It is all worthwhile.

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.

 

 

 

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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.

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The Other Kind Of Perfectionist

I have spent the vast majority of my life trying to deny my humanity.

I have fought day in and day out to keep up this guise (that nobody’s buying) that I am something *more than.* Something above an beyond. I wanted the world to believe that I was the kindest, most well-mannered. I wanted the world to believe that I never got angry, never had an “off-day,” never cursed, never failed, never lied, never put myself before others. No. Not me. I loved each and every being unconditionally and would destroy myself day in and day out to make sure that everyone around me was okay.

I lied.

Never in my life have I identified as a perfectionist. I couldn’t be one, it was impossible. I had friends who identified as Type-1 personalities; perfectionist. They were impeccably neat and tidy with color-coordinated closets and perfectly symmetrical handwriting. They played instruments and sports and practiced each hobby for hours every single day without fail. They stayed studying up until 3 in the morning the night before exams and any grade below a 95 was unacceptable.

I was not one of these people… I wanted to be, but I wasn’t. My closet had more items on the floor than on actual hangers, the bottom of my backpack was filled with important papers and if those papers did happen to make it into a folder, it would be an unorganized one. I played sports and music but I didn’t practice as often as I should have. I valued sleep over studying and was perfectly okay with getting a B on an exam.  I was always scattered – dabbling in anything and everything. I was decent at it all, I could kind-of draw a picture, I placed at swim meets and got to do more challenging routines in dance class. Still, I was never truly talented at everything.

And I couldn’t handle it.

One of the main reasons that I was never highly skilled at any one thing was due to the fear of failure. When I would draw, I couldn’t draw hands, feet, or legs. I tried and tried. I read every how-to-draw book, looked up every online tutorial and still couldn’t do it.

So I quit.

I tried to learn guitar a few years ago, something that I have always dreamed of doing. I practiced every single day; strumming the same chord over and over again until I could get it perfect. When I finally got two chords down pat, I attempted to seamlessly transition from one chord to the next. I tried over and over again until my fingers were too raw from pressing down the string to continue.

I couldn’t do it.

Instead of doing what a rational human would do (keep trying every day until I eventually could do it), I stopped trying. I sucked at it. I was the worst. I had no talents. Every person is supposed to have at least one thing that they are gifted at. I had nothing. I was good at nothing. I had always identified as an artistic person – but that was moronic because I was in no way, shape, or form creative. I was a failure.

If I couldn’t do something successfully, I couldn’t do it at all. I could not handle being a failure.

Again, never in my life have I identified as a perfectionist. I liken perfectionists to successful and driven people who work multiple job, have set paths in life, and, more-likely-than-not, don’t have panic attacks where they sit in the middle of the home cleaners aisle at Duane Reade and sob like a 4 year old. Yeah. I’m not perfectionist.

It is strange though. I was, for the first time, explaining all of this to my therapist the other day and she looked at me and laughed,

“You realize that you’re a perfectionist, right?”

I had never realized that there are different types of perfectionists – there are those who have the ability to embrace and utilize it in finding personal success, and there are those (like me) who are torn apart by it, who liken not being perfect to not being worthy of even existing.

Interesting.

One of the biggest questions that is constantly on my mind is that of how and why I developed an eating disorder. I had the ideal home life growing up, I did well in school, I played sports… But I was depressed and disgusted by myself.

Because I wasn’t perfect.

Because I never identified as a perfectionist, I never made the connection between my eating disorder and my need to be more than human. I needed to be pristine in every way, shape, and form. I could never speak or laugh too loudly, I could never say something that could come off as unintelligent, I could never put my own well being before that of someone else, I could never say curse words, I could never feel anger towards anyone (unless it was myself). Ever.

I think that I may have begun to associate thin with pristine. I don’t even mean this in an aesthetic way. I wanted to be a perfect being – not a human. I wanted this body to disappear. My body was a clear sign of my being human – imperfect – impure. I wanted to do away from it.

As I write this, I am completely aware of the fact that I sound like a crazy person. Honestly, I kind of am. I know that in the recovery community, calling yourself crazy is frowned-upon, and I really do get that. I don’t really shy away from calling myself crazy because, honestly, I really can be crazy sometimes. The definition of crazy is literally “a mentally deranged person,” and often that is me… or the mentally ill part of me. My mind is sick, and I accept and own up to that. I think that denying the crazy parts of us can actually impair the road to recovery. Recovery isn’t all about meditating and manifesting and self-love talk. Sometimes recovery is screaming and tearing your hair out, sometimes recovery is wandering the streets at 1am in your pajamas because you’re manic and can’t control your own actions.

