I can’t believe it’s the last day of November. This month really flew by…probably due to lots of exams, Thanksgiving break, and dealing with my concussion. It’s strange when I think back to October and how sane everything was – life was moving slower. This month, things really picked up speed quickly and I found it hard to keep up.

I think that’s kind of how life is – there may be months or even years where everything seems sort of in control, where you’re not dealing with any crises or emergencies. Then there are weeks or months where things feel out of control and you have to just try to survive on a day to day basis. I feel like for me November was one of those months. Let’s just say I’m glad that it’s over tomorrow ūüėČ

On to what I really wanted to touch on – holidays. The word “holiday” has a different connotation for everyone, depending on age/stress level/personality etc. My mom (and millions of other people) claims to hate the holidays, I think mainly because she’s under a lot of pressure to do Christmas shopping for so many different people. We have a huge family – my mom has 4 siblings and my dad has 5 – so there is admittedly a lot of shopping and planning to do. She’s in particular under pressure to ensure that my sisters and I all get “equal” presents – my older sister is notoriously cheap and gets really upset when things seem “uneven.”

I, on the other hand, love the holidays. Going to Catholic school when I was young probably cemented this for me. Once Thanksgiving was over, each class would have an Advent wreath and lots of Christmas decorations. In elementary school we’d make gifts for our parents in class and have Christmas parties. There would also be a lot of education about the Catholic meaning of Christmas. This is one of the main reasons I’m glad I was sent to Catholic school – Christmas for me isn’t a completely secular holiday. Sure, I love getting gifts and giving gifts. If someone tells you they don’t – they’re lying. But Christmas to me is about singing carols, the candy cane in your shoe, decorating the tree, going to Midnight Mass to celebrate, and spending time with my family. My absolute favorite smell in the world is a real Christmas tree – nothing better than those lovely pine needles! I could go on forever about everything I love about the holiday season…but I won’t ūüôā The holidays have always been a very happy time for me, not because of some accomplishment or achievement – but just because everyone sort of slows down for at least one day and takes note of the present.

All holidays began in some way or another, but I think one of the best consequences of a holiday is that it allows you to mark the passage of time. Think about this – do you remember what you did last April 28th? Unless it was your birthday or a day of some significance, the answer is probably no. BUT if I asked you – do you remember what you did last Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukkah/etc? I’m almost positive that everyone could remember something about the way they felt that day, or something that happened, or what state their life was in.

Celebrating Thanksgiving last Thursday was very special for me because it allowed me to reflect on the past year. I’ve been “in recovery” almost a year now, and on any given day it’s often difficult for me to evaluate progress I’ve made; I know I’m doing better than I was before recovery, but it’s hard to honestly say how much because I was so¬†positively¬†miserable while in the depths of my eating disorder.

On Thanksgiving morning my parents and I went for a long walk (the only exercise I’m allowed to do right now with my bum brain!) down by the Hudson River. We live on the side roads right near the Hudson and Vanderbilt Mansion (I’m blessed to have such beautiful and inspiring landscape so close by). I took the time to think back on last Thanksgiving – how I felt and what I did. I was so afraid of eating too much that day – it is, after all, a holiday that truly centers around food (giving thanks for the harvest). I remember running the same walk I was doing, and running as hard as I could to try and burn a lot of calories. I remember restricting all day and then only allowing myself to eat the “healthy” options on the table and only to have one small serving…despite my hunger. And I remember thinking all of those rules were completely normal – I remember feeling like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, doing right.

Fast forward one year – I’ve gotten to a place where food isn’t always what I’m thinking about. I haven’t been allowed to exercise for three weeks and I haven’t “blown up like a balloon” like I used to believe would happen if I even missed one day. More importantly, I’ve come to terms with more important things – issues I had with my ex-boyfriend, with my family, with myself. I’ve learned a lot about who I am and what is really important to me. And I have things that I want to do with my life outside of school and athletics. I’ve found writing as an outlet, I’ve opened up to friends and gained the most amazing support system, I’ve been honest with myself and I’ve learned to let go of the fact that I had a full-blown eating disorder and to move forward, knowing that I’ll always have those temptations but I am stronger than an illness. I’ve learned how to eat again and do slip up from time to time, but the important thing is I let myself start over at my next snack/meal and forget about what I did instead of harping on it.

Yes, I enjoyed my Thanksgiving meal. But I enjoyed more the feeling of home, the time spent with my family members, the laughter and stories that were shared. I enjoyed talking about my plans for next year. I ate turkey, stuffing, gravy, acorn squash, pumpkin AND apple pie. I ate until I was full but not stuffed like a normal person. It’s taken some time for me to “re-learn” how to eat, but I think I am almost there, and Thanksgiving helped me take an honest look at how far I’ve come and how close I am to being free.

I’ve had a rough month, but Thanksgiving break came at just the right time. It allowed me to recharge for finals and to heal my concussion without the stresses of school. I’m hoping to get cleared to swim today after almost a month out of the pool! AHH! But this rest has taught me a lot about exercise. My exercise habits were definitely not healthy, and as poorly-timed as this was it was definitely necessary for me in the future.

I also had the opportunity to go to an interview in Boston yesterday -more on that in a later post ūüôā cross your fingers for me!!

