder? Most definitely. But is an awareness week really going to accomplish any of that? I doubt it. Sure, a few more people will come away with a better understanding, but from what I can tell, most of the publicity spread during this week concerns body image and the portrayal of thinness in the media. Both of which are important topics, but they don’t have a whole lot to do with the nitty gritty facts about eating disorders. The only benefit I can see to something like an eating disorder awareness week is that it might put these horrible illnesses higher up on the public’s radar and eventually lead to more funding for research into more effective treatments, as well as better funding so sufferers can actually AFFORD those treatments. Other than that, I think it’s pretty pointless and might actually spread more MIS-information than clear up any confusion.

So what do I propose?

Well, here’s a novel idea. How about we all just accept that not everyone has to completely understand everything? It’s simply not reasonable to expect everyone to understand every single mental or physical illness that could befall someone. I, for one, don’t fully understand what it’s like to have breast cancer. I know it must be horrible and scary, but I’ve never been through it, so I don’t really know what it’s like. I also don’t fully comprehend why someone would want to cut themselves or otherwise self-harm. I kind of get the reasoning behind it, but I still can’t imagine doing it or even wanting to. I also don’t really get what it means to have bi-polar disorder. I’ve seen movies and read things, but I still don’t really get it. But just because I don’t fully understand these things doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re important issues that deserve our attention. I also don’t think any one of them is more deserving of our attention than others.

So what DO I think?

I think people should respect people simply because they’re people. I think we should care for one another simply because we’re human, and I think there shouldn’t be an hierarchy of illnesses where some are regarded as more important, more devastating or more worthy of our time, attention and money. We’re all on this earth together; each of us are fighting our own tough battles; and the least we can do is support one another along the way. It’s not awareness we need. It’s love and acceptance.

So this year I won’t be posting daily about eating disorders. Instead I’m going to try and post something along the lines of love and acceptance. Stories, examples and inspiration for how to encourage those qualities in your own life. Today, I’m going to start with myself and build on the big step forward I made yesterday in my eating disorder recovery. I hope you’ll do some loving and accepting today of your own. If you do, please let me know about it in the comments!

R E S P E C T (just a little bit)

Part of the reason I started this blog was to help people understand what it’s like to live with something like an eating disorder. (Or anxiety, or depression, or any other type of mental illness.) There is so much misunderstanding out there about mental illness that I hoped to serve as a beacon of light in the overwhelming darkness. Somehow I thought my words could help paint a clearer picture of what we, the survivors of mental illness, face on a daily basis. Hopefully, I’ve done that to some degree, but I’m also beginning to see that perhaps understanding is too much to expect. I mean, heck — even I, someone who has struggled with anxiety, depression and anorexia for a good chunk of her life, don’t fully understand the issue. So how can I expect people with no experience whatsoever to “get it” just after reading a few blog posts? It’s simply not realistic. It may not even be possible.

But you know what? That’s okay. They don’t have to understand. YOU don’t have to understand. I’m okay with that.

What I’m NOT okay with is people making broad generalizations or assumptions about a whole community of people simply because they don’t understand. It happens every day. And not just with mental illness, but with all sorts of differences, from skin color to religion, to political affiliation. You know what I’m talking about — people with depression need to “cheer up.” People with eating disorders are vain, selfish and should “just eat.” Muslims are extremists and not to be trusted.

ALL LIES.

But that’s what people do when they don’t understand. Not content to just accept that they don’t understand, they seek to explain things in the only way they know how, in a way that makes sense to them. Or they decide that if they can’t understand it, something is obviously messed up about it.

ALSO A LIE.

You get where I’m going with this. I guess what I’m trying to say is, perhaps my goal to help everyone understand was a little misguided, and admittedly borne from a place deep inside ME that yearns to be understood. But the older I get and the more I try to explain my issues to people, the more I’m beginning to see that not everyone will understand. And that’s okay. Even those of us struggling with the same issues don’t experience those issues in exactly the same way. My experience with anorexia is not the same as everyone else’s. That’s okay too. Have I fully understood the issues of everyone I’ve encountered on my recovery journey? No way. And I actually tried. But that’s also okay. People do not have to understand everyone else’s experience. My journey does not have to make sense to you.

But what we DO need to understand, is that a lack of understanding does not warrant a lack of respect. We can respect one another without understanding one another.

I may not be able to wrap my head around why my best friend cuts herself when she’s hurting inside. I may even think it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. But I can still love her, and support her, and respect her.

You may not understand why a loved one who is obviously underweight has such a hard time eating a decent meal — it may seem like the craziest thing in the world to you — but you can give her a hug, tell her you care and respect her.

Because the truth is, EVERYONE deserves respect. I don’t care who they are or what they’ve done, they are a HUMAN BEING with feelings and a beating heart. You don’t know what kind of life they’ve had, or what factors have shaped them into the person you see, or what inner demons they’re battling. We all have a hard enough road to travel without encountering disrespect from our fellow travelers along the way.

Why not help one another along?

 

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.

Hope is a Thing With Feathers

Hope is the thing with feathers  
That perches in the soul,  
And sings the tune without the words,  
And never stops at all,  
   
And sweetest in the gale is heard;          
And sore must be the storm  
That could abash the little bird  
That kept so many warm.  
   
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,  
And on the strangest sea;         
Yet, never, in extremity,  
It asked a crumb of me.

-- Emily Dickinson
Hope is a powerful thing. As Emily Dickinson tells it, hope lifts us up. It is sweet and everlasting; it keeps us warm in the harshest elements, and yet it asks nothing in return.

Sometimes, though,  storms fly through our lives and snatch hope away for a bit. Such has been the case with me in the last month or so. Although the medications I’ve started taking have helped diminish  my anxiety to some degree, I still haven’t been making much progress with the food related aspects of my issues, and that was discouraging.

Luckily, after meeting with a nutritionist yesterday, hope flew back and lit inside my soul. I feel lighter now and much more positive. While I’ve never lost that tiny flame deep inside that tells me I WILL recover from this illness one day, it had dimmed considerably as of late. But now it’s back, burning brightly with the belief that I am on the right track.

Looking back now, I realize that my lack of hope was strongly tied to my lack of goals. Whereas before I had nothing concrete to work toward, now I do. I had the desire to improve my eating habits, but I didn’t have a plan. Desire is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not enough. I also probably know as much as my nutritionist does about food and diet. I know exactly how many calories it takes to equal a pound, and although I haven’t counted calories in years, I could rattle off a list of nutritional information by memory (what a waste of brain space, right? :p). Yet all of this information does me no good if I don’t have a strategy to apply it. You’d think if you added knowledge and a sprinkling of desire, the magic would happen — but no, you have to have actionable goals.

Of course, I learned all this in treatment. There’s even an acronym for it: SMART. Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related. But as we’ve just learned, knowledge is not enough. I know all about goals, sure, but I wasn’t making any! Or I was, but “gain weight” isn’t exactly specific…  So yesterday, I met with a nutritionist who helped me set some “smart” goals, and I walked out with the unexpected side effect of hope!

I’m not a mathematician, but I’m pretty sure these were the missing ingredients in my equation. Desire and knowledge may not be enough to bring about recovery, but add a bit of hope and some goals, and voila!:  Magic. 🙂

 

hope and goals are the magic ingredients

 

 

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….?)