Monday, April 30, 2012

10 months

Here we are at the end of April.  I just passed the 10 month mark in my treatment.  My sister has been here for the past while and we have had a largely wonderful time.  We visited Spain and Gibraltar.  We learned how to play squash and improved on our new skill immensely.  We had days where our cheeks hurt from smiling; got caught in a tropical rain storm; and warmed my new house with friends.  It’s been rough at times but together we got through it.  I love my sister and feel the love in return.  She leaves tomorrow morning to return to Canada and although I will miss her immensely, I am ready to refocus on the work I have left to do. 
I’ve wanted to write an update for a couple of weeks now and I’ve been waiting for a “better time”.  It doesn’t seem that that time is coming with length enough to enable me to engage in my normal activities and have time to sit down and sort out my thoughts through writing.  So here I am, in a rather neutral moment, seizing the opportunity…
As one might gather, this has not been a smooth while for me.  Each phase of this process has posed unexpected hardships.  Recently, the challenges have been less philosophical and much more concrete in many ways.  As I had been warned over the months, sometimes the mind recovers faster than the body.  I didn’t believe this as I have an extremely resilient body and over the years, I experienced very few physical complications (in unfortunate comparison with those other eating disorder suffers who walked beside me in many treatments).  This was largely due to my family doctor’s readiness to admit me to hospital before any extreme physical deterioration occurred.  The organs obviously impacted in the past recovered quickly and completely.  At this time, I have manifested a variety of symptoms that I didn’t even think to complain much about, that I thought were perhaps hiccups associated with normal life and aging (that is not claiming that I’m “old” but I’m sure not 21 anymore!).  Things came to a bit of a head and manifested through my mood as my tolerance for continuous physical symptoms was blown.   I have to commend my treatment team for such fast action.  I am enduring numerous investigations into what might be causing my symptoms and hope to start treatment soon.  It is somewhat comforting to have a potential answer to my situation and finally feel that I’m not just going crazy.
I am so lucky to be where I am where I am not only surrounded by people who care but who will also advocate for me.  I don’t tend to complain and when I do express distress, one can safely assume that it is not a new thing.  I continue to learn the importance of letting people help me earlier on in my struggles although I still struggle with being aware of when I need help, asking for it, and letting people help me.  This is a balance that I look forward to fine tuning.
A bit of hope I really can put out there, now validated by my own experience, is regarding body image.  Yes, it gets better!  I’ve had months of discomfort in my own skin as I’ve worked towards and attained adequate weight restoration.  There was no one who could answer my pressing question of exactly how much I need to weigh for me to be healthy in all ways.  Who could predict from my history that extends from mildly overweight, extremely underweight, clinically obese, to emaciated?  There was rarely a middle ground that I maintained for any length of time.  I was told to be patient - the bane of my journey!
I haven’t heard many accounts of what I experienced with weight restoration:  I gained a bit, very slowly over a number of months.  The process was extremely gentle and never forced.  Around Christmas, I gained a bit more which I decided was just delightfully normal for the holiday season.  The following 1.5-two months I gained the same amount as I had in the previous 6 months with absolutely no explanation.  I hadn’t changed my intake much, if at all, and my activity levels had increased dramatically.  I knew I was retaining a bit of fluid especially from my travelling and climate changes.  Some days, the edema was extreme and I had to laugh a bit as I drove my fingers into my calves, leaving pits that weren’t eager to refill.  I couldn’t wear my regular runners, my clothes would seem 3 sizes too small overnight, and my jewelry left dents in my wrists – rings impossible.  I held onto this fluid for a while and believed it to be weight and it scared me.  I honestly thought that I would scare people away from recovery because of how “big” I had let myself get.  Weeks and weeks of me believing I had become my own and every anorexic’s worst nightmare went on.  I was told that I was very puffy by person after person but I thought it was the currently PC way of telling me, “Yes, you’re a little on the larger side.”  This week, I experienced a Great Diuresis and I have my own body back!!  “They” were right!  I was swollen.  Within a week, my clothes have started hanging properly, if not too loosely.  My eyes can fully open, my bracelets dangling comfortably and I have my choice of shoes every day!  And when existing in a body that is not fluid loaded, I am comfortable.
