It is all worthwhile.

The Cage Called Anxiety

Let’s talk about the prison that is anxiety.

I have spent the bulk of my life in a cage of my own creation – a safe and small space – a barrier between myself and a world that is too vast and terrifying. A world where I am not in control. The cage grew smaller and smaller with each passing year – less light shining through, less room to move. Everything was so unsafe. I couldn’t cope – so I isolated myself more and more.

We all have areas in which we feel most comfortable – some larger than others. No two comfort zones are the same – but there is one element to them that is universal.

The inability to step outside of your comfort zone reduces (and sometimes even completely eliminates) your ability to grow. Life is growth – each day you are a different person than you were the day before. If you are not growing, you’re dying.

My cage of comfort is monotonous, isolated, and unfulfilling – but it is safe.

Still, can you call that living?

When I was eighteen, I decided I was going to not only poke an arm or a leg through the bars of my cage – inching out into the real and scary world.

I was going to going to light it up with dynamite.

I decided that I was going to be a new person – a person that was everything but myself. I moved over 1,000 miles away, I lived in a dorm room with two other girls, I joined a sorority, I majored in science.

And then I promptly fell apart.

It was unsafe.

**I can only write from my own personal experience – and that is one where the world has always terrified and overwhelmed me to the point that I can’t breathe. My fight or flight response is always in high-gear, and I bet you can guess which of the two is my go-to.

Since my panic and anxiety disorders date back to my very early childhood, I can’t speak for anyone who is neural-typical, one who doesn’t struggle with anxiety. One of my biggest fears around writing about the topic of mental illness/mental health is that of sounding like the dreaded “special-snowflake.” I don’t know how anyone’s brain works but my own – however, I do know that, no-matter what, every single one of us struggles in some way.**

Okay, back to comfort-zones, anxiety, and other fun topics.

When you are dealing with severe anxiety – regardless of the type – the wall that you put up to protect yourself from anything and everything that makes you feel even slightly uncomfortable tends to be thicker than that of others. It’s not just a matter of “Oh, X makes me nervous,” but instead it is that of complete, paralyzing, and all-consuming terror – terror that is, more-often-than-not, disproportional to the situation.

Some fun and not at all embarrassing examples from my own life include:

  1. While in CVS, I accidentally bump into a woman as she is turning around. She snaps at me, “Are you an idiot?” (to this day, not sure how bumping into someone is related to intelligence.. but hey). I apologize, with a very embarrassing amount of tears already filling my eyes, and then promptly begin shaking so violently that I need to sit down… in the office supplies aisle of a CVS on Lexington Avenue. I cry, curled up in a ball, on the floor, while my brain yells as me. You’re an idiot. That woman thinks you’re a rude, bratty kid now. That woman hates you and you will never be able to maker her not hate you. You should die. …That escalated quickly.

I then, still shaking, pick myself up and, buy a mini-stapler. That CVS is now unsafe. I will never enter it again.

2. I dropped my phone – the screen cracked. Now everyone will think that you’re irresponsible! Why are you crying right now? It’s a stupid phone. You are a disgusting child. You should probably die. 

3. *While conversing with anyone ever* “Hello,” says the person. How do I respond? What do I say? No, that’s wrong. No no no no no. They probably hate you anyway. Crap, they just introduced themselves and you already forgot their name? You’ve just been staring at them for at least ten seconds now. Why are you so awkward? No, you can’t answer yet, you’ll say the wrong thing. You should probably die.  

4. You left your phone off of airplane mode while you were sleeping last night – you’re going to get brain cancer now. There’s nothing you can do about it. You have destroyed your entire life. Your head hurts. No, now your chest hurts. Heart-attack? Probably. You’re going to randomly drop dead at any moment. You need to prepare yourself. How do you prepare? Oh my God, I’m going to die. Wow, I’m being crazy. Everything is so scary. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Stay home, it’s safe here. Wait, how does staying in your house prevent a heart attack. Ssssshhhh. Just go with it. Oh, you probably shouldn’t try to talk to anyone either because you’re awkward and they hate you. Wait, how did I get from leaving my phone on to here? 

5. This is my personal favorite -*Cannot find specific spoon* There are many spoons that look just like this spoon, but this spoon has a tiny scrape on it and if I use any other spoon, I’m going to die.

Obviously, I can find a lot of humor in my anxiety – I know that I’m being ridiculous, I’m aware – but that doesn’t make it any better.

The thing about any form of mental illness, or any other form of disorder, is that they’re well…  disorder. Your brain doesn’t function the way that it’s supposed to. You can’t cope the way that you are supposed to. You are in sensory overload all the time. And you (or maybe I should say I… Don’t want to speak for ya) want so badly to be understood, to be comforted.. But how can a healthy brain even begin to understand thoughts that are not inherently natural to have? It’s no one’s fault that they can’t understand, and it is unfair to treat anyone as such.. Still, I do believe that is our duty as humans to at least attempt to understand others – no matter how “crazy” you feel they are.

Here’s the thing… there are many times where I feel like if I go to class, or a certain store, or talk to someone, I will die. This may sound ridiculous to you, and you would be right. But that doesn’t change the very real emotions that I am experiencing.

Any and every true feeling that a person experiences is valid – it is not up to anyone else to deem whether or not the feeling is warranted.

Even if the thoughts aren’t true – the all-consuming terror that they create it. Remember that.

You know when you’re watching a scary movie and you know that something bad is about to happen? You feel your heart skip a little, maybe you clench your fist or your jaws, your senses are heightened.

Imagine feeling that all the time.

When it comes to mental illness, both the sufferers and the allies have responsibilities, this is important to remember. Those who do not struggle but wish to be allies are responsible for attempting to understand, to not pass judgement, to comfort.

What they are not responsible for, however, is pandering.

This is where the responsibilities of those struggling come in. The world is unsafe, trust me, I get how terrifying it is – I pretty much live in isolation because it’s all too much.. But I’m working on it.

The world is not responsible for bending itself to fit what makes us comfortable. The real world is filled with triggers, and it is our responsibility to learn to navigate these triggers. Now, this isn’t to say that you just need to “suck it up”.. not at all. The goal is to learn to handle things… slowly. The fight and to try, but also to be kind to ourselves and to know our limits. It’s easy to just completely turn in on yourself and lock yourself up in a glass castle all by yourself where you can be in total control, you can be “safe.”

But that’s not living.

It’s also easy to guilt yourself. To listen to the voice in your head that is tell you that you’re just making excuses for yourself, that you don’t actually have an issue and are just making this up because you’re a lazy loser and poor excuse for a person, that you are making this up to get attention (you say to yourself as you are alone, curled up in a ball, hysterical, on the floor of your dorm room because going to class is too scary). This can lead to some bad situations, damaging ones where you push yourself to the point where you are more than uncomfortable. You are unsafe – not physically, but mentally.