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.

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Motivation

ELFFF! Elf is on TV right now and I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend a chilly Sunday night just before Thanksgiving. I loveee Will Ferrell! He’s hilarious. And Zooey Deschanel’s voice may be one of the most beautiful I have ever heard. I don’t know why she bothers acting. This movie is the perfect way to kick off the holiday season every year…never gets old.

Technically I should be studying for an exam I have on Tuesday, but I made the executive decision not to study quite as hard as I did for my first two genetics exams. For this class, we have three exams (called “prelims” here) and a final exam. Out of the three prelims, each person’s lowest grade will be dropped. So the final grade of the lecture portion of the class depends on one’s highest two prelim grades and your final exam (oh, and the fourteen quizzes we’ve had throughout the semester in class). The first week after my concussion I wasn’t allowed to spend much time on school work, and the work I did get done was not high quality. I’ve had a lot of difficulty concentrating since then and know I’m nowhere near as prepared as I was for the last two exams. I did very well on those exams, so I know that this exam – regardless if I killed myself studying or not – will be the exam that gets dropped from my grade. Even though I feel guilty for “giving up” on doing well on the exam, I know it’s not essential or necessary. This exam won’t have any effect on my grade, and so it makes more sense for me to get other work done and not get stressed out.

Yes, I needed to write that all out to convince myself I’m making the right decision. I am a perfectionist, after all, so letting any exam go in this way is just so….wrong. But when I look at the reasoning, it is logical. More logical than me cramming for an exam that won’t have any impact whatsoever on my grade in the class. Righttttt? Right.

I need to learn to let things go.

Anyway, on her blog “Eat Live Run” today Jenna wrote about being thankful and mentioned a quote from her yoga instructors that really hit home with me:

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

I think this quote could potentially become my new motto/mantra/what-have-you because it really says it all…without saying it all. Recovery for me has always been a self-motivated process. Before I realized I had an eating disorder, people did make comments about my weight/the strange habits I had around food. Some people even went as far as to say it was an eating disorder. But once I chose recovery – once I realized how miserable I was, how hungry I was, how much I had lost in the space of a few months, emotionally and physically – it was me, myself and I. I didn’t have someone preparing my meals and sitting with me at the dinner table to make sure I didn’t throw anything out. There were threats, yes, from my therapist and nutritionist about partial hospitalization and being sent to be evaluated for depression medication, but I knew deep down that those decisions were also my own. Each decision has been made solely by me; each step forward has had to come from internal motivation.

In the past, I’ve always excelled when presented with external motivation. I excelled more when I was scared of letting someone else down than when I wanted to do something myself. I hit for the cycle in a high school softball playoff game once, driving in five runs for our team – and I did this because during my first at-bat, I was nervous and timid and didn’t swing at two strikes, prompting my coach to scream at me “What are you doing?! Comeee ONNN!” The next pitch I hit out of the park for a two-run home run.

The same motivation issue has applied to every athletic and academic situation I can think of in my past. Fortunately, I’ve learned over time to motivate myself internally for tests and other things. This was a very hard lesson to learn, but has helped me become more self-sufficient. Without learning how to motivate myself, I never would have recovered from an admittedly awful fall semester freshman year to have the decent GPA I have now. I never would have stayed pre-med; I may have given up that dream a long time ago.

Without the ability to motivate myself, I never would have come so far in recovery. I prepare my own meals without someone checking on me. Yes, I see a nutritionist and therapist every week and would not have been able to do it without their support. Yes, I have friends that know about my eating disorder and who I can talk to when I need to. But I think one of things no one tells you about recovery is – you are the one that has to do the work. You have to be brave enough to reach out to a friend (even when you are afraid you’re going to bother them for the thousandth time – yes, this always crosses my mind before I broach the topic with a friend). You have to be strong enough to admit something embarrassing to your therapist or to admit you had a “bad week” to your nutritionist. It would be much easier to hide the truth rather than talking about the hard stuff…but where would that get you?

It hasn’t been easy going to my campus health center on average twice a week over the last (almost) year. It hasn’t been easy to keep those commitments, to make that choice every single day to face up to what I’ve been doing, to who I’ve become. It’s not easy to say to my nutritionist “Yes, I restricted, and this is exactly what I did and why I did it.” It’s not easy to say to my therapist “I feel guilty/ashamed/mad/scared about this/that/the other thing, and this is why.” And though I do laugh about this – it’s not easy to be such a frequent flyer at the campus health center that the nurses know your name and tell you that you live there.

I’ve had a few different mantras throughout my recovery, but none truly felt “right” and I would inevitably let each one go after a few days. This time, I think I’ve found one that’s going to stick. Like I said above, it says so much in so little words.

I think this quote is saying…you can’t live one part of your life being true to yourself and have the other parts be out of balance. ¬†I can’t be true to myself and my passions by trying to do well in school and swimming while depriving myself of proper nutrition. I can’t grow as a person, be the good daughter and friend that I want to be while carrying an eating disorder. I can’t be compassionate and unselfish while holding on to an illness. I need to be the best I can be and maintain balance in my life, while remembering that being the best I can be is NOT being perfect. It is merely trying to be the best person I can be in each situation I find myself in – be it writing a paper, interacting with a friend or stranger, interviewing for a job or being injured during my team’s first home swim meet. It’s not about the outcome of a situation (what I tangibly will achieve) – it’s about what I learn, what I give, and what I do.