This has given me a bit insight.  Firstly, my view of myself has improved in its accuracy.  I knew I was looking puffy but I thought that’s just how, at 28 now, I would look as a heavier person.  When the fluid started coming off, I saw the difference almost immediately in the mirror and had it verified by many sets of objective eyes.  I know now that the physical journey is not yet over.  My body has been abused for half its life!  I can’t expect it to trust me and to have recovered from such extreme practices in a mere 10 months.  Now, I am left with what is almost completely just me.  There are moments (which I’m sure will be days at some point, but this experience of myself without kilos of fluid on me has only been days long thus far) where I’m a little uncomfortable or desire to change aspects of my body but I’m accepting my imperfections a lot more easily now.  I also realize that this might not last, I may puff up again, and until we discover what exactly is going on with my body I may experience these extreme shifts for a while yet but there will again be this day where the fluid comes off and I see and experience myself just for me.  Have you seen the commercial for the Make a Wish Foundation with Darcy?  He says in it, “My face is chubby…again.”  Oh, sweet Darcy.  I don’t have lymphedema but I sure do understand your experience.  He makes the best of it and he’s 6!  What an example…
On another topic, the current goals of treatment for me are fairly vague at this point.  This is a time for me to practice my skills and exercise my mind in a more positive fashion.  I am being encouraged to take time for me in a better state physically and mentally.  To do things I like, as I like.  This is a big challenge for me as I don’t feel the need to spend too much time on myself (just having fun) and I feel ready to give back.  I have the desire to serve, to pay it forward.  I realize that I am important and I need to take care of me but I also know that in order to take care of me, I need to honour how important it is to me to make my world, that of those around me, and that for those that will follow me, a better place.  This is a balance here I have never achieved.  I had extremes of helping others at the expense of myself and often collapsed under the pressure.  I assume responsibility for my part in creating that pressure; and with that knowledge, I understand the importance of finding balance.  So far this has been trial and error.  I lean towards helping others and find myself recoiling slightly when I realize I’m not ready to commit; or to push that hard; or I am yet unable to organize myself well enough to bring my ideas for others to fruition.  Momentarily I may feel that I have failed but that passes.  I might experience a flash of thoughts like, “I’ll never have it together enough to do x, y, or z”, but that fear dissipates quickly, too.  I do not worry that I will never be able to do anything!  I understand that at this time, I may not be able to take on everything I want to or that I will be able to in the future.  Why?  Because I’m not there yet!
Right there is my greatest focus.  To finish what I started when I came to Portugal 10 months ago, completely.  I will not leave 2/3’s of the way through this.  I believe that I really would be okay if I left now and jumped back into life but I also know that it would be much more of a struggle than it needs to be.  I have this opportunity to attain the goals I set out for myself when I left Canada:  to eradicate my eating disorder in all its manifestations – emotionally, physically, and behaviourally; to leave that life behind me once and for all without fear or risk of relapse.  Those goals can only be achieved time and much patience.  I am learning a whole new way of thinking and being.  I cannot rush any of this.  My growth and healing will happen only as my mind is ready and as my body allows.  I have, can, and will continue to work hard.  I recognize the opportunity I have here.  I am grateful every day.  I feel fortunate.  And I know that I will give back eventually.  In the meantime, I live by a quote regarding perseverance I recently stumbled across:
"On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow."
Friedrich Nietzsche
Thank you again and always to my support people out there:  my friends, my family, my teams.  We’re getting there!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Throw back to the negative

