Moving Forward

From Grey’s Anatomy Season 5 Episode 18 – Elevator Love Letter:

Alex: Doesn’t matter how tough we are, trauma always leaves a scar. It follows us home, it changes our lives, trauma messes everybody up, but maybe that’s the point. All the pain and the fear and the crap. Maybe going through all of that is what keeps us moving forward. It’s what pushes us. Maybe we have to get a little messed up, before we can step up.

I am lucky that I have never experienced true trauma. I have had a few professionals argue that certain events in my life could be considered traumatic, but I have thankfully never experienced what most people would consider a traumatic event.

However, I think this quote is applicable even for those who have not experienced trauma. Specifically, I think this quote can apply simply to the experience of having an eating disorder. The years of having an eating disorder has certainly left a scar; it has certainly changed me. It has messed me up in some ways, and definitely messed with my life plans.

That being said, years of therapy have provided me with tools to better handle a variety of situations. I have met many wonderful friends in treatment, and in some ways have been afforded opportunities that I probably would not have had if I continued on the career path I was on before treatment. Although I am in a bit of a rough patch right now when it comes to regret over giving up medical school, I am trying to do what Alex says – use the pain and fear to push myself and keep myself moving forward.

I hope that anyone reading this entry can do the same. Trauma and painful experiences are awful, but if nothing else, hopefully they can motivate you to keep pushing and moving forward. Remember too that you are not alone, and there are always people out there to provide support.

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Rituals

House M.D.: Season 7, Episode 8:

Dr. House: We’re hardwired for answers…Problem is when we don’t find a logical answer, we settle for a stupid one.  Ritual is what happens when we run out of rational.

I’m not saying the eating disorder is a “stupid” answer, it’s not that simple. However, my experience does fir this quote. When I feel poorly physically, I immediately try to figure out a logical answer. For example, when I am I tired I try to figure out all the possible reasons – did I get too little sleep? Too much? Did I drink too much or too little caffeine? Nine times out of ten though, I can’t find a logical reason. I’m sleeping enough, eating enough, drinking enough etc. So, I “settle for a stupid” answer – I blame eating. I start to think that maybe I’m feeling tired (or have headaches or whatever) because I am eating too much. I somehow figure that if I eat less, I’ll feel better.

Along with that, while rationally I know that engaging in eating disorder behaviors is not helpful, they are so hardwired after seventeen years that it is fairly easy to fall back into the rituals. Rationally, I know that every time I start down that road, it winds up leading me away from life and into a higher level of care. I try very hard to stay in wise mind and counter distortions with rational responses. However, the process is incredibly exhausting, and often times the eating disorder just keeps pushing until eventually I just get worn out. Then when that happens, I turn back to the rituals.

In keeping with this quote, I think that I need to stop looking so hard for answers. I need to accept that sometimes I am going to be tired, or sometimes there isn’t going to be a perfectly rational response to the eating disorder thoughts. I think that if I can accept the uncertainty, or at least be less obsessed with having an answer, that might keep me from turning back to the rituals.

 

Being Ready

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.” ~ Hugh Laurie

I really like this quote, and recite it to myself often when I am having a tough time wondering if I am ready to take certain steps. For example, I am probably going to take a graduate class this fall. There are many days where I consider not going through with it because I do not know if I am ready or not – it has been a long time since I have been in school. However, if I wait until I really feel ready, there is a good chance I will never feel ready. While I think it is important to be realistic, I also think that the anticipatory anxiety is usually far worse than the actual experience, and waiting just increases this anxiety.

I also think that this quote is very powerful when it comes to recovery itself. Although I have definitely had moments deep in the eating disorder that are awful and really motivate me as far as recovery, often times those moments are quickly replaced by the eating disorder telling me to wait, that things “could be worse” or “are not that bad.” Despite that voice, I have chosen to go into treatment because, as Hugh Laurie says “now is as good a time as any.” If I waited until I was 100% ready to gain weight or follow my meal plan, well, that would never happen. I think recovery often involves a fair amount of “fake it ’till you make it.” It involves doing it even when you do not feel ready or feel that you want to give up the eating disorder. It involves doing it NOW, with the idea that eventually it will become the new normal and feel right.

 

Feelings Are Not Facts

I try to stay away from political issues on this blog, but this was just too good to pass up. This past week on Last Week Tonight John Oliver pointed out some flaws in the Republican Party’s logic that really touched on something I’ve been working on recently.

My therapist pointed out that, for whatever reason, I tend to take eating disorder feelings as facts. I think “I feel like I’m gaining weight, so I must be gaining weight” or “I feel like I don’t need this many exchanges at this meal/snack, so I must not need them.”

This past week, John Oliver played a clip of Newt Gingrich doing the exact same thing during an interview with CNN! The interviewer tried to point out that statistically speaking (according to FBI statistics), Americans are safer than they were 8 years ago. Mr. Gingrich countered with the “fact” that Americans don’t feel safer. John Oliver points out that feelings don’t equal facts. If they did, then that would basically mean that candidates can create facts because they can create feelings.

Anyway, while watching this interview and thinking “Newt is being ridiculous” I realized that I do the same thing with the eating disorder. Furthermore, it made me think that the eating disorder is like Donald Trump – it’s a big bully trying to scare me. It tries to convince me that I will be safe with it by playing to my biggest fears, but there are no concrete ideas or facts behind the words. That realization makes me want to fight harder. I won’t let Donald Trump scare me with his words, so I need to do the same with the eating disorder!