One last thought: Maybe the road to self-love and self-acceptance is to turn my attention and energy outward rather than inward.

Hope everyone is going well and getting ready to enjoy Thanksgiving!

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Secrets

Good news: I’ve been cleared for light exercise! I went to see the sports doctor today and he did a bunch of the same tests on me. My memory for numbers is still not really there yet, but my memory for words has come back completely. I also find that focus and concentration are not quite as hard to maintain when I’m trying to do work.

All I have to say is – thank God. I believe that eventually my mind will be completely back to normal, which is without a doubt the best news I could ever imagine. I have always taken my mental abilities for granted – until they were, however briefly, taken away. I realize now how blessed I am to have been given the ability to understand hard scientific concepts and to be able to read, write, and speak with intelligence.

After writing that, I realize how odd the reason is that I’m writing this post right now – I originally sat down to do some genetics, but found that I couldn’t focus. I just couldn’t. But I know the reasons have nothing to do with my concussion. I’m just plain burnt out and exhausted right now. I really wish Cornell was on the quarter system, because I always hit a block around the 12th or 13th week of class. It’s so hard to maintain such a high level of stress all the time, day in and day out, trying to study for impossible science exams and to excel at athletics while holding together everything else.

The fact is, I’m ready to move on from Cornell. I’ve been doing this for 7 semesters now, and realize that the level of stress placed on students and especially on student-athletes isn’t healthy. However, I’ve accepted this as just a fact of life here – I have finished almost 7 semesters and I’m going to graduate from here, so the only thing I can do at this point is make the most of it. As much as this is really not a healthy environment, I have met so many people from different backgrounds, learned so much about life, and made a few friends that I know I will be close with forever. As much as the past four years have been a series of failures and stresses, I have grown in so many different ways and really learned a lot about who I am. If I had gone to a different school – where I would possibly be at the head of the class and fastest person on the swim team – I would not be as strong of a person as I am today. Life came really easy for me the first 18 years. The last four have not come easy, but helped shape me into a strong woman with ambitions beyond swimming fast and a 4.0.

We are now writing short stories in my creative writing class, and for each story have been given a prompt. Today, our professor brought a shoebox to class and handed out an index card to each person, telling us to write an interesting secret about ourselves and to place the card in the box without showing anyone. Then we would each take a secret from the box, and we would have to write a short story about the secret.

I wasn’t really sure what to write. Naturally, the first thing that popped into my head was “eating disorder” because that is definitely my biggest secret, something I only tell people very very close to me. I ultimately did not write that, and instead wrote “I’m scared that I’ve made so many mistakes I won’t be able to do what I want to do with my life.”

I didn’t write “I have an eating disorder” because I don’t want to define myself by a disease anymore. Yes – I do things that are not healthy sometimes. However, I am not my disease. I am a product of so much more than an illness. I am a product of millions of yards swum, thousands of minutes spent in Catholic school, years spent living with my two sisters, mom, dad, and quite a few different pets. I am a product of¬†triumphs¬†as well as failures, happy memories as well as very sad memories.

I’ve realized over the past week that I cannot have my life both ways – I cannot simultaneously move forward while still holding on to the disordered identity. I can’t continue to make choices about what to eat based on how I think it will affect my body. I can’t hold onto the clothes I used to wear, “just in case.” I can’t restrict foods or name them as good or bad anymore. I have to accept that my body is at a natural place where I am finally healthy – I’m getting my period again. If it does happen to settle at a little lower weight after the effects of my hormone pills wear off, then so be it. I cannot be actively trying to change my body from a place that is healthy. And I do not have enough brain space or energy for entertaining disordered thoughts /a negative body image while doing the things I really love, which involve learning, connecting with people, growing and making a positive contribution at swimming, in school, in relationships and with strangers. There are so many more important things out there than the fact that I am uncomfortable with a little womanly weight gain. My body is a healthy woman’s body now – and there is no rational reason for me to be actively trying to force it out of it’s natural place.

Onto my real secret – what I did end up writing. I hadn’t admitted this to myself until today, and I think a part of that is for the last year and a half or so I haven’t felt anything other than anxiety about food, and then over the last three weeks have been too stressed and involved in disordered thinking that I hadn’t come to this realization. One of the main reasons I need to move on (aside from the obvious physical reasons of giving up an eating disorder) is that I’ve made so many mistakes over the last two years and have had so much taken away. I spent last Thanksgiving and Christmas trying to arrange an exercise plan as well as figure out how not to eat “too much.” I spent my junior year of college and junior swim season so wrapped up in getting skinnier I didn’t realize how many people I had pushed out (here’s a clue – everyone) and how I had lost interest in all of the things I used to love. At swim practice I would motivate myself to swim faster not because I wanted to improve and swim well at the end of the season – I’m ashamed to say it, but I motivated myself to swim faster in practice in order to burn the maximum amount of calories possible. ¬†I wasn’t voted captain because my coaches and teammates had just found out about my disorder. I had to drop my physics class when I was halfway through, and my therapist had to send a letter to my college telling them why. People had to make¬†accommodations¬†for me, because I was so weak at the time – not that I thought that. I knew my weight was the lowest it had ever been in my adult life, and so thought this was a sign of strength. I lost everything that I had been, and lost the person ¬†had grown up to be.