I was rendered momentarily helpless by my mind recently.  The concepts of recovery and relapse have weighed heavily on my mind recently.  At times throughout this process, when I didn’t feel worthy enough, I continued to endure this for any number of people.  Some days, when I wanted to give up, I would think of my family or of my doctor/home team or of my friends until the time came when I was reason enough to get better.  When that switch happened, it became merely a pleasure to prove the people who believed in me all along right and make them proud.  Most days at this point, I am enough.  Now, when I am feeling weak, I hold on for all the people looking for hope.  I have a list the length of my arm of wonderful, amazing people that I want to see achieve full recovery from brutal eating disorders.  It’s now for them that I keep plowing forward some days and especially why I have a focus on discovering the How of a lot of this process for me.  If I have hope for them (for you) and believe in them (you) why shouldn’t I extend that same charity towards myself?  If I want to help people, I need to take care of me first.  I need to get well to achieve what I want with my life (which is largely TBA) and be the proof I wanted for so long that wellness is actually possible.  I believe in leading by example and that adds fuel to my fire that propels me towards wellness.
Anyway, in this recent experience, I woke up to some nagging negative urges.  I did what has worked for me in recent months and chose to deny them any air time in my head.  I had a good session with one of my counsellors and I maintained my positive outlook in my expression.  I still find myself wanting to do this on my own.  I know I need help but much of me still feels so responsible for my recovery.  Yes, I have a big role in this but I have to remind myself that I don’t have to do this alone.  I have people here and everywhere to help me; to support me; and to guide me.  I forgot that for most of the day and the negative thoughts became louder with each passing hour.  I descended into a very dark place for a few hours and was at the mercy of my thoughts, like a doormat or even like a punching bag.
“No one actually expects you to get better.  Why do you think that you’re proving anyone right?  They all expect you to screw this up like you screwed up every other opportunity you’ve had.  You can’t disappoint people if they had no expectation of you attaining wellness in the first place.”
What a throw back to last year. 
I countered those intrusive thoughts with logic.  I gave myself proof that that was not the real me thinking, that that part of me was feeding the real me lies and trying to shake me.  I was shaken.  I experienced flashes of self-doubt.  What if I’d been lying to myself all along and trying to believe in things that weren’t actually there?  Was I sure that the people I held onto for at times really believed in me and wanted to see me well?  Did they truly think that my life held purpose?
Doubt.  That one gets me every time.  Despite all the proof in my perception of things, it always remains my perception.  This understanding has worked in my favour over the last while.  I have learned that my perception of the past has been largely unreal.  Due to a familiar pattern of negative thinking, I skewed what was real to confirm my own inabilities; my fears; my extremely critical view of myself.  This doubt was regarding a feeling of comfort I had in believing that people cared about me and saw this for the great effort it is and wanted me to achieve all the good things that can come with a life free of eating disorders and self-hate.
The best I did this afternoon in my independent fight against my own mind was to avoid having these thoughts affect my actions.  I knew I had to be strong in as many ways as possible and in these hours, all I had in me was a fight against negative behaviour.  There was no quieting the bellowing berating.
It did settle down as the day went on and I allowed myself to be distracted but came to a head again later in the evening as I denied the urge to skip my evening snack knowing that that would affect my sleep and therefore hinder my day tomorrow.  I had to make a conscious physical effort to keep my snack down.  The psychological likely played a role in this experience but the physical sensation was very real and that’s when the tears came.   I was fed up.  One day of this had taken its toll and I knew I needed to reach out.
I did and I let myself purge all the doubts that occupied my mind.  I let the tears of frustration flow freely and finally….I let myself be comforted and reassured.  I let someone else fight my head as I have had to do so often during this process.  And now, drained, I see it all for what it is:
I have been thinking about my future and I still feel very lost.  I am having a difficult time staying focussed on me and desperately want to give back in some way and start to make a difference in the world.  I am worried about wasting my potential.  I have felt my experience to be extremely minimized by the current publicity regarding eating disorders. 
And simply, I was living my very first weekend alone in what must be a year.  Eating disorders are insidious and I can’t imagine that many people plan relapses when they are committed to recovery but I can see, in this instance, how dangerous leaving treatment early is and how necessary it is to really complete the process solidly and practice, practice, practice my skills in order to feel confident implementing them in what will become my future ‘real’ world.  I had to learn my lesson again of the importance of reaching out and creating an army against my head.  I had to put my pride aside and allow myself the necessary help to get through today.
I came out on top.  The real me weathered this again and funnily enough, it has lead me to realize that bad body image days?  Those days are nothing compared to today’s full throttle onslaught of negative attack on what is fundamentally true.  I know it to be true.
I believe in me.  They believe in me.  You believe in me.  And I can do this!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

