Giving

“The joy supposedly is in the giving, so when the joy is gone, when the giving starts to feel more like a burden, that’s when you stop. But if you’re like most people I know, you give till it hurts, and then you give some more.” ~ Meredith, Grey’s Anatomy Season 6 Episode 10: Holidaze

I know that personally, I love to give things to friends, to coworker, and to my family. I like to feel that I am being helpful. As Meredith says, you get joy out of giving. It makes me happy to think of a friend reading a card I sent, or seeing them open a present I gave them. Even just giving my time makes me happy – I wouldn’t hang out with my friends if it didn’t give me joy too!

But everyone has their limits, and I personally am very bad at saying “no”. I am definitely getting better, but I still have a ways to go. I was always the first to volunteer to provide extra time on a project, or go to dinner with a friend if they were having a bad day, or feel like it was my job to make everyone happy. If someone did something nice to me, I felt obligated to buy them a gift to show my appreciation, or spend extra time trying to show them how grateful I was. Rather then putting myself first, I put making others happy first. As a result, sometimes I would feel overwhelmed.

I am trying to be better about setting limits, but am still really struggling with feeling like I am not giving enough. I think I am particularly struggling because all of my friends have been giving ME so much as I try to recover. Many people regularly ask me how I am doing, and offer to help if they can. And what do I do? What have I been giving? Nothing. The meds I am on make me sleep like 10 hours a day, and I am generally tired during the day. I try to do as much as possible with work, but I always feel like I am falling short. I am lazy so I rarely call people. I have been trying to work with my therapist on lowering my expectations for myself and allowing myself to say no, but it is slow going.

Rationalizing

ER Season 14 Episode 5: Under the Influence

Janet: You drank? When? Last night. You want to get to a meeting?

Abby: I don’t have time to go to a meeting. I don’t need to go to a meeting. I just I had a bad day, a very bad day, and it was just one time. I’m not going to start drinking again.

Janet: Really? Are you an alcoholic?

Abby: Yes, but..

Janet: Yes, but? All those years that you were sitting in meetings, were you an alcoholic then? Yes or no? OK, keep drinking. Do the research, see what happens.

Abby: I can handle this.

Janet: Just let me know how it works out for you. OK, I’ve got a clinic full of patients.

Abby: Janet, Janet, you’re my sponsor.

Janet: I was your sponsor, but now it’s very simple. If you’ve decided you’re not an alcoholic, I can’t help you. If you are, I’ll be your sponsor again and I’ll support you in recovery. Let me know what you decide.

This conversation between Abby and Janet reminded me of an internal dialogue I have with myself a lot – debating whether or not I really have an eating disorder, and thus whether or not I really need to follow my meal plan. My therapist often likens restricting a few exchanges to an alcoholic having one drink. Much in the same way that Janet responds to Abby, if I restrict a little she tells me that I need to get back on track ASAP, that it is a slippery slope. Too often though, I rationalize, just like Abby is doing here. I say that it’s not a big deal, that it could be worse, and that I’ll get back on track tomorrow. Kind of like Abby, I say “yes, but…”. There is always a “but.”

Sometimes though, the rationalizing goes even further. I’ll convince myself that I don’t really have an eating disorder – I’m not underweight, I’m eating enough, I’m not overexercising or purging etc. Then, the logic goes, if I don’t have an eating disorder, why do I need to follow this meal plan? Why do I have to keep eating even when I’m full, or make sure to be diligent about meals/snacks? Normal people don’t eat the same amount every day, so why do I have to follow this meal plan?

The problem is, as Janet points out, this doesn’t end well. As she says, “do the research, see what happens.” Just like an alcoholic eventually starts drinking more than one drink, I start restricting more than one exchange. One exchange becomes two, two becomes three, and then those three never come back. I think Janet’s point to Abby is that she has to recognize that she has a problem and that she has to take certain steps (perhaps going to a meeting), to overcome it. In the same way, I need to stop rationalizing and accept that I need to follow my meal plan in order to achieve recovery.

To the Bone

I watched the new Netflix movie To the Bone, which is about a young women with anorexia. Contrary to what some people said about it, I don’t think it glamorizes eating disorders. I think they made her struggle look painful – they show her compulsively doing situps, running up and down the stairs despite being out of breath, and passing out in a train station. I do take issue with the fact that the lead actress, who has a history of anorexia herself, lost weight for the role, as it feeds into the stereotype that everyone with an eating disorder is underweight. However, when she goes to treatment, there are people there with a variety of body sizes, which hopefully helps to combat the idea that one needs to be severely underweight to seek out residential/inpatient treatment.

What I take issue with is the portrayal of the treatment process. I get that the place where is goes for treatment, a residential place run by a psychiatrist played by Keanu Reeves, is supposed to be “nontraditional.” However, I really doubt that any treatment place would employ some of the methods used by this place. For one, meals are completely unsupervised. The patients just sit at the table with a bunch of food, and are allowed to eat as much or as a little as they want. One patient almost exclusively eats peanut butter from a jar too. Although I know that some treatment places ultimately have patients practice intuitive eating or get to a point where they prepare their own food, most places have patients start out with supervised meals and meal plans. They basically make it look like treatment is living in a nice house, going on some field trips, and engaging in a group or two. I worry people who watch the movie will have an unrealistic view of just how hard residential/inpatient treatment is.

Furthermore, towards the end of the movie the main character has a revelation/near death experience, and then is shown going back to the treatment center, more willing than before. It is implied that now she will be compliant and get better. Although I have never had a near death experience, I know many people that have and continue to struggle. It’s not that simple. It is a daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes minute by minute, difficult decision to continue on the path to recovery. I wish they would make a second movie that documents her struggles now that she is going to be cooperative in treatment – because that’s when shit gets hard.

Although I did not personally find it triggering, that doesn’t mean that it is okay for anyone with an eating disorder to watch this movie. I know that others have found it triggering. If you are considering watching it, talk to your therapist or another professional first to make sure it is in your best interest.

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.

Keep Fighting

From Grey’s Anatomy Season 11, Episode 14 – “The Distance”:

Dr. Amelia Shepard: “The key, though, win or lose, is not to fail. And the only way to fail is not to fight. So you fight until you can’t fight anymore. Hold up you head and enter the arena and face the enemy. Fight until you can’t fight anymore. Never let go. Never give up. Never run. Never surrender. Fight the good fight. You fight even when it seems inevitable that you’re about to go down swinging.”

I actually don’t have a lot to say about this quote – I think it pretty much speaks for itself. The process of recovery from an eating disorder is grueling, and it’s easy to feel like a failure. I often actually feel caught in this vicious cycle of failure – if I make pro-recovery decisions, I feel like I am failing the eating disorder, and if I choose to listen to the eating disorder, I feel like I am failing at recovery. It sets up this impossible scenario where I just feel bad 24/7.

Every time I have to go back into more intensive treatment I feel like a failure too. I don’t feel that way when friends tell me they are stepping up treatment though. I think this quote is a good reminder that continuing to fight, even if that means having to go back to more intensive treatment, is not failing.

It also gets exhausting fighting so hard, day after day. Some days it feels like I just can’t fight anymore. But as the quote says, I need to “Never let go. Never give up.” Just keep fighting.

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.