My recovery has been centered around me getting the good parts of myself back, while growing into a better person at the same time. I’ve learned what I love, what I’m passionate about, who I care about and what really is important in life. I’ve learned that people aren’t perfect, and I can’t control my relationships. Sometimes people will do things that I will never be able to understand. I’ve also learned, however, that this is not necessarily a reflection on me. For example, my older sister and I have never gotten along and it took me this recovery process to realize that it really bothers me and makes me sad. Growing up, I got a lot of attention for being good at sports and for getting really good grades…and finally for ending up at Cornell, where my grandfather and father had both gone to school. As many mistakes as I have made, and as much as I know that I’m not perfect (and never have been), she still maintains that I get preferential treatment. Whenever I go home, I notice the rise in tension when I enter a room she is in. Something about me just bothers her, as much as I try to be nice and engage in conversations with her. But I realize now that we are just very, very different people, and if she has to hold onto her resentment against me there is nothing I can do to change that. I just have to be the best sister I can be in spite of our hard relationship.

As far as my secret goes – I have made a lot of mistakes. And I will continue to make mistakes throughout my life. I think the difference between me letting my mistakes prevent me from doing what I want to do – becoming a pediatrician, raising a family, etc – and actually doing those things is my response and attitude. I can no longer beat myself up for my mistakes, and I have to accept that making mistakes are part of being human! I’m not a machine. I have emotions, I get tired. There will be times that I will go skiing instead of studying for whatever med school class I’m taking. There will be times where I cannot put my absolute best effort into a test because I was sick or injured or had something else going on.

I think above all, I can be happy and successful by reacting in a healthy way to situations that do not go entirely as planned. There is no control over these situations – any control I feel is false. I only have control over the way I perceive a result and my reaction and attitude after the fact. I only have control over the decisions I make regarding a situation, and the only control I have is to search my mind and heart for what I feel is right for me and to make the best decision based on those feelings.

Lots of information, I know, but I think writing it out helps me cement it in my mind!!!

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I need to start wearing a helmet…or living in a bubble

I feel like I always start out a post with some version of this line, but the last two weeks really have been off-the-charts…crazy.

Last I posted, I was starting to struggle with restriction again a bit. I was really uncomfortable with my body and had a minor freak-out, which my treatment team helped me to work out by adjusting my meal plan. Though I did start to feel a little more comfortable with my body, I was so stressed out from two huge exams, three lab reports and two short stories (all due in the same 10 days) that I really just got out of balance. With the restriction creeping back in already, this made that a little worse – though I was aware, and trying to stick to my meal plan.

All of this occurred over the last couple weeks. I knew everything was out of balance, but I was struggling to meet so many deadlines, study for exams, fill out job applications and keep my swimming at a high level with our first meet coming up. I really lost perspective, and was so exhausted I did not have enough energy to get it back.

Then, last Thursday at practice something happened that really put the “icing on the cake,” so to speak. We ended practice with a hard racing set and I did really well, which was nice because my practices so far that week hadn’t been so hot (I can thank restricting for that). The last set ended about 10 minutes before practice ends, so our coach said we could choose whatever we wanted to work on for the last 10 minutes – starts off the diving blocks, flip turns, whatever…as long as we were doing something productive. Being the sprinter that I am, I love working on my starts. They’re really imperative in the 50 freestyle because it lasts only about 25 seconds on average for me (my best is 23 seconds, but I can’t touch that with a ten-foot pole untapered). My friend and I decide to work on starts and to watch each other to see what we could improve on.

I watch my friend and one of the guys on our team comes over and suggests to her that she needs to pull back more with her arms on the block. If you’re strong, this can really do a lot for your momentum as you enter the water. He tells her to try a drill where you pull your arms back behind you and don’t bring them forward again – essentially doing a headfirst dive. Normally, when you dive off the blocks you want your arms to come back into a tight streamline over your head so that you don’t lose momentum entering the pool.

My friend seemed kind of skeptical about the drill. However, from watching her start I could see that the guy was right – she needed to pull back with her arms. I told her I would try it. She said “Oh, you’re doing it because then I’m going to have to do it.” And she was exactly right. I’d never done the drill, and I use my arms a lot getting off the blocks – so I was really trying to show her that the drill would work out.

If you’re not familiar with swimming, it’s probably pretty hard to imagine, but basically each lane has a starting block that’s probably about 3 feet above the surface of the water and extends out over the side of the pool. It’s also slanted down to allow the swimmer to get a good forward push off. At most newer pools, the starting blocks are in the deep end (about 8-9 feet deep normally). Our pool, on the other hand, is a bit older. When we dive off the blocks, we’re diving into water that’s about 5 feet deep. For people that have been competitively swimming for years (15 in my case) this isn’t normally a problem.

