Right now, I’m sitting on my couch at home with my lovely (albeit fat) cat Jynxie and my equally plump yellow lab Candi. I’m trying to process what happened last week when I was at school before I came home for Fall Break on Saturday. It was definitely one of the hardest weeks I’ve had since I got back to school, but something that happened on Sunday while I was home kind of begins to make sense of the major up and down roller-coaster I was riding. Though it was up and down, I really pinpointed what exactly is a major obstacle in my recovery pathway, so in retrospect it was a growing experience (but REALLY BLEW while I was in it 😉 !!)
Last week started out fairly normally – I had a pretty decent amount of work to do, but overall there was nothing out of the ordinary going on. I knew that Fall Break was coming up on Saturday, and I knew I would be going home. I admit I was very anxious about that, for a few different reasons.
But what really turned the tide was when I woke up on Tuesday morning, opened up my facebook (naturally), and looked at the birthdays on the right portion of the screen. In that tiny blue Facebook font was written the name of my friend, Liz, who passed away unexpectedly in June 2009 at 19 years old. I had known Liz since I was in first grade and she was in kindergarten. We had grown-up together, had been on three swim teams together – high school, summer swim and USS club team, had taken tennis lessons together. We’d gone trick-or-treating, had pizza and poker nights at her house, blasted John Mayer and Ja Rule in the car, and indulged our mutual caffeine addictions at Starbucks many a time. We were on an undefeated, League Champion high school swim team together twice. Her family had driven three hours to watch me swim for Cornell my freshman year.
She was one of the best people I had ever known. She was a good person. She never responded negatively to any situation, was always very optimistic and did not gossip or talk behind other girls’ backs (this, in itself, is almost impossible to find among teenage girls). At her funeral, the priest read her college essay. It is still the absolute most moving thing I have ever heard, and my favorite quote from it is this:
“I strive to be optimistic in all situations and believe that being optimistic not only brings out the best in myself, but also positively affects people surrounding me.”
She wrote about spirituality and making every day memorable. I will never, ever forget the pain of the heartbreak I felt when I stood in the church that day – among hundreds of faces, many that I recognized from church, school, or swim, and some that I didn’t recognize. The church was so packed with all the people Liz had made an impression on during her short time on Earth that people had to stand in the aisles. I cried endlessly at her funeral. I couldn’t bring myself to cry before that – I had been numb – the whole experience was too overwhelming for me to be able to hold back tears anymore.
Her death was certainly one of the most emotional experiences in my life so far. I still haven’t sorted out my feelings, and I’m not sure I ever will entirely. So, when I woke up on Tuesday and saw that it was Liz’s birthday (her facebook is still active because it hasn’t been long enough for facebook to delete her profile) I went numb. It was 5:45 am and I was getting breakfast before going to swim practice, and I pushed all the emotions to the back burner. I’ve had a lot of practice with this, so it’s a conditioned response for me now. I went to swim and continued through the rest of my day, feeling off but not being able to really take the time to figure out what I was feeling.
Unfortunately, this type of reaction sends me into “ED-land.” I tried numbness, but I still felt uncomfortable. So, my mind headed back to another uncomfortable place – merely because disordered thoughts are familiar and easier to undergo (though quite painful) than thinking about the death of my friend. The rest of the week I couldn’t sleep because I was hungry, couldn’t focus because I couldn’t sleep, felt lazy and unproductive because I couldn’t focus, then felt body hatred because I was feeling lazy. I’d gotten back into my usual disordered cycle without even realizing it.
I went through the rest of the week fairly miserable but also fairly unaware of my feelings. My mind was reeling so intensely I didn’t have the time to stop and think about anything. Then I went to therapy on Friday, and had a pretty intense session with my therapist. She asked me how my week had been, and I said “well I’m not really happy with my body. I just keep gaining gaining gaining gaining gaining and gaining.” While it is true I have been gaining weight, I know from my nutritionist it’s been lean muscle (she does bioimpedance to keep track of lean weight versus fat weight). After I said this, my therapist says “Where did this even come from? We know you’re gaining muscle because you’re lifting weights for swim. What’s really going on here?” That statement really left my speechless for a couple minutes. Then, I told her about my friend’s birthday and she showed me how that had led me to the disordered thoughts and behaviors. It was really enlightening to see exactly how my brain had reacted, but scary at the same time.
This brings me back to one of my biggest obstacles. When I was little, I used to cry. A LOT. Like, almost every day. I was highly sensitive, and still am. Sensitivity can be an amazing thing – it allows one to feel emotions and empathy at a very high level. My sensitivity makes it really easy for me to relate to others – to feel their joy and pain without much work on my part. I feel how others feel very intuitively.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the lines I learned to hide back my tears. I learned to shut down when a feeling got too intense for me to handle without breaking down and crying. I learned to numb in whatever way possible. I don’t cry anymore, unless I’m in a moment (like being at my friend’s funeral) that is so emotionally charged it’s impossible not to cry. I find it near impossible to tap into those emotions, and cry on a regular basis when I’m angry or hurt and tears are appropriate. Now when I’m hurt or angry or sad or scared, I shut down and my brain goes into survival mode – which just happens to be using my “trusty” disordered negative coping mechanism.
To be blunt, I felt like shit after this therapy appointment. My therapist called me out and said that she couldn’t believe I couldn’t show some tears in front of her for my friend. At the moment, I really could have. I was upset. My tear ducts were primed and ready to do their thing. I was in the company of one of the people I trust most in the world.
And yet – I couldn’t let go. I couldn’t break down that wall and show that vulnerability. This, I think, is my biggest weakness and obstacle in recovery. I need to leave myself room to feel these emotions to their fullest, because when I let them stew I’m fueling my eating disorder.
And I don’t want this anymore. This isn’t life. I want to feel things, and I want to live. Part of life is dealing with hurt, disappointment and sadness but that is what makes the triumphs and happy memories so amazing! I will never forget the hurt I feel over my friend’s death, but more importantly I will never forget the many years we spent together and the amazing memories we made. Not to mention the lessons she taught me.
I want to be able to embrace life instead of living inside this box where all that matters is that your thighs touch and your shoulders are too muscular or your pant-size isn’t a negative 10 and “there are 110 calories in this delicious yogurt, but I’ll eat the 80 calorie yogurt that tastes like poo instead.” That isn’t LIVING.
God, sometimes I wish my eating disorder was a person so I could take it outside and do some epic martial arts on it (involving haymaker punches and lots of kicks in the nuts – as you can see I know no real martial arts).
This is going to switch gears a little, but there is a bright side to this post (Yay!) On Sunday, I finally got my period. It had been two years!!! This was really an amazing triumph that I really needed after last week’s debacle. I feel like I can finally trust myself eating again, because I’ve been providing enough food for my body to get healthy again. On another note, this is really important to my goal of accepting my body – now I have real, tangible proof that my body doesn’t belong at a lower weight. My body needs this weight to be healthy. I had a hard time accepting that, but I can see that my nutritionist, therapist and doctor weren’t “just trying to trick me” this whole time (which was kind of what I thought, deep down inside). On the whole, I feel a sense of accomplishment – like this is a major victory in my recovery – so I’m trying to hold on to that and use it as motivation for the next steps I need to take. My mom was so excited when I told her she said “It’s a MIRACLE!!!”
I don’t know if I would call it a miracle, but it makes me feel like I’m really back. I’m a healthy body now, for the first time in two years. And I’m on my way. 🙂