Me moving to Florida in a desperate attempt to “cure” myself (aka, escape being me) was more than uncomfortable. It was unsafe. It’s like jumping into a burning hot bath without first inching yourself in bit by bit so that you can get used to it and not scald yourself… It doesn’t end well. I wound up having severe panic attacks every single night. I relapsed into my eating disorder.

As with most of the things that I write here, I’m not really sure what the point is that I’m trying to get across. I just think that it’s important for those who don’t deal with these things to hear about them, even if that means sharing the very shameful contents of my mind when I’m having an episode. These things are real and we need to try and understand each other. People aren’t meant to be alone, we are social creatures – and dealing with a mental illness, especially ones where you isolate yourself (which often leads to pushing away your loved ones or often flaking on plans with friends until they no longer talk to you) can make a person feel more alone than they ever thought possible.. and os they continue to spiral downward. It is also important for us, the people who deal with mental illness, to meet our loved ones half-way, to push ourselves, to want to recover. To communicate how we feel, what’s going on, what your limits currently are.

Maybe if we all help each other, everything will be a little less scary.

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Bumps Along The Way

*small note before reading - I don't know if
 any of this post is coherent in any way, 
shape,or form... so I apologize in advanced. 
Well... Now that I've totally talked this 
thing up, let's get readin'!

 

A year ago today I did something that was, arguably, the more terrifying thing I have ever done.

A year ago I hit publish on my post Disappearing Act where I opened up about my eating disorder. The opening up wasn’t the scary part – I tend to have a bad habit of sharing way too much via the internet. No, the terrifying part was that, for the first time, I hit the “share” option that allowed the post to be seen by people that I knew in real life. Upon hitting the publish button, it felt like I was forever changing the way every person who has ever met me sees me. All of this being said, publishing that post is one of the best decisions I have made. The intention behind the post was to not go on and on about my insignificant self (which I have been doing for almost 150 words not…yikes), but to let those suffering know that they are not alone, and to educate those who don’t understand eating disorders in a way that would allow them to view these very real diseases in a more understanding and compassionate way.

So here we are a year later. What’s changed?

I can’t say that I remember what I covered in “Disappearing Act” (I kind of just typed it and hit publish without re-reading it, i.e. talking myself out of posting it), so I’m not sure where I left it or how much I shared about one of the most universal occurrences in recovery.

Relapse.

The road to recovery, regardless of what from, is not a straight path. You don’t just decide to recover and that’s that. No. Mental illness is mental illness, just as an addict is an addict – just because you are no longer practicing harmful behaviors does not mean that you are no longer sick. No.

Something that they don’t tell you about recovery is that it is an ongoing fight. You can be weight-restored (if being underweight was a symptom of your illness… remember, weight does not an eating disorder make, weight is merely one of the many symptoms of eating disorders) for years and still fighting at every single meal – every bite, every calorie.

I know it sounds overdramatic, and there are exceptions to this rule – but by going off of my own person experience and the experiences of others I know, but it’s true.

And relapse doesn’t always present in the same way. Just because I’m not eating X amount of calories every day like I used to does not negate slipping backwards. One may no longer restrict as low, yet their intake of food starts to slowly get smaller and smaller. “I’m fine,” they can say. “Remember how bad I used to be? This is nothing. Everything is fine.”

And sometimes we really and truly believe that.

Have you ever heard of the concept of the “transfer of addictions”? You stop restricting your calories as low, but begin to spend hours upon hours in the gym. “I want muscle now!” You’ll explain. “I’m healthy and fit. I’m lean not sick.” You’ll say as you weigh out every gram of food you  eat as you need to track your macros.

That is not recovery. More often than not, a person will begin to recovery – really try – and then jump ship. They won’t know they jumped ship though, and most of the people in their life won’t either. There are so many cases of a person recovering anorectic developing a binge eating disorder – which is, by the way, a completely valid and dangerous eating disorder. It can take such a long time to notice these new unhealthy behaviors – you need to gain weight, you need to eat a ton of calories. This is fine.

This is just one of many examples of invisible relapses.

One of the scariest parts about relapsing (or never  really fully committing to recovery – just convincing yourself that you are) is how much it feels like failure. Recovery is a very scary place to be – you are fighting so hard, but the fight is in your own head. The people around you say that you’re doing so well. You’re healthy now. You’re so much more fun than when you had your eating disorder.

All of this is being said while you scream in your head BUT I’M NOT OKAY! PLEASE HELP ME! – You never say this out loud of course. You smile. Everything is okay now. Pretend everything is okay. These people are counting on me. I can’t let them down.

I can’t be a failure. Not again.

I don’t know if there is ever a time that a person is more fragile than when they are in recovery. Being in recovery is like slowly thawing after being frozen for such a long time – it takes a long time to thaw, but it doesn’t take much to crack the ice and have it all fall apart far before you are ready.

Okay, that analogy sounded way better in my head… What I’m getting at is that a person in recovery is essentially made of very thin glass – the smallest touch, even an accidental one, can cause the whole thing to crash down.

Only this time you ‘don’t look sick anymore’ you’re ‘recovered.’ I find that the relapse, or even just the minor bumps in the road to recovery are far more difficult to handle than the full-blown anorexia was. As deadly as anorexia is – it actually develops as a way to keep yourself safe. You get to live in your own little bubble of self-destruction. You think about nothing outside of your disease, you feel nothing outside of your disease. It is a comfort of misery. Hey, I’m falling apart – but at least I’m too numb to really care.

Now I’m not numb anymore. I’m in sensory overload. My exoskeleton has been ripped off, exposing the rawness underneath. Every little touch hurts – you feel everything. The entire world becomes a trigger. It’s too much. I’m scared. I can’t handle this.

So you turn back to what you know – your safety. You romanticize being at your sickest in the most twisted way – you know it was horrible.. But you also miss it.

Now you are in limbo, not quite recovered, not quite relapsed. This is where I am right now, and to be perfectly frank, it sucks. It’s all too much and I hate myself and I’m scared of everything and I can’t look in mirrors and I don’t want to go outside – I also can’t return to the way that I used to be. I know better than that. I don’t want to die and I know that, with an eating disorder, you either recover or you die. Yes that sounds morbid and dramatic, but it is the complete truth. Always remember that when you feel yourself slipping – regardless of what it is that you are recovering from.

Wow.. I don’t even know what this post is really about. I wanted it to be about relapse in recovery and how falling backwards  does not make you a failure.

Recovery is a lot like the myth of Sisyphus*. You have this impossibly large burden to carry with you (your illness), it doesn’t just go away, you keep it with  you and fight every day to keep pushing forward – to fight the distorted thoughts from the sick mind – you push and push and push until you get to the pinnacle – recovery.

And then the boulder rolls right back down the hill.

But you try again. You let yourself fall with it a bit. You’re so tired and you have been fighting for so long. You tumble down. You relapse. You feel like a failure – too sick to exist but not sick enough to get help.

Well here’s the thing – if you’re reading this right now, it means that you’re still here. You have hoisted that burden back up onto your shoulder and have started up the mountain again.