You may be thinking – how are those things recovery? Because I acknowledge them and am actively trying to lessen their occurrences. I don’t see enough people talking about the really ugly parts of mental illness. I’m sure that a portion of that is due to the fear of triggering others (I seriously need to write a post on my issues with ‘trigger warnings’), and I get that 100%. Still, I can’t be the only person that actual finds reading about the ugliest parts of the recoveries of other as the most healing.

By accepting the ‘crazy’ parts of myself, I am forcing myself to accept the fact that I am actually a human being. I am not perfect. I have feelings and I am trying to, after all these years, allow myself to actually feel them.

It’s terrifying and overwhelming…

But I really do think that it’s worth it.

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Hate The Holidays? (It’s okay…ish)

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, the holiday season is officially in full swing. Homes are covered in flashing lights, shops are playing Christmas music, pumpkin scented/flavored products have been swapped out for peppermint ones, and people dressed as Santa are frolicking around at every corner (okay, that last thing may not be a universal occurrence during the holiday season.. But in New York City, there are Santa Clauses everywhere). The air is getting colder, the days are getting shorter, but everyone is too full of pure holiday-induced bliss to care. This is the most wonderful time of the year.

Except for when it’s not.

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Listen, I am not bashing the holidays in any way, shape, or form. I am not a Scrooge. I am not going to complain about how the holidays are awful and stressful and blah-blah-blah. I like the holidays… Or at least I want to.

I know that I am not alone in my being in an especially bad place during the holidays. The holiday season is a time of heightened, both good and bad, for almost everyone (who celebrates). But for some, bad feelings are so intense, so all-consuming that they completely overpower and swallow up any joy that may be coming to the surface. What you are left with is total darkness.

The holiday season can be a painful one. When we sit down to Christmas (0r whatever it is that you celebrate) dinner, we are faced with empty chairs where loved ones that are now gone once sat. We remember the way this family member laughed, the amazing stories that they used to tell, or the way that they would always get just a little too-tipsy after dinner and begin to pick fights with anyone and everyone. We remember those famous cookies that a loved one once made, knowing that never again will we be able to enjoy them in the way that we once did. We are forced to come face to face with any fractures in our families, so-and-so isn’t talking to so-and-so so neither of them will be joining us for dinner, uncle something hasn’t spoken to his sister in 15 years and he’s not going to start now, even if it is Christmas time, maybe someone has recently gotten divorced and now must navigate who gets the kids during the holidays and who will be left all alone. It’s hard.

The holiday season can also hurt if you are someone who struggles with any sort of mental illness. As always, I can only speak from my own personal experience, but I know that I am not the only one who feels this way. If you are someone who struggles with anything, whether it be anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, etc. this time of year can throw you into a state of complete and utter dread. Honestly, just being a highly sensitive person (an empath) can lead one into panic when thinking about the upcoming season.

Holidays are hectic, I don’t care who you are, what you celebrate, or where you are. No matter what, you will experience some sort of pandemonium during the holiday season. Traffic is worse, crowds are worse, people are frantic. You are hard pressed to find a single store or public location that is not at least somewhat influenced by the holidays. For someone who struggles with any type of anxiety or panic disorder, this can be a nightmare. The idea alone of going into a crowded grocery store has been enough to leave me shaking and sobbing in my car, too terrified to even get out, let alone step food into the store. Again, I know that I am not alone here. This irrational reaction to what is a (admittedly high-stress) non-threatening situation can cause many who do not understand the diseases of anxiety or panic disorders to roll their eye and write you off as a drama queen. Just suck it up and deal with it. They might say. Just deal with it. You might even be saying these things to yourself.

Listen, I am in no way saying that allowing your anxiety to keep you from accomplishing necessary everyday tasks is the right thing, I’m not even encouraging it. What I am saying is that I understand and empathize with what you are feeling and what you are feeling, though irrational, is completely valid. Each and every feeling that you have is valid, this is an incorruptible truth. I don’t care if you are sobbing over not being able to find a certain dish to eat breakfast off of (I have done this.. often) or something equally as absurd. It is valid. Each and everything that you have ever thought or felt that has caused you any type of real emotion has been valid…

Even during the holidays.

If you are someone who struggles during the holidays, it can be so easy to beat yourself up over it.

