Uncertainty

From Grey’s Anatomy Season 14, Episode 22 – Fight for Your Mind:

Meredith: Fixing your mental health isn’t like surgery. You can’t just run the bloodwork and check the vitals. With mental health, progress is way harder to measure, and if something is wrong, we have to take action. There is a lot of uncertainty, there’s a lot of fear, and what might be easy for one person, for someone else might take inner strength you can’t even imagine. But we have to try. We have to stand up to our demons. We have to face reality whenever possible and ask for help when we can.

There have been a couple of times that I have blogged using Grey’s Anatomy quotes that discuss how recovery is a long process, and that recovery from mental illness is usually not as cut and dry as physical illness. Even the diagnosis of mental illness isn’t usually as cut and dry. Most of the time diagnosis is based on a cluster of observable symptoms and/or thoughts; there aren’t really clinical tests like labs and vitals. This is something that I struggle with a lot when it comes to my own mental health issues. Especially with the eating disorder, I feel like there has to be some proof in the sense of my weight being low or my vitals being off to warrant treatment.

Moving on from diagnosis, as Meredith says, fixing your mental health is a long, uncertain process. Often there are some evidenced-based treatments, but for most people I know, treatment and medication is often the process of trial and error. Everyone’s struggle also looks different. I struggle with some things that friends I have met in treatment do not struggle with (even though we technically have the same diagnoses) and vice versa.

I like also how Meredith puts in the part about asking for help when you can. It’s often really hard to ask for help for a problem that others cannot see. But, a good support system is a key factor for many people (including myself) when it comes to recovery.

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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.

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.

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.