This is recovery – this is strength.

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*If you don’t know the story of Sisyphus, in a nutshell – basically he betrayed the god Zeus. Now, if you know anything about mythology, Zeus has a sick sense of humor. You don’t want to mess with him because he will destroy you. Sisyphus disclosed on of Zeus’ secrets, and for that he was condemned to push a massive boulder up a hill – once he reached the top, the boulder would roll back down the hill, hitting Sisyphus on the way down – over and over again for all of eternity.

 

When You Feel Like You Are Sinking…

One of the biggest lies that childhood cartoons (that’s right, I’m looking at you Looney Toons) taught me was that at some point in my life, I would encounter quicksand.21 years later and the closest that I’ve gotten to quicksand was seeing it in that sub-par Indiana Jones movie with Orlando Bloom. 

Still, though I’ve never found myself slowly sinking into quicksand while walking the streets of New York – I feel myself sinking. We can call it mental/emotional quicksand. It feels like everyone is moving forward in life while I am stuck in place.

And the more I try to fight it, the deeper I sink.

Excuse me for the melodrama. 

The thing with writing the blog is that it feels incredibly egocentric. Why would anyone care to take the time out of there day to read about my feelings? There is no good reason – and I do not expect any person out there to take any particular interest in my life. The thing is, sharing the inner workings of my mind is not exactly my favorite thing – it is terrifying and feels shameful. But with that comes the thought that if, by talking about all of the craziness that goes on inside this head of mine – if one person can see something and resonate with it. If one person can feel that they’re not alone in thinking or feeling the way they do… That is all I want. And the best way I know to do that is by putting it all out there, warts and all, and hoping someone who needs it sees it.

Okay. Back to the whole quicksand thing.

I’m not that self-centered as to think that I am the only person who feels as if they are falling backwards in life while those around them are moving forwards. Tell one person that you are essentially having an existential crisis and they are likely to tell you, “No one knows what they are doing in their 20’s (or teens, or even 30’s these days). You’re not supposed to.”

Then why does it feel like everyone has a grasp on what they are doing but me? Why is it that while I see people getting into medical school, landing careers, getting their first apartments, etc. that I, seemingly, can’t even make a simple phone call to schedule a doctor’s appointment for myself without my voice shaking to the point of it almost being unintelligible from anxiety? Why is it that I am overwhelmed to the point of complete and utter collapse over my college coursework when there are people who work full-time, or even part-time and take more classes than me? Why is it that other people who suffer with anxiety can hold a job while I can’t work a simple part-time job without having a panic attack in the middle of my shift and having to quit in complete and utter shame (mind you, this was a job I honestly really enjoyed). 

I know, I know. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I get that… But this goes beyond just falling into the comparison trap.

This is about disappearing for a little while.. Losing time… Thawing. Waking back up.

I often have trouble accepting the age that I am. Not because I think that 21 is particularly old, but because, to me, being 21 makes no sense to me. A majority of my life beginning in my sophomore year of high school (when that eating disorder I mentioned in a way-too-much-oversharing post earlier this year first got bad) through my senior year of high school.. i.e. the bulk of my teenage years.

It’s hard to explain this feeling to someone who hasn’t experienced it, but I know that there are many out there who have. One of the best descriptives of this feeling (phenomena?) that I have heard was said by author and musician Mishka Shubaly and my favorite podcast, The Rich Roll Podcast. Both the host of the show, Rich Roll (super inspirational and aspirational ex-lawyer and author of Finding Ultra) and Mishka are both recovering alcoholics and, in this episode, they were having a conversation about addiction. Here, Mishka (a man in his 40s I believe) was talking about how he felt like he was the age he was when his alcoholism first took hold of him. It was as if he had been asleep for a long time and was just waking up and needed to experience life starting at the age where he was last truly alive. 

Now, to the skeptical mind, this may sound like a simple excuse to get out of growing up, accepting responsibilities, etc. Honestly, when applied to myself, I feel it to be an excuse. I often question whether I actually have an anxiety disorder or an eating disorder or PTSD (this diagnosis is the one I doubt the most), or if I’m just trying to get out of doing things that I don’t want to do. Logically, I know this to be false. I’m not the kind of person who lacks drive and motivation. At least… I think I’m not. 

For so long, I feel that I have been asleep. Frozen. That any and everything that made up “Erin” was shoved into some box in the back of my subconscious while mental illness came to the front and took over. For so long, my identity has been “anorexia” or “anxiety” or “depression.” They became who I was. All I was. I didn’t (and still sometimes don’t) want to let them go and heal because I don’t know what I am without them. 

I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what I’m like. I don’t know what I like. 

I know being afraid of people. I know being afraid of food. I know feeling empty. I know being obsessive about exercise. I know being somewhat reclusive. 

Think of the mind like The Upside Down from Stranger Things – only here, there is no demogorgon. Instead, there is a whole different monster – this monster is mental illness. This monster is what has consumed all of what made you, “you.” This is the monster that has stolen away all of your light. This is the monster that has trapped you. This monster is anorexia. This monsters is panic-disorder, this monster is PTSD, this monster is depression. This monster is any and everything that has stolen the true, beautiful, and crucial “you” from this world and has hidden you away. 

But you know what this monster isn’t?

This monster isn’t you.

I feel like I am only just waking up. I feel like I am only just becoming ‘me’ again. The thing is, I have no idea what constitutes being ‘me.’ The last time I was ‘me,’ I was 15 years old. 

I have a lot of catching up to do.

When years and years of your life have been taken from you by whatever it is that consumed you – it is not your fault if you feel that you are falling behind. You are not there yet, and that is okay. 

In all actuality, you really are still that little person that felt so scared/alone/out of control that they had to retreat to the back of their subconscious and let something else take over. Protect them. Act for them. Exist for them.

I can see skepticism or chalking all of what I am saying up to the perceived laziness/entitlement/immaturity of the millennial generation – and I can completely understand that mentality. This feeling of losing time only to wake up one day still the child that you were when you first disappeared, unable to cope/function in an ‘age-appropriate’ way, is a feeling that is inexplicable (though I’m trying really hard here with this way too wordy blog post). 

But just because it doesn’t make sense to most people does not mean it is not real.

Just because you are not where society deems that you are supposed to be at any age does not make you a failure.

Just because you feel lost and scared and alone and unable to ask for help out of fear of being told to just ‘grow up’ or that ‘you’re an adult now’ doesn’t make your feelings and troubles invalid.

Of course, with all of this and my saying that you need to be gentle with yourself, be patient with yourself, and allow yourself to go through the phases of growing up that you were “supposed to” have gone through years ago – you, we, still need to put ourselves forward.

However, you can push yourself forward without dragging yourself down. You can move slowly, tread lightly.

The more you thrash about. The more you beat yourself down. The more you try to run and catch up with the others faster than you are able to..

Will only cause you to sink.