What is wrong with me? This is supposed to be the happiest time of the year. Am I really so deeply and fundamentally flawed that I can’t even get my s**t together for a couple of hours to go to this party and pretend I’m happy? Everyone else is so happy and I’m not and that is so selfish!

I could go on.

When you are looking around you and seeing nothing but green-and-red-clad-bliss, it can be easy to feel like a complete failure as a human being if you are struggling.

It is okay. You are okay.

Here’s the thing – this is supposed to be the season of giving. We give gifts and time and love to all of the special people in our lives. But what about ourselves? Do we give anything to ourselves? I’m going to bet that most of us don’t.

So why don’t we try to reclaim this idea of it being the season of giving and truly make an effort to give to ourselves. Why don’t we try to give ourselves compassion? Why don’t we try to be especially gentle with ourselves? Why don’t we, instead of making only monetary investments in gifts for others, make spiritual (or emotional) investments in ourselves? Why don’t we tell ourselves that just because it’s the holiday season, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t allowed to feel our feelings. Why don’t we tell ourselves that it is okay to miss a certain holiday party or gathering that we don’t feel up to attending? Why don’t we allow ourselves to have patience with ourselves, to not get swept up in the holiday pandemonium that we believe we are “supposed to do.”

I know that this is easier said than done. Trust me, I know this all too well. I know that there are certain things that will have to be done for the sake of others at the expense of your own well-being. I know that there will be times where we will beat ourselves up over maybe eating “too much” or not having enough money to get everyone gifts or whatever it is. I am not off floating on some rainbow cloud somewhere where I have no trouble taking care of myself first and where I take nightly bubble baths while drinking overpriced tea. I’m right there in the trenches with you. I am sitting here thinking about “how much I have eaten today” and “how gross it is.” What are these thoughts giving me? Nothing. Still, being aware of the bad thoughts and identifying them as such is, in my opinion, the first step towards real self-care. Instead of sitting and wallowing in these thoughts, I am telling them to all of you and doing something that I love. I love writing, and I don’t do it nearly often enough because I’m “not good at it” (according to the little jerk that lives in my head).. But I am doing it anyway, despite what the dark part of my brain may tell me. It’s not a lot, but it is still practicing self-care and compassion. It is a step forward.

So here is my challenge for you, promise me that you will try your hardest to give to yourself, your soul, this holiday season. Promise me that you will try to practice gentleness towards yourself at least once a day until December 25. Self-care doesn’t need to be elaborate. Practicing self-care isn’t all bubble baths and tea and yoga. Self-care can be cleaning up your room that, while how messy it is has been making you anxious, you have been too depressed to clean. Self-care can be listening to a podcast that makes you laugh. Self-care can be waking up extra early to watch the sun come up. Heck, self-care can be eating two tablespoons of sunflower butter instead of one. Self-care is anything and everything that lifts you up, that creates a little glimmer or light among the seemingly endless dark.

Everything you think and feel is valid…

Even during the holidays.

…If you want to hear more of my thoughts on this manner, I also made a video on my Youtube channel about this topic.

Holiday Fears And Gratitudes

First and foremost I would like to say Happy Thanksgiving to all of you Americans/those who celebrate. I woke up this morning with a strong desire to write. I miss blogging (though can you miss something that you never did consistently?), but, as I have written about previously, the words just don’t seem to come to me anymore. But today is different.

I think a lot about what I want this blog to be. There is a part of me that wants to treat this as some sort of online journal where I spew out my thoughts and feeling for the whole world to see; and there is a part of me that wants this blog to be something clean, professional, marketable.

I have eluded to some of my struggles with mental illness over the course of my (few) posts on here, but I don’t know if  have ever said it outright.

Hey there. I’m Erin. I have an eating disorder

Exhale.

I have fought myself so long on whether I should say that one sentence right there – “I have an eating disorder.” Why? It’s not because I’m ashamed or because I don’t want people to know. It’s because I fear that, if people know that I struggle with an eating disorder, they will not want to listen to what I have to say. But why is that? Does having a mental illness make me any less of a person? Does it make my thoughts and feelings less valid? Does it cancel out any knowledge I have on certain topics?

Does it make me no longer a person but, instead, a diagnosis?

No.

I truly think that the reason that I find myself lacking the motivation to write is because  I have been desperately trying to hide a part of myself from the world. It is true that I am not my diagnosis (though it is not uncommon to begin to see your mental illness as your identity) but that does not change the fact that it is a part of me. A lot of who I am today is a result of my lifelong battle with anorexia and EDNOS.