Here is the clip. The part I’m talking about starts around minute 6:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNdkrtfZP8I

 

Success

Hodgins: Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you have the whole world to support you, success can be just out of reach.

Bones: Then success must be redefined as that which can be accomplished.

From Bones Season 11, Episode 14 – Last Shot at a Second Chance

I was in an IOP group recently, and the group leader said something similar about goals. For this group we had to set daily goals. One time when someone was saying how she did not meet any of her goals, the group leader said that the stance in DBT is that if someone did not reach his/her goals, that does not mean the person failed. Rather, it means that it was simply the wrong goal. For example, let’s say someone set the goal of meeting her meal plan 100% every single day, but one day had a slip and did not meet 100%. From a DBT perspective, she did not fail. Rather, it just means that the goal should have been “eat 100% 6/7 days.”

Now I’m not saying that restricting is ok, nor am I saying that people shouldn’t set goals that are challenging. A big part of recovery is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and that means setting goals that are hard. However, I also think it’s important to be realistic and remember that recovery is all about baby steps. I know a lot of people, myself included, who tend to see one slip as a failure, or feel unsuccessful at recovery because it is such a slow process.

I think what Dr. Hodgins says is definitely true. Sometimes I don’t reach my goals because I don’t utilize supports or my skills. However, it is also possible to have all the tools and supports in the world, but still not reach the goal. With that in mind, I think it’s important to keep in mind what Bones says. Not reaching a goal doesn’t always mean you failed – maybe it means you need to redefine what it means to succeed.

Take the meal plan example. I could sit here and say that I am not succeeding at recovery because I have not met my meal plan 100% every single day since getting out of inpatient. However, I am probably doing the best I have done in a long time. That is not to say that I shouldn’t still continue to aim for 100%, or that restricting is ok. But, that doesn’t mean that I need to call myself a failure. If I define success with other markers, such as drinking an ensure when I can’t fit in a meal, or making sure to always eat a snack when driving home from work, then I am succeeding.

Again, I want to make it clear that I am not saying that restricting is ok, or that the goal shouldn’t always be to aim for 100%. Rather, I am saying that instead of getting caught up in a swarm of negativity, sometimes it is helpful to remember that you don’t have to be perfect to be successful.

Obsessing

House: Started thinking about what you said, about me obsessing. Started obsessing about obsessing.

Season 6, “Epic Fail”

I have been thinking about this quote a lot as I try to work on decreasing my obsessive thinking. I obviously have obsessive thinking related to food and weight, but the obsessive thinking extends beyond that. My therapist and I have recently started talking about other types of obsessive thinking, and it’s been eye opening to realize that not everyone spends time obsessing about, well, basically everything.

I remember as a kid being very obsessed with saying or doing the “right” thing. I would replay conversations in my head and rehearse future conversations until they were “just right.” I know it’s perfectly normal to think about a previous interaction or prepare for an important discussion, but I would do it over EVERY interaction. I still struggle with this, although not nearly as much as I used to. I wonder if some of the obsession about food and weight is a way to take my focus off of these other obsessions.

My therapist introduced me to this thing called “Just Right OCD”, which fits with a lot of these obsessions. You can read more about it here. I don’t really struggle with making sure things are “just right” (i.e. that a pen is in the exact right spot on the desk), but I definitely obsess about making sure that I express myself “just right” or write an email (or even this blog post “just right.”

In light of all of this, I am now trying to focus less on making things “just right”, both with food and other things. So in honor of that, I am writing this blog post and NOT editing it over and over again. I apologize in advance for any errors, but hopefully this is the first step towards getting rid of some of this obsessive thinking.

Kimmy Schmidt – Putting Your Needs First

First, all of the quotes in this article are great: 14 Empowering Quotes From ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ That Will Motivate You To Take On The Day

I want to draw particular attention, however, to this one:

“Happy People Value Their Needs As Much As Others”

Putting my needs first is something I really struggle with. I have a hard time saying no to any request, especially when I’m doing so in the service of my own recovery. For example, if a friend asks for a ride somewhere, but giving her that ride means missing dinner, my eating disorder tends to do double duty and say “you can’t say no because that would make you a bad friend, and also this is the perfect ‘excuse’ to not eat dinner.”

However, that line of reasoning has resulted in nothing but countless admissions to the hospital, so I am really trying to do something different now. Specifically, when it comes to helping other friends who are in recovery, my therapist likes to remind me of how on an airplane they remind you to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others. After putting everyone else’s requests ahead of my own needs for basically my whole life, it feels really weird to say “no, I can’t do that, I have to eat”, but I’m trying.

I’m also hoping that this quote from Kimmy Schmidt will help remind me that perhaps the way out of the depressive funk I am in now is not trying to keep pleasing others. I often think that I’ll be happier if I work more or do more for others, but maybe what I actually need to do is give myself that day off instead of taking on more work, or allow myself to curl up on the couch with my cats and watching Netflix instead of going out when I really don’t need to (although sadly I have now finished all of Season 2 of Kimmy Schmidt). It is a real shift in values/priorities, but here’s to hoping that Kimmy is right.