You Always Have A Choice

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances

– Viktor Frankl; Man’s Search For Meaning

The first time I heard this quote by Holocaust survivor and philosopher, Victor Frankl, was in religion class in my junior year of high school. Now, let me just say that this was definitely not my favorite class, I also probably wasn’t always attentive during it as I should have been. However, when reading Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, when reading these words for the very first time – they were all I could think about.

Just to give a quick breakdown of the book so you understand the full extent of what he is saying here – Frankl was a prisoner in not one, not two, but three different concentration camps during World War II. This was a man who was dealt what was probably the worst hand imaginable. His book chronicles his time in the camps, but not in the way that you may think. While he definitely brings attention to the unfathomable cruelty that those in the camps face on a daily basis – he instead decided to focus on something else.

Hope.

This quote by Frankl is so meaningful because out of everyone, he had one of the most valid reasons to become bitter and hateful towards the world. To give up on hope. To give up on beauty. How can this truly be a good world when people are being whipped and beaten and gassed and starved?

If you choose it to be one.

In the concentration camp, Frankl was literally stripped of every right, every ounce of dignity, every bit of humanity. He had nothing but the right to choose the way that he would allow what was happening to him effect him. He chose to find beauty in the little things – maybe a joke shared while sipping the meager ration of “broth” offered to the prisoners, the clear blue sky so vast and magnificent as he marched towards the trenches for a long day of grueling labor. To Frankl, this right, this choice to decide who you would allow your circumstances to let you become, was a matter of life or death. Give up on yourself. See the world as nothing but darkness? You lay in you bunk and allow yourself to slowly shrivel and die. Choose light? Choose to find even the smallest glimpse of beauty in the most horrific of situations? Hey. You have a shot of getting out of here alive.

And that’s just what he did.

There is no single person on this planet that never experiences any type of hardship. Loss. Grief. Trauma. Sure, some of us seem to get a little more of life’s crap thrown at us than others – but none of us get through life completely unscarred.

There are too many times where I see people being excused for treating others badly because they are “going through a hard time,” or “have been through a lot.” Now, I’m not talking about snapping at someone accidentally while having a bad day. We all do that. It’s fine. What I am talking about here is going out of your way to make other people miserable. Trying to inflict the kind of pain on others that you have felt from whatever event(s) has/have occurred own life.

There is always a choice. No matter how hard and bad and ugly life gets – there is always a choice in the way that you react to it. The person that it makes you become.

Here’s a story for you –

When I was in middle-school a friend of a friend (who I had only met once) texted me telling me how I was a waste of space, how no one would ever loved me, how I was a “masochistic martyr bitch” (to this day I still am unsure of what that meant), how everyone would be happier if I killed myself, blah blah blah.

To be perfectly honest, this didn’t effect me once. Maybe it was because I was already majorly depressed and just accepted everything she said as the truth without batting an eye – or maybe it was that this girl had met me once. This wasn’t about me. It was about her.

I remember talking to my dad about it. I was so confused. He told me how the girl’s dad had died a few years prior and, because of that, it was effecting her in a way that allowed her to act like that.

This both confused and troubled me. I never really understood the reasoning of “He/She has been through a lot” for treating others as though they are nothing. I understand that bitterness, anger, resentment – these are all easy to feel when life beats you to the ground. Trust me, I know this all too well. It is easy to allow yourself to stay in your misery and to want to bring all those around you that you perceive as happy down to your level. I get that. I do.

I just don’t understand why this is seen as okay behavior.

In my eyes, in even the darkest of situations, you are in control. Yes, life throws things at you over which you have no control. You do, however, have control over both your response to it and how you allow it to change and form you as a person. You have the power to take the worst of the worst and allow it to make you better. You have the power to let the amount of darkness you have experienced allow you to see how much light there is. You have the ability to let all that is gone and lost to allow yourself to see and find a newfound appreciation for what is here and gained. You always have that power.

Now, this isn’t easy. Like I said earlier, it is a lot easier to let life defeat you. To become bitter and angry. When you allow yourself to be angry at everyone and everything in this world – you avoid dealing with the real issues. You’re not really angry at your friend for going to that party without you. No. You’re angry at your dad for leaving you at a time that you needed him most. Of course you won’t admit that; you probably won’t even know it. So you lash out and then use the excuse of your having “been through a lot.” But what you’ve been through isn’t what is causing you to lash out – your attitude towards what you’ve been through is.

It’s easier to let yourself sit in a room with all the lights off, convinced that the world is a horrible place and that there is no point in trying to pick yourself up and go back out into it. Yeah. It’s so much easier.

And so unfulfilling.

The hard stuff is turning on the lights. Allowing it in. Allowing yourself to see past all of the ugliness that you have experienced and see all the beauty that this world has to offer. It’s hard to let yourself be there for the problems of others and accepting them instead of internally grumbling about how you have been through so much worse. The hard stuff is allowing yourself to heal. To move on. To begin to slowly tear yourself away from the person you lost, the illness you had, the hardships you experienced. It is hard to allow yourself to see yourself not as a victim in need of attention and consolation but as the one there to give the attention and consolation. It is hard to allow yourself to let go of being the one that everyone panders to because you have “been through a lot.” It’s hard to allow yourself to just be normal. To not be the one who has been through a lot – but to be the one who has been through just as much as everyone else. It’s hard and it sucks a lot of the time. There are so many times where people treat me normally and I want to scream “Wait! Don’t forget about me! I have an eating disorder! Remember? My dad died! Remember?” It’s scary to allow yourself to be whole and healed after you have spent so much of your life as being the broken one.

But you’re not the broken one anymore. You are the one who took the hardships in your life, regardless of what they were, and accepted them. You have not only accepted that you have not had it as hard as some, but also that you have had it harder than others (I guilt trip myself a lot with this since I don’t really think I’ve been through a lot). You have detached this from your identity. You have de-specialized it. You have stopped it from being your story – it’s only a single chapter in the book of your life;

And you get to choose how the rest will be written.

 

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When You Feel Too Much

Let’s talk about feelings.

Each and every one of us experiences emotion in different ways. Yes we all feel the basics: happy, sad, angry, excited, nervous, etc… But the ways in which we experience these emotions and how we react to them vary greatly.Same goes for the world.Each and every one of us lives on the same planet. Yes our environment greatly impacts the way in which we experience the world – but we still all live in the same one. Again, the way we see and react to the world on us varies greatly.

So here we are, all of us humans bumbling around on the earth, feeling all the feelings – going through life, some of us like to keep our feelings to ourselves, some of us wear their feelings on their sleeve. Regardless, who a person is, their mentality, their heart… No matter how hard they try to keep it in, it seeps through their skin. It surrounds them. I know that talking about a person’s aura is completely woo-woo and ridiculous to a lot of people, but whether you believe or not, it’s hard to deny that we have an instinctual sense of a person before we even speak to them. If a person is sad, we can normally tell, or if they are worked up. If someone is generally not a good person, we tend to get a bad feeling about them – and if someone is a good person, we tend to feel safe around them without even really knowing them.