Anyway, I step up on the block to do the drill. I throw my hands back behind me and enter the water completely blind. When you bring your hands forward in a normal dive, it allows you to get a quick glance at the water. Going in headfirst, I had no time to adjust in midair – and my body went straight down on entering the water. Without my hands in front of my head, my head smashed into the concrete bottom. I remember hearing a huge noise sort of like a gunshot and I blacked out for a short time. Luckily, I wasn’t knocked on conscious and came up to the surface – all I knew was that I couldn’t see straight, I had hit my head really hard (that was all I kept repeating to my friend) and that my head hurt – badly. My coach immediately sent me to the trainer to get looked at, and my friend came with me even though I told her I was fine.

Which, as it turns out, wasn’t the case. I got examined by our trainer and by the sports doctor here for Cornell. They ran a bunch of tests on me, checking my memory and balance and evaluating my mental state…which I thought was fine at the time, but looking back I really was in lala-land. After being at the trainer for an hour or so, I was told that I had a concussion and that I wouldn’t be able to swim (or exercise) for probably about a week. Immediately I became pretty upset, because our first meet was scheduled for the next weekend. This was also a sign that something was wrong, because I don’t cry about stuff like that – apparently one of the concussion symptoms is being overemotional. I was also told not to do any homework for at least two days, to stay away from computers for a few days and to be at complete rest the whole weekend. I would have to come back Monday and Wednesday to get checked out again.

My hope was that I would get medically cleared in time for our first meet, which ended up being yesterday. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen – concussions are one of those injuries you just can’t rush through. So over the last week, I have not been able to attend swim practice and have struggled with concentration, memory, headaches, etc. On the flip side, I’m very lucky. If anyone is familiar with swimming, they have probably seen the signs all around pool decks everywhere that say diving can cause paralysis. I hit my head and sustained a minor brain injury, but one that with proper rest has been able to heal. I am so fortunate to not have been hurt worse, and lucky that I’ll be able to swim this week.

At first, I’ll admit I wasn’t so grateful. I was having a self-pity party, feeling like everything was going wrong at the exact same time. But as I had time to recoup this week, I also had time to rest and regain perspective about swimming, school, and my eating disorder. I know this is corny (but I admit it, I like corny) – everything happens for a reason. Was it fate that I got a concussion? I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that I was on the verge of really losing myself again, and my concussion actually helped “save” me. It gave me the time and space that I needed to realize I was slowly heading along a path that I never wanted anything to do with again.

And it taught me another important lesson. I have always been very active, and honestly can’t remember the last time I went a week without exercising. During the worst of my disorder, I couldn’t even go one day. With this injury, I was forced to do absolutely no exercise. I haven’t exercised since last Thursday. And yes, I feel like I may have lost a little bit of muscle – but I really think this is only because I’m used to training on average 3 hours a day. I feel like now I realize that if I need to skip a day or two of exercise in the future, my body won’t blow up like a balloon. I will still be the athlete I’ve always been, and won’t become out of shape overnight. Exercise should be for enjoyment. That said – I MISS IT!! I am really a person that does love exercise, and I like to be able to move around and work up a sweat. I also missed my team A LOTTT. The break was really timely for my mental and physical health, so as scary as it is getting a concussion…I’m grateful for the lessons I drew from the injury.

And I got a bonus – I was allowed to travel with my team to our meet at Dartmouth yesterday. As much as one can enjoy a six-hour bus ride, I did. I got to spend time with the people in my life that are like my family, and that I had not seen for a week. This also gave me a new appreciation for them. I realized how close I really am with my team, and how much their support means to me. They were all amazing and were glad that I’m (hopefully) getting cleared to swim this Monday.

This post is getting a bit long, but there’s one more thing I want to share. This whole experience over the last couple weeks has really shown me that there is just not enough room in my brain for healthy thoughts, emotions and experiences in combination with sick, disordered thoughts. I have to choose one or the other.¬†I’m choosing the thoughts that make me happy and healthy, rather than the thoughts that suck away the joy in everything.

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stepping back

**Note: This post talks about restricting, and may be triggering. However, I feel it’s important to share the good as well as the bad on this blog – because that is what real recovery looks like.**

The past week or so has been extremely busy for me – in fact, it will probably be one of the busiest periods of time for this semester. I had my second genetics exam yesterday, so I’ve been spending (most of) my free time studying for the exam, doing bacteria lab work and preparing for our fly analysis exam that’s this Tuesday. Basically, we take all the flies we counted, sort them by phenotype and map the mutant genes our flies have against known Drosophila fly genes. Since my exam was yesterday, I decided to take a much-needed break this morning to kind of assess what happened this week and try to take something away from it.

I wrote about my intrasquad meet last week and how it didn’t go quite as well as I hoped. Saturday, I performed much better and was very happy with that. However, ever since I got my period my body hasn’t felt like my body. For the first time – in a long time – there was an extra layer of…flesh…around my abdomen. And when I suddenly noticed this, I also noticed that all of my jeans are fitting…tight.

And suddenly, my mind is racing at the speed of light and there’s no way I can stop it. My eating disorder took over. It chastised me for gaining weight, for eating according to my meal plan (what it considers “too much”), and for having “unnecessary” weight and fat. It tells me I’ve “ruined” all the “hard work” I did to get skinny, and I did it in just two months (since swim season started and my meal plan was increased). I looked in the mirror and I couldn’t for the life of me find anything to grab hold of to pull me out. I was panicking.