I so desperately want there to be a place where there can be an open and honest conversation about mental illness. I want there to be a place where nothing has to be so precious. I want there to be a place where people are unafraid to talk about the darkest parts of their minds without fearing judgment or the possibility of being scolded for being “triggering” (a post on trigger-warnings and my feelings about them will soon be n the works). I want there to be a place where mental illness is just a piece of a much larger story, not the center point of it.

Anyway… Thanksgiving.

Now that I let the cat out of the bag about my struggles with anorexia, lets talk about one of the scariest days of the year for those who struggle with this illness – Thanksgiving.

Even if you don’t struggle with an eating disorder (or any mental illness for that matter), the holidays can be an immensely hard time. They are a time where money is tight, stress levels are high, stores are crowded. It can all be very hard to deal with. If you feel this way, know that you are not alone in this. I know that this fact seems like common knowledge, but it is so easy to get swept up in just how “full of holiday cheer” everyone is and then beat yourself up because you are not as “happy as you are supposed to be.”

You are allowed to feel the way that you feel. Even during the holidays.

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that if you have even the slightest bit of understanding of the way that eating disorders work that you know that Thanksgiving is an especially tough day. The holiday is centered around food and food, or the control of it, is the way that you express your illness. Eating disorders exist in an endless amount of forms so it would be silly of me to try and lay out exactly how those who struggle will handle this day. The best that I can do is take my own personal experiences and feelings and lay them out for you to either resonate with or not.

Something that I want to do, and that I encourage you do as well, is create a “Fears and Loves” list. Admittedly, I am stealing this idea from the absolutely incredible podcast “The Mental Illness Happy Hour.” I encourage you all, no matter what your mental state is going into today, to create one of these lists. Sometimes, it takes putting it in writing to actually know how you are feeling.

Please remember that these fears come from a place of… well… fear and that this place is not rational. Fears don’t need to be rational to be valid. If something scares you, it is worth discussing, even if it seems silly to you or others.

My Thanksgiving Fears

  1. I fear that I will eat too much.
  2. I fear that I will gain weight.
  3. I fear that I will let my eating disorder ruin my holiday.
  4. I fear that I will let my eating disorder ruin my family’s holiday.
  5. I fear that my I will exhibit disordered behaviors at the dinner table.
  6. I fear that I will make my family feel uncomfortable.
  7. I fear that having so many people in my home with cause me to have a panic attack
  8. I fear that said panic attack will lead to my family thinking I am either rude or crazy.
  9. I fear that every holiday for the rest of my life will be like this.

 

My Thanksgiving Loves

  1. I love listening to my grandpa tell stories of the days long ago while he sits at the table talking with his brother.
  2. I love being in a room with all of the people that I love most in the world.
  3. I love that I have such a big and close-knit family. I am very lucky.
  4. I love that I am about to go for a long run and that I will get to see other runners, happy and excited for the day, out doing their own Thanksgiving miles.
  5. I love the house smelling like rosemary from all of the Thanksgiving  cooking.
  6. I love the way that apple pie looks when it first comes out of the oven.
  7. I love that, while I still struggle, that I can sit and joke and laugh with my family while we eat Thanksgiving dinner today. Even last year, this was near impossible.
  8. I love that I am lucky enough to live in a nice warm house with people that love me.
  9. I love that I am lucky enough to live on this planet that, every day, I am so in awe of.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

What are some of your fears and loves today?

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Why I Won’t Put A Label On My Diet (And Why You Shouldn’t Either)

Labels seem to be very in vogue these days, especially when it comes to one’s dietary preferences. Vegan, gluten-free, low-fat, high-fat, low-carb, high-carb, primal, paleo, vegetarian, pescatarian, grain-free, fully raw, low-fat-raw, rawtill4,801010, plant-based, clean eating, if it fits your macros…

I could go on.

Now, let me be the first to say that I have not one thing against any one of these diets (okay I have an issue with a couple). For the most part, each diet (when executed properly and intelligently) is actual pretty darn healthy. What I have an issue with is the unhealthy mindset that comes along with the obsession with labeling oneself.

Back in the day, there were essentially three labels that people used in regards to their diets: omnivore, vegan, and vegetarian (you could throw pescatarian into this as well). That was it, clear and simple. Did gluten-free exist? Yes, but being gluten-free was left to those with Celiac. Did paleo exist? Probably, though I don’t know that it was labeled as such.