Some people are more sensitive to this – these auras are whatever you want to call them – some people are entirely consumed by how big the world is and how much is going on in it. Some people feel everyone else’s “stuff”, they take it in, let it soak in through their skin, they let themselves be consumed by the troubles of others. They want to take all the pain away from everyone in the world even if it means completely destroying themselves.These are the types of people that I want to talk about today.These are highly sensitive people (also called Empaths if you’re into the more out-there hippy-dippy stuff.. which I am).

Some of us, myself included, from the time we were old enough to have any awareness of the world around us, could feel the “stuff” in the world around us in such a way that it becomes a part of us.. It’s hard to explain.The best explanation of a highly sensitive person (and an extreme situation of it) is found in the book/film The Secret Life of Bees. In this story, one of the characters, May, is a bit of a mess. When she sees the news and something bad is happening in the world, when someone around her is experiencing pain, she completely breaks down. When describing May, he sister tells the story of how May was originally a twin. Her twin sister, April, and she were so connected to each other that they legitimately felt every bit of joy, pain, etc. that the other did. Her sister even tells of how when their father would take a belt to April, welts would rise up on May in the same places April’s did. Eventually, April died. When this happened, “the whole world became May’s sister.”

I remember the first time I heard this line in the movie, it felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Wow! I knew that feeling! I knew what it was like to feel all of the pain in the world to such a degree that it would cause me to physically break down. It was the first time that I felt less like an over-sensitive freak show who was too pathetically emotionally involved in everyone and every thing in my life to even function properly. Beyond just feelings all the feelings, there is another (destructive) part to being a highly sensitive person – see, when you care so deeply about others that their pains become your own, you tend to become the go-to person for everyone to come to with their problems. You sit with them, listen to them, cry tears for them,  their pains become yours and you will do anything to take those away from them.

You’ll overextend yourself to others – giving away all that you can possibly give just to make sure the people around you are happy. It is wonderful – but it is also exhausting. It is exhausting to live in a world where your entire life is consumed by trying to bare the weight of the entire world.

You will break down sometimes, shut down, it will all be too much. Of course, the people around you won’t know this. You are their go-to person. You are the one to talk to. You can’t be sad or struggling. You need to be strong for everyone. If you’re not strong, you can’t take care of everyone, if you can’t take care of everyone you are a bad person, if you can’t take care of anyone, you are nothing.

And so you develop these crazy semi (or, let’s be honest, completely) codependent relationships with every single person in your life. They are using you as their rock, what keeps them steady (and sometimes an emotional punching bag if the person kinda-sorta sucks) all while you are using them to help you feel like you deserve to exist in this world. Being the one who cares about everyone and loves deeply and helps everyone – that is who you are – if you fail to be that person to the degree that you are, you are nothing. You don’t exist.

Here’s the thing though, no one human being can hold the entire weight of the world on their shoulders forever, nor does any one human need to (the crazy part of my brain would argue this… no! the whole world is good and I am bad! I need to take all the pain away from the world because I am the only person in the world who deserves pain… yeah, not egotistical at all).

Eventually, your legs will buckle and you’ll fall. And no one will be able to catch you.Because suddenly you are not the person with the smiling face and the never-ending capacity to love and listen and care. Suddenly you are breaking down. You can’t hold anyone up at all anymore. You push people away because you don’t know what else to do. You are no longer good and helpful – and because of this, you deserve nothing. No love. No friendship. Nothing.

When you are no longer good and helpful, you no longer exist. Still, you feel the entire weight of the world – only this time you are unable to do the one thing that made you feel even the smallest bit worth something -Helping others.

Fact of the matter is, taking on the weight of the entire world is really just a way for us to avoid our own emotions.. To face ourselves. Oh! I have no time to think about my own problems! I’m fine! Honest! Do you need to talk? I’m here for you. Always. We take on everyone else’s stuff in a desperate attempt to stuff our own struggles down. However, no matter how far down you shove it, like a floatie in a pool, it’s always going to rise to the surface. You’ll have to face yourself. You won’t want to face yourself. You’ll shut down. You’ll maybe even self-destruct. Collapse in on yourself.

It’s all too much.

I feel too much.

Why do I care this much?

This isn’t normal.

Why does no one ever care about me as much as I care about them?

I need to turn my mind off for a little while.

Eventually, you will need to seek out some sort of help. This is hard for you – you are used to giving help, nor receiving it. It’s uncomfortable. It’s unsafe. You’re not worth it.You were light.. But bit by bit, you gave your light away to everyone else. You gave away everything you had and was left in the dark.

It’s all about setting healthy boundaries – something that I, after 21 years of crying because a tree is going to get cut down or something equally absurd, am only just learning how to do. You need to learn how to put your hands up sometimes and say sorry, but you have to take care of yourself for a little while. You can still be the person who helps everyone. You can still be the person that people sit and talk to even when they barely know you because they “just feel safe.” You can still be all those things, but even more.

Because now, instead of giving away all of your light, you’re keeping it. You’re using it to better not only others, but yourself. You are realizing that your worth goes beyond your ability to help others. That is just a part of you, it is not all of you. You are worth existing just for the simple reason that you do exist. Just by existing in this world as you, the whole you, is enough. It’s more than enough.I wish I could say more about this magical place where you learn to use how deeply you feel things to be there for others in a way that many can’t all while also protecting yourself. How you can live in this world and take it all in without feeling like the walls are closing in around you because the world is too big and you are too small.

I’m not there yet.

But I will be

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On Heartbreak

Let’s have an open, raw, and borderline-humilating conversation about something that is weighing very heavily on my mind right now.

Heartbreak.

I am the kind of person that probably sets myself up to be heartbroken. I love way too much. Get too emotionally invested. This kind of “you are my heart and soul my world revolves around you I would die for you” love is great in books and movies, but in reality… It’s probably not so healthy.

And so when you feel too much, too deeply, you set yourself up to get hurt.

I tend to find a certain person in my life and make them my entire world. I tend to devote my entire life-force to one person, one specific person. I tend to live and breathe for one specific person. I tend to base whether or not it is a good day on the amount we speak on that certain day.

I tend to make a person my everything.

Then that person leaves without warning.

And my entire world comes crashing down around me.

It’s not fun.

As someone who deals with mental illness, I’m no stranger to pain, depression, anxiety etc. I have been working very hard in therapy for years, gaining new understandings of the way that my brain works and learning ways of coping with uncomfortable feelings and intrusive thoughts. I can handle mental illness, maybe not well, but I can handle it enough to function.

Pain surrounding losing someone?

I don’t think anyone can be prepared for that.

I have never really given much thought to the concept of a “broken heart.” I have never really had any reason to. I saw heartbreak in movies and read about them in books – but in my personal life, I never experienced true heartbreak.