The next three days I had time to stew over what was going on in my head, because my next appointment with my nutritionist would be on Tuesday. I decided, in the mean time, to ditch my meal plan and try and “fix” what had happened. I reasoned to myself (or maybe my ED reasoned to me…) that losing a few pounds quickly would make me more comfortable, and probably help me swim faster.

So I cut a few calories here, a few foods there. I cut my protein shakes because I am scared of the way my upperbody has gotten so muscular so fast. ¬†I cut my mid-morning snack, which I rationalized because I’m never hungry for it anyway. I cut a few things so quickly and so easily, it was like getting back on a bicycle.

I was angry. Angry at my nutritionist for “making” me eat “all that” food. Angry at my doctor for prescribing hormone meds that induce periods (and, apparently, have such high dosages of hormones they may cause weight gain). Angry at my rational self for listening to them.

I was also scared. If eating “fear foods” in such low doses had caused this gain, how could I ever justify eating them? I probably have a sweet once a week, if that. If eating the cereal I like causes me to gain weight then I’d have to switch back to the bland cereal I’d had all the time before.

I knew I was in trouble, and talked to my friends about it. But for some reason their words didn’t talk me out of where I was. All I heard was “you’re going to have to accept your weight gain” – and, honestly, I was too far gone to listen to that. I was back to old habits, old thoughts, and getting angrier by the day…all the while trying to hold together swim practices and studying for my exams.

I saw my nutritionist on Tuesday, and she knew something was wrong. She does body composition testing, and can tell if I’ve been restricting (even if it’s unintentional) by loss of lean muscle. I told her that yes – I had restricted, because I couldn’t deal with the weight gain anymore. At some point, it’s too much….it’s overwhelming. And I’d reached the breaking point. And I was angry that I’d been pushed that far.

We went through exactly what changes my body has gone through since August, week by week. We discussed the gains in muscle…which I can’t particularly do anything about until I’m done swimming. But the thing that really irked me was the additional fat weight in my abdomen and hips. I told her that this wasn’t something useful for swimming and she completely understood. We tracked back to where the initial gain had been, and she realized it coincided with the doctor putting me on the “progesterone challenge” – which is basically a very high dosage of progesterone administered to attempt to “kickstart” estrogen and the menstrual cycle. I’ve done it before, but this time it actually worked – I got my period after going through the pills, and then got it the following month. Unfortunately, this high dosage of hormone is known to cause some weight gain in the abdominal area – which is exactly what happened to me. My rational mind heard this and accepted it while my eating disorder still held onto the anger and blame.

My nutritionist then told me something I needed to hear at that moment. She said “You can restrict all you want, be miserable, and that extra fat will not go anywhere.” And she was right. It was hormonally-caused. I listened to her, because deep-down I knew restricting was going to get me nowhere, fast. And we compromised. We cut some stuff from my meal plan. It’s still much more than I was eating last year, but I feel more comfortable now. Although she didn’t want to put this constraint on me, she told me I needed to micromanage fat intake for a little while because estrogen takes fat and binds to it – causing what looks like fat gain in the abdomen. Essentially, what that does for me is turn a bowl of oats and peanut butter into 2 servings of oats with no peanut butter, or turns an almond butter sandwich for lunch into a turkey sandwich.

Not really a big deal, but I think it has made a difference already. I feel¬†more¬†comfortable in my body right now. I tried for the longest time to accept the tightness of my clothes, but I couldn’t do it. I was pushed too hard. I’m comfortable with what I’m eating right now, and grateful to my nutritionist for listening to me and respecting my feelings.

I also know this isn’t entirely healthy. But one thing I feel is unfair is that it seems to me if one is recovering from an eating disorder, they are supposed to not want to change their body, while “normal” people can make healthy choices and are allowed to lose weight. I understand why – losing weight is obviously not supposed to be a priority. BUT I also felt that I was being pushed past my “natural” weight by my meal plan. My nutritionist designed my meal plan with hours and hours of swimming in mind. I have gained quite a bit of muscle, which is good for swimming. My shoulders are broad again, I have strength and power. But I felt that my nutritionist was only happy if I came in and had gained weight – which isn’t really fair after I’ve reached my “target.” Sometimes I just wish my weight and my food could be up to me – but I realize that my treatment team has my best interests in mind.

Anyway, the rest of the week I did what my nutritionist said. I’m not restricting, but I can tell my body isn’t used to being underfed. I notice that towards the end of swim practice I lose steam, and my body can’t recover quite as well or as fast. I do, however, feel that cutting down on fats has helped with my body image (NOTE – I’m NOT encouraging this as normal practice. This advice was individualized for me and my body’s reaction to the high hormone dosage) because I’ve noticed a slight decrease in the abdominal fat already.