This process sure isn't always as linear as I would like it to be.



Monday, April 9, 2012


I thought recently that perhaps it was important to make a post about my intent of this blog as I don’t think that has ever been clear.  Blogs of the journal variety could be seen as a bit narcissistic.  Please understand that I do not carry an inflated sense of self-importance.  I initially set out to create a public space where people could choose to follow my progress in my recovery from an eating disorder and nothing else.  Soon, I discovered that as my thinking really started to change, my life was becoming whole lot more pleasant and I realized that I had the ability to share the changes I was making in a bit more detail.  I am finding the words to explain myself – my past, my present, and what I can see as my future.  I also realized that a lot of the changes I was making were not specifically ED related but that they are related to a pattern of thinking that fuelled my ED that so many people struggle with without manifesting with anorexia or bulimia or compulsive overeating.  The examples I use to illustrate my thoughts are often ED related because that is the journey I am on, but I can also see how they expand to encompass so many aspects of life and issues related to control, negativity, and most importantly, the need for hope in every life.
Hope, that’s a big one.  For a number of months here, I was referred to as being an inspiration to some people.  That weighed heavily on my shoulders as I didn’t see myself progressing and changing for a long time and “what if” I wasn’t successful?  I still held onto the idea that my life was of little value and that I could never actually be inspiring.  I thought that I had abandoned the one way that I felt I could affect the world and that was through enabling people to learn from my death.  Then, when I really accepted that this was it, that I was going to make it and really be okay, I realised that yes, I have the ability to inspire people to keeping fighting.  Despite all odds, I wasn’t just going to be alive, I was going to live and love life.  I’m not saying I’ll be everyone’s inspiration and I don’t want to be.  However, I have a voice and I have the experience now to say loudly how important it is to never give up.  I’m getting better and I’m ready to talk about it.  So, for the ED population, there is always hope.  I’ve been that person who people were waiting to become a statistic of the mortality of eating disorders and lived to tell the tale.
So in that sense, I feel I have a bit of an obligation.  Some days, I don’t want to talk about my story.  I want to put anorexia/bulimia/self-harm behind me and move on to different things and just forget it but I can’t do that.  I know I can’t save the world, but if I can reach one lonely, scared, and quiet person out there who is privately googling “recovery from and eating disorder+is it possible” when maybe no one in their life knows they are suffering so much then it will be worth it.  If they can read what I write here and see themselves even for a moment and let it in and know that all things are possible and be given a bit more flame to the wellness fire, then I am so happy.
Lots of people will recover and live their lives and not share their stories.  I have been blessed with the gift of honesty ability to express myself in writing.  I have healed from the shame surrounding my past, I have walked through hell to get out of the hole I was in before I got here, and if I can be the mouthpiece for someone else, that’s great.  If a parent can find this and see their child in me and know that there is always hope to be had, then this has purpose.  If my family and friends can have a more intimate experience of my journey despite the physical difference between us, then that can be a purpose of this space too.
Sometimes I look back on my entries and notice what was important to me in that phase and think, “Oh boy, did I really put that out for the world to see?”  In speaking with my sister yesterday, I said how after each visit with family throughout the program I usually thought that it would have been better to wait a little longer before seeing them.  That I was still doing x, y, and z, and now that I’m not it could have been more enjoyable to be with them.  In both instances, I nearly immediately let go of any embarrassment or hint of regret I might have and understand how important it is to involve people in every step of this progress.  Many people watched me dying and I wasn’t quiet about that so why should I wait to tell people how I am getting better?