Sure, I had had my heart broken before. Who hasn’t? But the kind of heartbreak that I had experienced in the past – the “oh no my ‘first love’ (i.e. – 13 year old puppy-love) is breaking up with me the sky is falling” kind of love.. But never this. What I feel now, it’s indescribable.

When you have your heartbroken, whether it be through the loss of either a romantic or a platonic relationship, you have no control. Here was this person, this amazing, incredible, person that you loved more than you even knew was possible. The person who made you believe in something again. The person who made you feel safe and loved. The person who made you feel like you were actually worth something. This person meant the absolute world to you. They had you, all of you. They had you believing that “always” really meant always.

And then, out of nowhere, they are gone.

And your entire reality, everything you have every thought or felt or believed, begins crashing down around you.

And all you can do is watch.

There is no feeling more painful than that of being totally helpless. When there is this pain, this excruciating, indescribably pain, this pain that is all consuming that is tearing you apart from the inside out and there is nothing you can do except sit with the feeling and wait for it to pass… Well… It’s terrifying.

There is nothing more painful than loving someone with all of your heart and soul and believing that they felt the same only to discover that not only do they not feel the same, but they do not care at all. There is nothing you can do to make them care, and there is nothing that you can do to make yourself stop loving them. Again, all you can do is sit with the feeling and wait for it to pass. Again, this is terrifying.

There is the flood of confusion. How is this happening? How is this possible? No. It can’t be. You were my forever person. We said we would always be here for each other. How did we go from talking about seeing X movie when it comes out one night to you completely deciding that I am worthless the next? Nothing makes sense and it’s all so wrong. Nothing feels right. Being in a world that no longer involves this person doesn’t feel right. How is this happening? How do you go from telling someone you love them one day to treating them like dirt the next? There are too many questions and not enough space in your brain to process them all. Your head will go fuzzy. Your body will start shaking to the point that your teeth are chattering and you can’t stand up without collapsing. You will want to, simultaneously, throw up and scream and cry and collapse and disappear. You will think about never seeing the person’s face again. You will picture their face and it will make you smile for a moment, only to then cause you to collapse into sobs. You will think about having your arms around them, and their around you. You will think about the feeling that you got – that one that made you feel safe and warm and loved. You will think about how you will never experience that again. You will feel like there is ice running through your veins.

It’s all just too much.

You will feel like you’re dying. You will truly feel like you are dying… Only you won’t die. There is no relief from the pain you are feeling. All you can do is sit with the emotion.

You will reach out to the person. Your person. The person you love with all of your heart and soul. You will write long, frantic, and passionate messages to them and you will send them without thought (because any semi-rational person would never send all of these messages), you will beg and plead, you will apologize for things that you probably shouldn’t be apologizing for, you will beg for an explanation, a conversation. Closure. You will text and call and text and call until each and every ounce of your dignity is gone and you have not only completely humiliated yourself, but have also gotten your phone number blocked.

All you wanted was a conversation. One more time. Face to face. An explanation. A way to move on.

Because you can’t move on. When someone who you made your entire world abandons you without any warning or explanation, you can’t just move on. Especially when you’re a sensitive person (which I would expect many of you who read this blog are, given I talk so much about mental illness and other subjects that pertain largely to sensitive people). You need closure. You need to know why. If you don’t know why, you will obsess. And when you obsess, you will be unable to function in every day life.

You will be unable to be alone. You will shadow family members in your home. You don’t need to speak to them, you just need to make sure that they are there. That you are not alone. When you are alone is when you fall apart. When you are alone you get to think of how everything is your fault. How the best thing to ever happen to you, your person, hates you. You are worthless. It is all your fault. Look how easily you were replaced. You never meant anything. These thoughts will take over the entirety of your mind when you are alone. They will have distinctive voices. They will scream. Your entire body will shake. Your skin will burn. You will break out in a cold sweat. You will get up. Pace. Go outside. Run. Maybe if I run, I can get away from the screaming for a little while.

Sometimes you will think that you’re okay. That you’re “over it.” You will smile and laugh and want to dance. It’s okay. It’s all okay. Everything is great. Then you will see something – a TV show that you watched with your person, you will hear a song that you remember blasting in the car with your person by your side. You will think about silly things. Laughs that you shared. Special moments. You will think about how special these moments are to you. You will think about how your person, more likely than not, isn’t thinking about these moments. Your person isn’t thinking of you at all.

Back down into the void you go.

You will try to rationalize. No. This is impossible. We are meant to be in each other’s lives. You can’t just stop loving someone. This is impossible. There is hope. They will reach out. You two will talk. It will all be okay. Love. Love conquers all. This kind of love is not one that is experienced more than once in a lifetime. This kind of love doesn’t end like this. No. We need each other. Right? Well. Actually.

Your person doesn’t need you anymore.

You will think of your person with a person other than you. Sharing the same laughs, the same mannerisms. Listening to the same songs. Sharing the same secrets. You will feel your stomach turn. You will want to sleep for forever. You will want to run away. You will want to scream. You will want to hold on for dear life.

You will want to be angry. You will want to hate the person. Good riddance. Who needs ’em? You will try. There will be others. This is not the end of the world. This person is not the same person that you met and loved all that time ago. No. Things will get better for you. It will all be okay. Okay. Okay.

You will want to hate this person.

But all you will be able to do is love them.

This is your greatest pain.

 

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As always, Grey’s says it best.

 

 

 

Dissappearing Act

This is going to be, by far, the toughest thing I have ever had to write. I’ve been meaning to make this post for years now (in fact, I had one similar to it on my previous blog… which I then freaked out and deleted). I don’t really know what is it about this, I’ve never been one to shy away from sharing personal things (often too-personal actually), but God.. This one thing.

So here it is – my eating disorder story.

I think that it’s important to state, before getting into it, that “eating disorder story” videos and blog posts are all over the internet and I in no way believe that mine is anything remarkable. Still, I feel compelled to share it. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I know that eating disorders look 110% different in each and every person who experiences them. Because of this, it often feels like you are completely alone. You read other people’s stories and find none of their experiences are matching up with your own; and when you do happen to come across someone who, somehow, perfectly articulates a way in which you have felt your entire life – the feeling is indescribable. I don’t think that there can ever be too many people talking about eating disorders, or for that matter, mental illness a whole. There is so much stigma, misunderstanding, judgement that exists within the discussion of mental illness – and this is, literally, killing people.

Take a deep breath, Erin. Here I go.

I was 6 years old when I first decided that I was too much. I wish that I could tell you just exactly what “too much” meant. I’m unsure. All I know is that I felt it.

I think that perhaps it was the fact that, for the first time, I became aware of the fact that I had a body. Now, this may seem a bit silly. I mean, we all have bodies. Duh. But I think that I became aware of the fact that I had a body that was different than that of those around me. That I was a specific height and weight, that I took up a different amount of space than everyone else (as we all do). I didn’t like the fact that I took up space – that I existed.  I wanted to fold myself up, shrink down, become invisible. I felt too out in the open. Too vulnerable. Too real.