I wish I could say that I knew what – or if – is behind all of this. Honestly, though, I sometimes feel that there isn’t necessarily something “behind” the thoughts or behaviors. Sometimes there is – I’ve used my eating disorder to cope and to numb on numerous occasions. This time…nothing makes sense. Yes, I’ve been stressed about school – but it hasn’t really gotten to me that much. I’ve been having a blast at swimming, having fun hanging out with my friends and working at Wegman’s. I’ve been writing, I’ve been reading, I’ve been trying to check-in with myself. I’ve tried to be mindful. I guess, for now, I can accept it as a mild freak-out completely related to my feelings about my body and try to move forward with that.

On the other hand, I think this situation – whether you would call it a step back, a relapse, a “pre-lapse” – whatever it was, it cemented something in my brain. For the longest time, I haven’t restricted consciously. This was the first time I deliberately skipped a snack/meal since I entered recovery. Before, my slip-ups have been different – like not putting cheese on a sandwich, or not using milk in a protein shake – stuff that I didn’t even think about, it just happened. This time – my eating disorder was back, and it was calling all the shots. I walked around campus like a hungry zombie for all of three days. However, it was really important. It reminded me of what it really truly is like to be entrenched in your eating disorder. For a long time, I’ve romanticized my eating disorder (that sounds sick – and guess what, it is) by thinking about how I used to “just skip” things without any thought to it. I’ve romanticized the weight loss, the “special” feeling. Now that I’ve been back – even if for a short while – I realize how truly awful it is, and was.

Everyone in my life felt like the enemy again. Instead of me with a support system, it was me and my eating disorder against the world. It was me against everyone “trying to make me fat.” It was me against foods, me against laughter, me against life.

I’m not entirely sure where I am right now – I feel like I’m still a little more attached to the disordered thoughts than usual, but I feel that is something that will pass with time and adjustments. For now, I’m going to try and focus my attention outward.

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This week was a really, reallyyyy intense training week for swim. Everyday we had to swim all-out racing sets, which sap the body of all its energy and tire out the muscles to the point where it’s difficult to move. Not to mention, Tuesday morning at dryland we were doing hops up the bleachers (imagine bleachers of a stadium, and doing two-foot jumps up about 20 bleachers in a row) and I fell…hard. This is a pretty dangerous activity, but I’m one of the best on the team at doing this…I usually try to get some momentum going by swinging my arms, and I can make it pretty fast to the top. Tuesday, however, our coach told us to “sprint” the jumps up the stairs, and that sort of got something competitive going in me. Long story short, I tried to pull my legs up too fast and missed the next bleacher. Normally when people fall on these, they catch themselves with their hands. Unfortunately, I fell so hard I didn’t catch myself.

I broke the fall with the side of my neck.

It was ugly to say the least. My neck hit the bleacher…luckily on the muscle portion, just to the right of my windpipe. My shoulder crashed into the bottom of the bleacher, leaving an ugly purple-green bruise. My¬†knee-bone¬†cracked into the concrete below the bleacher.

‘Twas not fun. My coach asked if I was hurt, but aside from all the bruises I was actually okay. He was worried about a concussion, but I was lucky not to hit my head (though landing on your neck is not something I would recommend). He really thought there was a potential for a season-ending injury.

And yet, we’re still going to do jumps up the bleachers. Even though almost everyone on the team has fallen during these to some degree. It seems like my coach won’t give up on these until someone actually ends up in the hospital…which almost happened Tuesday morning.

So – it was eventful. And I’m the proud owner of three intense bruises that make me look like I got mugged.

That’s not really what I wanted to post about, but it makes for a good story ūüėČ it’s kind of a joke now for me and my coaches, but could have been something really serious. I got really lucky.

I surprised myself with something this week. Normally, I think very obsessively…about everything. Shocking, I know. But this week something was..different. I’m pretty sure it was actually normal for the first time in years. I’ve been obsessively thinking for so long that I don’t know what normal is, but I’m pretty sure this was normal. I had some ups, I had some downs. Some things didn’t go my way. But I didn’t harp on these things because I wasn’t holding myself to this impossible standard of perfection. A couple of times I caught myself thinking something negative about my body or my grades or swimming, but I caught it and just let the thought go. And – most importantly – I refused to beat myself up for having these thoughts.

Because the truth is – everyone has moments, probably on a daily basis, that they feel inadequate in some way. No one can say that literally every single thing in their life goes the way they want it to. No one that is human can say that they are free from disappointment all the time.

I dealt with set-backs in a healthy way, I didn’t compare myself, and I didn’t beat myself up. That is, until last night.

Last night we had the first portion of our intrasquad meet. I went in nervous. My body responds to hard training in one way (and has for my entire 15 year swim career) – by being unable to generate any speed whatsoever. This is a problem for swimmers in general, but is especially a problem when you are a sprinter and really all you need is speed. Hard training gets me in really great shape, but my times actually get slower the more in shape I get. It’s an interesting conundrum, but I was come through when taper time comes around.

Needless to say, last night was rough. Even rougher than last year at this time. Immediately after my first event, my ED broke through. I had the “you went so slow because you’ve gained weight since last year – it doesn’t matter that it’s muscle” and the “you’ll never do anything for the team this year” and, finally, the “look at yourself in the mirror – you’re so much bigger now.”