What I’m trying to get at here is that is seems to me that people just ate food. Every single person on the planet has always and will always eat differently. No two people (should) have the exact same amount of calories or ratios of macro-nutrients each and every day. That just doesn’t make sense. Some people have a natural gravitation towards higher fat foods as they feel better when they eat them, some people avoid dairy because it makes them feel sick, some people feel more satisfied eating lower fat. When a person is in touch with their bodies, they know what to eat and how much of it to eat. If a person really desires some nuts, they should probably eat some nuts. If a person really wants a huge bowl of fruit, they should go get themselves a watermelon. Our bodies do not define themselves as high-carb or paleo, so why do we? Why don’t we just eat what feels good? Maybe what feels good to you just so happens to fall within the criteria of being paleo. Cool. Awesome. But why do you need to put a label on it?

People do not belong in boxes. If I had a penny for every time I have said this in my life, I would probably have enough pennies to afford a bag of organic lettuce at Whole Foods (that stuff is expensive as heck). I try to live my life with this mantra existing as a florescent sign that is constantly flashing in my subconscious mind. As someone with the tendency to collapse into a puddle of self-loathing on the daily, I have a whole lot of trouble with trying to accept myself as I am. I have spent the majority of my life trying to hide the most vital pieces of myself that make me who I am in an attempt to not be judged by the world. I feel that a lot of us do this, I mean, it is human nature to want to belong. So what do with do with this burning desire to fit in?

We attempt to shove ourselves into boxes that we do not quite fit in.

We go to school and try to figure out which “crowd” is ours. Are we one of the preppy kids? An athlete? An artsy-type? A drama kid? An academic? An outsider?

Why the heck can’t we be all of the above?

I feel like putting a label on your diet is basically just the grown-up version of what we go through in middle school. Each diet camp is just another clique and I am so freaking sick and tired of trying to belong.

I find labels damaging, especially to those who are in recovery from an eating disorder or a broken relationship with food. When you are coming from a place where so much of your life was spent trying so hard to be “perfect” when it came to diet, why are trying to recover by finding another way to put pressure on yourself.

Multiple times a day, I hate myself for not being vegan. I eat “vegan” probably 85% of the time and vegetarian almost 100% of the time. Why? This is just the way that I tend to gravitate. I feel a little bit better about myself knowing that most of what I eat did no harm to a life.. But I am not vegan. I can’t be vegan right now, and even if I went 100% vegan some day… I still would never call myself a vegan. Deep down, I know that the second that I slap a label on the way I eat is the second that is the beginning of another downward spiral. Coming from anorexia (though this applies to all who have ever struggled with food whether it an eating disorder or chronic dieting), I put so much pressure on myself to constantly be perfect. This is something that, though I am getting better at practicing self-compassion, I still struggle with daily. The second that a label is slapped onto my diet, I know that it will be all I focus on. Living up to my label will become an obsession in the same way that starving myself was. That is so damaging.

What I am saying here is that I truly believe that we need to reject the labeling of ourselves in all parts of our lives. This could be the diet that we ascribe to, the personality-type we believe we are (creative, analytical, etc.)… All things! Say it with me… PEOPLE DO NOT BELONG IN BOXES. There is no perfect label that you can put on yourself because you are the only you that you are. Your label is unique to you and that is what is so amazing about being a human being. When you realize how incredible it is that you are the only one of you that ever has been and ever will be… God, it is just the most liberating feeling imaginable.

All in all, be who you are, eat the way you want, live the way you want, and don’t fear not belonging to a specific group or label.. You are so much more than just your dietary preferences.

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Mental Illness: The Mind’s Foreign Invader

There are currently 5 half written posts sitting in my drafts here on this blog. I have had several topics that I have wanted to address for weeks now. I have been out and have had to stop mid-run because there were too many ideas filling up my head and they had to be written down. Every idea was, to my perception, a great one and I was so excited to sit down and write some quality blog posts that would hopefully help at least one person.

But when I did get to sit to write, the words wouldn’t come.

One of the many weird things about the human mind is that, while it feels like we think in our native language, it is sometimes completely impossible to articulate our thoughts, even though they seem so clear and concise within our minds. What a frustrating thing to have the words flowing though your mind and filling it up but not being able to put those thoughts down on paper. This has been my experience not only for the past few weeks, but for years.