I was always an extremely anxious person. At that same age where my less-than-ideal relationship with my body began, 6, I also began to have panic attacks. I would think about dying a lot, I would think about the possibility that there was nothing there after it all, I would think about the blackness, the unknown.

I would think about oblivion.

Of course, at the time I wasn’t aware of the fact that these were panic attacks. All I knew was that I would think about these things and would lose my ability to breathe. It would feel like someone had my heart in their hands – squeezing it with all their might. I would be unable to stay still – I would have to thrash about, for if I didn’t I felt as if I would explode. I would go downstairs and tell my parents that I felt sick, that I needed help. I would sit with them and cry until the fear went away. I would go back to bed. The next night, it would happen again.

As my fear of the world as a whole grew, so did my unhealthy relationship with food. From a very young age, I associated food and eating with shame and weakness. Eating was not something that I should have to do. I feared my own humanity (which actually makes sense given my complete obsession with death and dying), I wanted it to go away. I couldn’t be human. I couldn’t. I don’t know why I felt (and currently feel) this way, but I know that my entire life has been centered around trying to deny my own humanity. I wanted to be something else – to escape the physical. Writing this, I know that I sound crazy, and I probably am.. But I know that I am not the only one who feels this way.

I remember one specific incident during what was either my 7th or 8th birthday. My family and I were sitting at my dining room table in front of a giant Power Puff Girls birthday cake. I was upset because I didn’t want my dad to cut into one of the characters’ face. My dad, being the awesome person that he was, cut the entire face of the character out of the cake and put it on a plate in front of me.

“Wow.” He laughed, “This is a really big peace of cake.”

I started hysterically crying at the mere mention of the size of a piece of cake that I was MAYBE going to eat (and probably not finish, the thing was the size of my head), left the room, and spent the rest of the night crying on the couch. I refused to eat anything.

There is this idea that eating disorders are about the physical body. That they are a disease of vanity. Let me starve myself so that I can look like XX model on the cover of XX magazine. If that is the case, how do you explain the 7 year old who refuses to eat because she is ashamed of even the idea that she would ever need to eat anything. How do you explain the 8 year old that hides the bag of carrots under the couch until everyone is out of the kitchen so that she can put them back without anyone seeing her. How do you explain the 10 year old telling herself that she doesn’t deserve to eat dinner most nights – so she skips them. Are children really that concerned about their bodies that they would starve themselves at such an early age? Because I sure as hell never once thought about wanting to look like a girl on the cover of J-14 or whatever other teeny-bopper magazine I was reading. Eating disorders are in no way about aesthetics – weight loss, food restriction.. these are symptoms of a much deeper issue.

Of course, I did always have body-image issues. If you asked me to tell you the last time I felt good about my appearance, I wouldn’t have an answer for you. I have always had a complex about my body. Again, the mere idea of being human, having a physical body, and taking up space in the world were too much for me to handle.

It’s hard to explain body-dysmorphia (which is NOT an eating disorder and deserves a post in it’s own) to people who don’t explain it. The best that I can do is say that I have no idea what I look like. Imagine that you are in one of those carnival attractions where each wall is lines with distortion mirrors. Some stretch you out, some compress you, all distort you and make you into something that doesn’t appear to be human. Now imagine if every time you looked at yourself, you saw what you see in those distortion mirrors. If every time you looked at yourself you looked completely different than you did the last time you looked. Each time, you don’t look human.

So pair body-dysmorphia with severe anxiety (that manifested in a weird relationship with food), major depression that hit me in the 6th grade, and a severe sense of needing to “punish myself” for existing as myself (because, you know, I must be the worst creature to ever walk the Earth and was obviously put here on Earth as a mistake… a tad self-centered don’t you think?) – and you have yourself the perfect ingredients to mix up a big ‘ole Eating Disorder.

While I had the characteristics of someone with an eating disorder my entire life (as most of those who struggle with them do),the summer going into my sophomore year of high school is when it all really spiraled out of control. To explain it all would take up far too much time – so I’ll try to stick to the details.

I finally decided to “really try” to “lose the weight” that I “needed to lose” to be “happy.”

I set myself a goal weight.

I hit that goal weight.

I still hated myself

Set another one.

Hit it.

Hated myself more.

And then I just let myself fall.

Almost the entirety of this point of my life is blacked out. I remember small flashes here and there – almost all food related. I remember the Luna bars that I brought for lunch every day. I remember having a very specific way that I had to eat them, and that I ate so slowly that often by the time lunch period was over, I hadn’t yet finished the bar. I remember when I stopped eating lunch all together.

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I remember chewing pack after pack of Extra Dessert Delights Mint Chocolate Chip gum. I remember needing to chew each piece of gum for exactly an hour to “burn off” the “heaps” of calories that existed in a single piece of gum.

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I remember being taken to the psychologist for the first time. Why would I need to go? I was “fine.” I was “just stressed.” I was “in control.” I remember the way that she looked at me, the slight smile that I read as patronizing. The sound of the menthol cough drops that she sucked on throughout the entirety of each session clacking against her teeth.

“Why are you here?”

“My parents think I have an eating disorder.”

“Do you?”

“I don’t know… Maybe.”

“Well. If this keeps going, you might. But right now you don’t look like you have an eating disorder.”

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I remember being cold. So cold. The kind of cold that seeps into your bones and makes your entire body cry out in agony. I remember having to get off the bus to walk home and getting right into the bath because it was the only thing to do to make the pain stop. I remember being so cold but thinking, “Hey. Shivering burns calories. Right?”

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I remember being unable to do my floor exercises in dance class anymore. Every time I tried to roll, I felt like I was being stabbed as every bone in my body pressed into the hard wooden floor. Sitting in class at school became unbearable as my spine and sitting bones jutted out into the seat with no fat or muscle to protect them. My hair was falling out in chunks. My skin was yellow. I moved in slow motion. I smiled. I was “fine.” I was “okay.”

Thing is – there was a part of me that really thought I was.

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I remember being admitted to the hospital. I remember the fear – the greatest I had ever experienced. I remember calling my dad from the E.R, I remember him telling me that we’d be home together soon,  I remember being put in a wheel chair, I remember sleeping in a cot in the hallway, I remember waking up with to an alarm, to my I.V. having been pulled out. I don’t remember getting the I.V. I don’t remember getting the heart rate monitor. I don’t remember how I got from the E.R. to the pediatrics ward. I only remember fear. I only remember alarms going off at night as my heart rate dropped into the 30s. I only remember feeling like I “don’t belong here,” “how did it get like this?” “I’m not even that sick.”

“I’m gone.”

It has now been almost 5 years since I was admitted to the hospital. I wish I could say that if fixed me, that we have a superb medical system in the diagnosing and treating of eating disorders. I wish I could say that it was just a small piece of my life that I am now over. A childhood phase that all girls go through.