It’s really amazing how I can connect the dots between a disappointment and the triggering of negative thoughts about my body and myself. It’s actually shocking to me that my ED got so loud so fast last night. Throughout the rest of the meet, I couldn’t let that one swim go. I couldn’t enjoy myself. Swimming lost it’s fun, and I was reminded of last year all too much. Afterwards, I could feel that I was physically hungry but I didn’t want to eat anything – all I wanted to do was go home and lie on my couch and forget about eating for the night. I remember feeling scared to go home because I knew how badly I was going to beat myself up. And then I remember thinking – wow, this really is like being afraid to go home because of an abusive husband/father/boyfriend/whatever.

What’s really scary is that I was afraid to go home and be alone with myself, with my thoughts.

When I got home, I did eat. And I did beat myself up. But I also reached out. I texted my dad, because I knew he would be able to remind me of the factual reasons why I’m not swimming fast right now rather than the “you’re fat so you swam slow” logic of my ED.

The fact of the matter is – I’m not fat. I swim countless hours everyday. I have a very high percentage of muscle. I’m in very good shape. I can run miles, I can run stadiums, I can swim upwards of seven miles a day. On Tuesday during our lift I bench-pressed 65 pounds 61 times. I can do so many things with my body that someone who is not in good shape would not be able to do. My body is very capable, and very responsive.

My dad supported me and I let the rational thoughts filter back in, while most of the ED was pushed out. I say most because I am still flirting with the perfectionist in me – it’s hard for me to let it go. I was disappointed, and still am. But I also know my history, and I know that all the hard work I’m doing now will pay off later on in the season as long as I continue to have faith in my training and let go of the ED’d thoughts and perfectionism.

I know for a fact that having an eating disorder, and participating in those behaviors, does not result in a faster season. I know that, because I’ve been there. And I’ve learned from my mistakes. Now I need to prevent perfectionism from letting those thoughts back in, because living with those thoughts is a miserable existence.

What I’m planning on doing at today’s session is having fun. The times I swim are the times I swim. I can only do my best, and try to improve from yesterday. One thing I can control is my emotional response and the way I am acting at the meet. Instead of being upset or angry, I’m going to swim my events and let them go. I’m going to cheer and be a supportive teammate.

I realized that the most important things I have to offer to my team are not my times. The most important things I have to offer are my leadership, my effort, my support, and my attitude. I love to swim and I need my actions to reflect that. Afterall, we all made it this far because on some level or another we fell in love with swimming. Did I fall in love with it because I was good at it? Partially. But there are other things I love more. And I want to be able to experience all of this season fully, before my swimming career is over.

That is my one brave step today.

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Recovery isn’t the road to perfect

It seems kind of counterintuitive, but up until the other day when I posted my last poem “Inside a Box,” I kind of had this feeling that I hadn’t reached “recovered” yet because I was still unhappy a lot of the time. I thought “recovered” would mean that I wouldn’t feel sad or¬†disappointed¬†in myself. And “recovered” seemed untouchable – like I was doing all this work, but I would never be able to “get there”…because one thing or another wasn’t ¬†quite perfect in my life, be it swim, school, relationships, or life events completely outside of my control. I felt hopeless because I knew that other people had “reached recovery,” but I couldn’t for the life of me grasp what exactly that meant.

Sarah posted a comment on my poem that really hit home with me. She said in relation to me poem: “life isn‚Äôt happiness all the time, experiencing ups and downs is healthy and it‚Äôs a part of life.” Essentially, recovery doesn’t mean everything is going to be perfect. There are going to be days when you didn’t study hard enough for a test, or when your body is run down and you can’t focus or perform, or when certain relationships are a struggle. There will be days when you want to just shut down and curl up in a ball on the couch, wasting away hours staring at the ceiling and wondering when, or if, it will get better.

But there will also be days when you excel and learn and grow. There will be days when you are the strong person you knew you could be, when you are the¬†charismatic, enthusiastic person you were some time ago, when you enjoy yourself and take time out to relax without having to fight a constant battle with a diseased, irrational thought process. There will be days when eating is just that – eating. When the choice of an apple over a cookie is not a measure of self-deprivation; rather, it’s just that you didn’t want a cookie at this particular moment, but you sure as hell will want one in the future! There will be days when exercise is for enjoyment, to honor your body that you have grown to accept and love. There will be days spent doing nothing with people you love and care about more than anything else in the world. There will be lives you save without even knowing it, there will be souls you help cultivate, there will be friends who can rely on you and there will be friends you can rely on.

Some days will combine the good and the bad – but that, in a nutshell, is life! It’s not always easy, and there will be sadness and pain. But there will also be happiness, joy, love, laughter, warmth, passion, and trust. There is so much more out there in life that isn’t tangible; it has to be felt, experienced first-hand. There will be days that you feel defeated or disappointed in someone or something, but this doesn’t make you a bad person or a failure. It’s how you react in situations of adversity that makes all the difference. The way I see it, we (and by we, I mean people with EDs) have two choices – 1.) run away from feelings by numbing them with the “comfort” presented by an eating disorder or 2.) realizing that life sometimes sucks, but this isn’t a direct reflection on ME¬†or the effort I am putting out or my strengths and weaknesses. There will always be things beyond our control, and by accepting that we can finally move forward.

Isn’t that what recovery is all about? ūüėČ

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