Being Alone

They found this guy in Maine who had been living completely alone in the woods for 30 years. They called him the last true hermit. 30 years without the warmth of human touch, without conversation. The hermit felt more lonely when he was out in the world, than he ever felt in the woods by himself. Surrounded by people, but drowning in solitude. That kind of loneliness can swallow you whole. ~ Grey’s Anatomy, Season 11, Episode 10

I am very lucky that I have a great support system. I have a great treatment team, a great family, great coworkers, and great friends. However, there are times when the eating disorder makes me feel completely isolated. I’ll be out to eat with someone or a group of people, and everyone else is laughing and talking, and I’m sitting there calculating how many calories are in what I’m eating/drinking. I’m sitting there drowning in thoughts of self-doubt, poor body image, and racing thoughts about calories consumed.

When I think of recovery, I think of being able to be fully engaged in these situations. I think of the eating disorder not making me lonely and isolated, even when surrounded by people. That would be true freedom.

Worrying

“We’re all susceptible to it, the dread and anxiety of not knowing what’s coming. It’s pointless in the end, because all the worrying and the making of plans for things that could or could not happen, it only makes things worse. So walk your dog or take a nap. Just whatever you do, stop worrying. Because the only cure for paranoia is to be here, just as you are.” ~ Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy Season 6, Episode 3

I am a chronic worrier, and it is something that I have been working on a lot. I worry about everything, and often try to plan out my every waking moment. Even when I have a day off, I will plan out what I am going to do with each hour. I end up feeling chronically exhausted because I never actually have any time off from the constant planning and worrying.

Recently though, I have been trying to let go and stop planning. I will never be as spontaneous as some, and that is something I have to accept. But, I can do things like pet my cats or watch TV and not count the minutes that pass by, or worry about what I am going to do to pass the next hour. To be more technical about it, I have been trying to practice mindfulness. Just being present, and trying to focus on the sights and sounds around me. As the quote says, it’s impossible to plan for everything, so I should stop trying.

When You Least Want It

From ER Season 8, Episode 7 “If I Should Fall From Grace”:

Carter: Want to tell us about the scars?

Grace: I used to be a cutter…I developed an eating disorder. It was my way of dealing with stress….

Lewis: And what about now, are you still cutting?

Grace: No.

Carter: Show me your arm….Grace you have a fever…maybe from an infection. Maybe from using a dirty blade. 

Grace: I told you I haven’t eaten.

Lewis: So the eating disorder continues?

Grace: No! I’ve just been cramming.

Carter: Let me see your thigh.

[Lewis lifts up her skirt, revealing fresh cuts, and Grace becomes angry]

Lewis: We just want to help.

Carter: If you don’t stay and agree to speak to somebody, you are going to force me to put you on a psych hold.

Grace: Stop. You are blowing this way out of proportion. Why are you doing this?

Carter: Because I know what it’s like to need help when you least want it.

Grace: Please just leave me alone.

Carter: I can’t.

I love Carter’s line “because I know what it’s like to need help when you least want it.” For those who are not familiar with the show, in Season 6 Carter developed a drug problem after being nearly fatally stabbed. He was confronted by the rest of the ER staff and ultimately went to rehab.

I wish I could find a clip of this scene online because the transcript really doesn’t do it justice. Noah Wyle (the actor who plays Carter) does a great job delivering the line with sincere empathy. I love the way he tells her that no, he can’t just leave her alone.

As much as I can be resistant to help, I am very grateful to all the people who continue to stick by me, and help me even when the eating disorder is fighting back and I appear not to want it. I know for me, it’s often when I least want support that I need it the most.

What If?

From Season 1, Episode 6 “If Tomorrow Never Comes”:

Meredith: I don’t know why we put things off, but if I had to guess, I’d say it has a lot to do with fear. Fear of failure. Fear of pain. Fear of rejection. Sometimes the fear is just of making a decision, because what if you’re wrong? What if you make a mistake you can’t undo? Whatever it is we’re afraid of, one thing holds true: that by the time the pain of not doing the thing gets worse than the fear of doing it, it can feel like we’re carrying around a giant tumor…Still sometimes we have to see for ourselves. We have to make our own mistakes. We have to learn our own lessons. We have to sweep today’s possibility under tomorrow’s rug until we can’t anymore, until we finally understand for ourselves…that knowing is better than wondering, that waking is better than sleeping. And that even the biggest failure, even the worst most intractable mistake beats the hell out of never trying.”