To say that would be the biggest lie that I could ever tell.

Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders don’t just go away when you gain weight. In fact, they often worsen. People tend to focus on the physical aspect of eating disorders instead of the mental… Which is funny because they are, actually, mental disorders. Doing this is like focusing on weight gain or loss with depression.. The physical ailments that often accompany eating disorders are indeed serious, but they are NOT the disease themselves. They are SYMPTOMS of something much greater. In focusing on the physical and not the mental aspects of eating disorders we are not only perpetuating the stigma surrounding eating disorders, but we are also heightening the possibility of relapse (or multiple relapses) in sufferers/making it that they never get into real recovery to begin with.

One of the most upsetting and frustrating parts of being someone with an eating disorder is that unless you look like you are about to die – it is assumed that nothing is wrong with you. You gained weight and are therefore “all better.” This just simply isn’t true and often leaves the sufferer feeling more alone and isolated than ever. When you have an eating disorder, there is a constant voice in your head telling you that you are “not sick enough,” and when those around you believe that eating disorders are all about weight – that voice just goes stronger.

Eating disorders are largely diseases of addiction (particularly bulimia) and like addiction – the substance is not the main issue. Alcohol is not the cause of an alcoholics illness – they it is a combination of their biology, environment, and mental health that manifests the disease. And yes, I said disease. For that matter, an alcoholic does not simply stop being one once the sober up. Even if they haven’t had a drink in 50 years, they are still and alcoholic, still in recovery. They are still fighting with all they have each and every day to stay sober, to stay clean. The same goes for someone with an eating disorder. Only for someone with an eating disorder, they can’t abstain their drug of choice. Contrary to popular belief, humans actually need food. Quite a bit of it in fact. Each and every day. A person with an eating disorder needs to be exposed to the substance that they are addicted to (or addicted to the control of) each and every day, multiple times a day. That is hard as hell. Each meal for someone with an eating disorder is a challenge, and that doesn’t just go away. Over time, with a lot of determination and recovery, a person can learn to cope with their disordered thoughts and feelings better. They can go longer and longer periods of time without intrusive thoughts or acting on disordered behaviors – but they don’t just go away.

Eating disorders are misunderstood by almost everyone, and it’s not hard to understand why. As animals, our main instinct is for survival. When you have an eating disorder, you are literally fighting against your main primal instinct. You are fighting against what makes you an animal, what makes you a person. When you starve yourself (there are many other eating disorders and they are all valid but I am using starvation as an example here), your body will make you eat. Your animal brain will take over and FORCE you to eat. This is why people who go on crash diets often gain all the weight back and then some. Restricting food is not about control. We don’t have control over our survival instincts – people who crash diet binge because their body is trying to keep them alive.

With an eating disorder, the disease quite literally shuts off all of your survival instincts. Humans shouldn’t be able to starve themselves to death on purpose – yet with restrictive type eating disorders – this is exactly what they do. Why is this? Is it because anorectics have ungodly amounts of willpower? No. It is because they are sick. Mentally ill. They have an illness that has quite literally shut off their humanity – their survival instincts.

There is also the misconception that people with eating disorders are stupid and vain. Again untrue. People with eating disorders tend to be highly intelligent, highly sensitive, and highly competitive. That’s right, competitive. Eating disorders manifest differently in everyone, so it would be wrong of me to make a blanket statement about all eating disorder sufferers. But it is common to want to be “the best” at everything, including your eating disorder. To be “more than human.” There is no winning at an eating disorder. You either go into recovery or you die. Plain and simple.

The media likes to raise awareness for eating disorders by blaming society for eating disorders. While it is wonderful that awareness is being raised – where it is being raised to is wrong. By blaming society for eating disorders, we are trivializing them and making them out the be something that they are not. Through reading this (obscenely long) post, I hope that if nothing else, you have a slightly better understanding of what an eating disorder is and, most importantly, and how it is not about the food. It is not about weight loss or looking good or being attractive. It is not for attention. It is not a phase. It is not something that white middle class teenage girls go through. No. Eating disorders affect people of all races, ages, genders, and socio-economic statuses. Eating disorders do not discriminate. They do not only matter when a person is visibly ill. They are not never eating at all, they are not purging everything. They come in various shapes, sizes, and forms and each and every one is valid.

Eating disorders do not just go away when you gain weight. They stay with a person forever – please be sensitive to that. Eating disorders occur in people with pasts of trauma, and in those without them – in both cases they are valid.

I feel like I could go on forever. There is so much that I missed out on here, and I fear that I didn’t put enough in here to give a clear image of what an eating disorder is. I fear that the handful (if even) of people who read this will leave this with just a much knowledge about eating disorders as they did before they got here.

So let me leave you with this.

If you are someone who is struggling or believes that they may be struggling – your struggle is valid. How you feel is valid. I don’t care if you are 70 pounds or 300 pounds. If you think you need help, PLEASE. I implore you. Please get help. If you go to a doctor or therapist and they belittle your struggle or don’t believe you, find a new one. Find a support group. Please. Just get help before you are too far gone.

If you are someone who know someone who you believe may be struggling – PLEASE confront them. They may hate you, this is true, but you could potentially be saving their life. They will forgive you someday. They will thank you. I promise. It happened for me.

If you are someone who has never experienced an eating disorder, whether it be in yourself or in someone that you know – I hope that this left you with at least a speck of understanding, of compassion, or awareness, of all of this. Eating disorders are a matter of life or death – they are not vain or silly or a phase or a choice. They are a disease, and a deadly one at that.

It has been a long time since I was in the hospital, and I wish that I could say that I was doing great. That I loved myself. That I was all better. I can’t do that. I still don’t know what I look like. I still see a monster in the mirror. I still am unable to leave the house most days because I am too disgusted by myself. I still break down, often in public, because of the intrusive thoughts yelling “you’re fat! you don’t deserve to be alive! you’re disgusting! you call yourself a runner!? look at yourself. disgusting pig,” on a continuous loop in my head. I still have severe panic attacks that have made it near impossible for me to get a job without having a nervous breakdown. I still am incapable of talking to people – of making friends – of keeping friends. I am still, in my mind, failing at everything.

At the same time, I’m alive. I know that these paragraphs here sound super self-important and egotistical (probably why I saved them for the very end), but hey. Whatever. I realized something the other day – I could very easily be dead. In my mind, I died that day that I went into the hospital. I might as well have – I was pretty close to it. I believe that myself, along with all of us who continue to fight each and every day against whatever it is that consumes us. Those of us who have had every chance in the world to complete give up and collapse in on themselves but who haven’t. I believe that we owe it to ourselves, and to the universe, to keep fighting. I believe that we all have some place here – something that makes us special. Important. Crucial.

Maybe even me.

I am about to include images from when I was very sick – I find it important to share these images but I know that it can trigger some people. Please be warned.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 10.23.35 PM First Day In The HospitalScreen Shot 2016-02-19 at 10.23.44 PM Now

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