I have never had a clear picture of what I want to do with my life. I have never had a dream career. I have never wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher. I have never wanted a “normal job.” In fact the sheer idea of working a 9-5 job for the rest of my life makes my heart shrivel up with fear. It is not the idea of working that scares me, not at all. I want to do something with my life. It is simply the idea of working a job that doesn’t fill me up and leave me excited to work each day that makes me want to cry. I have spent most of my life asleep, consumed by self-hatred so intense that it prevented me from living a real life. While the monster of self-hatred still has its ugly hand clasped tightly around my neck, I am finally starting to realize that hey, maybe I’m actually worth something. Maybe I do deserve to be alive. It is such a self-aggrandizing thing to believe that you are the worst creature to ever step foot on the earth. I believe that each and every human is a crucial entity to the thriving of the universe, except for me. What makes me think that I am so special as to be immune to this being a crucial being?

Back to the words.

All I have ever wanted to do was elicit emotion in others. Since I was a little girl, this idea has played over and over again in my mind. I want to make people feel something. I want to be able to reach out and touch the hearts of other people.

Now, you can’t exactly major in heart touching. Actually, I guess you can, but I’m not aiming to be a heart surgeon over here.

I have always found myself moved by books and movies and music. There is something so incredible about being able to read a book and think about how the author of that book must feel knowing that characters that they created have become the loved ones of all who encounter his/her novels. Sometimes I just sit and think about what it must be like to be J.K. Rowling. Her children, the ones that she created in ink, have become family in the homes of millions. Her creations have brought families together, have made people read who never had any interest in reading prior, and have allowed those going through rough times to escape the harsh world that is their own for a little while. What she created has brought both crushing heartbreak and unbelievable joy to so many people. I can only imagine what it must be like to be in a position where you know that you have touched the hearts of so many. I tear up just thinking about what that must be like.

So I decided I should be a writer. Books provided me with so much all my life. As corny and cliche as it may sounds, books, along with music, really did act as my dearest friends for most of my life. In fact, they still do to this day.

Words, they used to come so easily to me. I could sit and write for hours and hours about the characters that existed in my head. As I fell asleep each night, I would write the stories in my head. I could see the characters, hear them, feel them. My brain was constantly creating. It was an escape from reality and it was exciting and beautiful.

And then it stopped.

The deeper that I fell into my mental illness, the harder it became to see the stories. I lost the ability to dream. The beautiful worlds that existed in my subconscious were ravaged by the monster that is mental illness. It all shut down. I shut down.

Now, quite a few years later, I am finally waking up. I don’t know if I could say that the voice of my mental illnesses are any quieter. In fact, I could argue that they are louder than ever before. The difference now is that I am aware that these monsters are foreign invaders.

Picture an angel fish. While beautiful to the eye, angel fish are actually not native to Florida’s water. They were brought over by outside forces, not by nature. After the angel fish were released into Florida waters, they quickly multiplied and took over. These fish, while now that there are multitudes of them, do not belong in these waters. These fish are hunting and killing the fish that are native to these waters. They are multiplying and destroying and it is all so unnatural.

But would you have known this just by looking? Probably not. How would you know that angel fish are actually harming the waters of Florida just be looking? To the normal eye, when there are a ton of a certain kind of fish in the water, you assume that they are meant to be there.

I swear that this analogy made way more sense in my head…

If my angel fish analogy was understandably in any way, picture mental illness as the angel fish. These diseases, these bad thoughts, have had such a presence in the mind for so long that you often fail to really understand that they are not supposed to be there. This illness that takes up so much space in the waters of your mind is actually destroying the parts of your mind that are meant to be there.

So when I say that I woke up, I truly mean that the parts of my mind, the parts that held my true self, began to remember that hey, they’re the ones that are supposed to be here, not this outsider that is mental illness.

The hardest part of recovery takes place after you wake up. When you identify yourself by your diagnosis, it’s easy. “Oh, I can’t eat because I have an eating disorder.” “Oh, I can’t go out because I have social anxiety.” “Oh, I want to die because I have clinical depression.” Once you realize that these thoughts are not who you are is when the real work begins. Once you realize that there is actually a lot more to you than a simple diagnosis is when you are forced to exit the safe space of mental illness.

Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc., they all actually exist to keep you safe. I know, how twisted is that? But it’s the truth. When you are completely consumed by a mental disorder, you don’t have to face the big scary thing that is “the real world.” No, you get to stay safe and snug in your little bubble of self-destruction.

Oh yeah, except for the fact that this disorder that is keeping you safe is also simultaneously killing you.

I guess that what I am trying to say in a not-so-concise way is that mental illness causes us to lose the parts of ourselves that make us who we are. We lose our much-ness. And sometimes, it seems as though it is impossible to get what used to fill us up and make us whole back.

Well, I want my much-ness back. The words will come back.