I am absolutely horrible at making decisions, and I think a lot of that has to do with fear. I am always worried that I am making the wrong decision, even if it’s something minor. As a result, I often put off making decisions until, by default, sometimes the decision gets made for me.

Even when I do make a decision, I often spend hours, days, or even weeks second guessing whether I made the right decision or not. As Meredith says, this can lead to feeling like you are carrying around a huge weight.Even after a decision is made, I still carry around the “what if?” and wonder if I truly made the right decision or not. I wish I could get to a point where I could make a decision and just leave it be. That is definitely something I am working on, but am not quite there yet.

I think it is helpful though to keep in mind what Meredith says about having to make our own mistakes, and that idea that a mistake is not the worst thing in the world. I will make the wrong decision sometimes, but that is ok. I can learn lessons from those mistakes so that I don’t make them in the future.

They key is I have to let go of this constant “what if?”. There are always going to be unanswered questions, and there is always going to be fear of not doing the right thing. While it may seem like constantly analyzing and second guessing my decisions will lead to making the right choice, often all it does is keep me spinning. Being able to let go and just try to roll with what seems to be the best, as opposed to over analyzing and asking all the “what if” questions in the quote, might just lead to the sort of mental freedom and peace that I crave so badly.

Dreams

From Grey’s Anatomy Season 3, Episode 23 – The Other Side of Life, Part 2:

Meredith: At some point maybe we accept the dream has become a nightmare. We tell ourselves that reality is better. We convince ourselves it’s better that we never dream at all. But, the strongest of us, the most determined of us, we hold on to the dream or we find ourselves faced with a fresh dream we never considered. We wake to find ourselves, against all odds, feeling hopeful. And, if we’re lucky, we realize in the face of everything, in the face of life, the true dream is being able to dream at all.

I think there is a huge tendency, both in the press and among individuals, to glamorize eating disorders. I know I am definitely guilty of falling prey to the “dream” that the eating disorder promises. The eating disorder promises that I will be thin, that I will be happy, that it will solve my problems. As the quote says, however, at some point there has to be an acceptance that this is not a dream after all – it is a nightmare. The eating disorder does nothing but wreck things. It wrecks real dreams, life goals, and relationships.

When that realization happens, it’s easy to just give up all together. The eating disorder is not the answer, but in the face of years of destruction, life doesn’t look all that great either. The original path I set out on after graduating from college doesn’t exist anymore, and it’s really tempting to just give up.

I know logically, however, that it’s not time to give up. As Meredith says, it’s time to find a fresh dream. While several doors have been closed due to past decisions and past struggles, that doesn’t mean that all doors are closed. It is so easy to lose hope when things do not seem to be improving at the pace that I want, or when reminders of the dreams lost keep popping up. But I do hope that if I keep going, that hope will come. That I will continue to be able to dream, and realize that if I can just keep fighting through recovery, the dreams can be far bigger than I ever imagined.

Hope

From House M.D Season 4, Episode 14 – Living the Dream:

House: “No, you’re afraid to change. You’d rather imagine that you can escape instead of actually try. ‘Cause if you fail, then you got nothing. So you’ll give up the chance of something real so you can hold onto hope. The thing is, hope is for sissies.”

I blogged about this quote previously as part of a longer entry on how the eating disorder serves as sort of a scapegoat for not meeting the high expectations I have for myself. However, I was rereading the quote the other night, and it spoke to me in a new way, so I wanted to touch on it again.

Specifically, this time the part about imagining the escape stood out to me.Often before starting a higher level of care, I feel hopeful. I imagine myself feeling better – not having headaches, not feeling so cold. Because I know I am not doing well with eating, I blame all of these physical symptoms on the eating disorder, and thus have hope that things can get better if I can stop the symptoms. However, I then start eating more and the reality is, I don’t feel better. My head is still pounding, often worse than before I started eating more (probably from the stress of eating more). I’m tired. I’m nauseated. I then lose all hope and get really depressed. I struggle to hold onto the hope that I will ever feel better. In turn, I start to lose hope that I can ever have a normal life.

What I take from this quote is that the hope I get from holding onto the eating disorder may feel good, but it’s at the expense of achieving something real – a life that consists of more than the eating disorder. Although it’s hard, I have to figure out a way to keep up the hope that things will change while I’m actively trying to change. Rather than focusing on how awful I feel and how things don’t seem to be improving, I need to remember that the alternative is not much better.

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.