That’s another thing, the How of all of this.  I always wanted to get better but the big question was How.  I digress, for a lot of this, there is no How.  It just happens or you just Do but for some things, some very important things, I can explain How and that’s another thing I want to provide for people: the insight to how to get from dying from an eating disorder and drowning in negativity to coming out the other end.  Some aspects of this have been extremely phasic and that’s okay.  I did what I had to in those times.  There is no problem with being honest about that.  At times I was very convicted about certain things and when I did go through those phases, it said a lot about where my head/thinking was at.  Al I can do is explain the How that was real for me.
Many recovery stories sort of go from A-Z without any inbetween.  That was something I really struggled with.  The “I’m very sick and have to go to hospital” to “after xx months in hospital and xx pounds, I am better.  It took a lot of therapy and effort but I’m better”.  I usually thought, “Well, good for you! But that’s not happening for me.  I will die if I gain weight.  It’s impossible for me”.  Or the stories end with, “I still struggle today but things are a lot better and I will never go back but I’m always fighting” and that, as explained in my post about recovery, was not what I wanted.  Oh yay, I could gain weight and act normal and still struggle every day?  No thanks.  I wanted the nitty gritty of people’s experience.  What really worked for others?  I found it very difficult to find.  I spent long hours searching the internet for how people dealt with their bodies, clothes shopping, meal plan changes, etc. and couldn’t ever find much that didn’t always lend itself to ongoing struggling.  I wanted to know if other people felt that they couldn’t handle getting better and enduring the therapy that would be necessary.  I wanted to know what exactly changed in people’s minds to make them move from simply “wanting” to get better to actually getting there.  It’s not easy to find those details and when you’re walking through the abyss of self-destruction and looking for something to hold onto, one wishes there was more out there.  There’s certainly no guide book but I can do my best to illustrate what the process has been like for me.
On that note, I open myself up to questions.  I believe the comments section of this is no in English and I am happy to write my thoughts and experience on almost anything.  You don’t have to identify yourself, you can just ask.  I don’t believe for a moment that what works for me will work for everyone and I can only share my subjective experience of this journey (that is ongoing) but I know, as different as I feel at times, I’m not that different from everyone else.  No two stories will be the same but I believe there is a lot to be learned from each other.  Plus, there’s no right answer in this process or in life in general and sometimes it’s important to try out a few ways of thinking before you find one that works for you.  Here, I can explain what’s working for me and maybe someone else can try it for themselves and see if it helps.  I know that I am living a delightful life.  I love my life!  The grass is greener on the other side?  Pfft, the grass is pretty darn green on my side, actually!  And how does the rest of that go?  The other side must be fertilized with horse s**t?  Exactly.
So, I hope this gives you, the reader, a bit better idea of my intention here.  I said at the beginning of this process that if I actually got better, I was never going to stop talking about it and I’m sticking to that!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

I'm back in the Algarve safe and sound.  The apartment I'm in is amazing and coming together nicely.  I moved my things out of the villa this afternoon with my sister's help.

I have a lot to say but no regular internet connection at this point.  I will post more as soon as I can.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012


I’ve recently come to a deeper understanding of what recovery means to me.  I have generally avoided that term because I felt stigmatized somewhat or at least labelled by it in a way I can’t really explain.  I’ve worked hard to put my own words to terms that have become so clinical to me over the years:  recovery, trigger, symptoms, quality of life, relapse, etc.  Now, I feel more confident in my definition of recovery and am more comfortable applying it to myself.
For the longest time, recovery to me meant quite simply being eating disorder symptom free and functioning in a “normal” capacity – whatever that is.  I thought that if I maintained a healthy weight, ate a varied diet, didn’t make myself sick, maintained relationships, held down a job, and didn’t cry myself to sleep every night…that was recovered.  I thought that life would always be sepia toned for me, so to speak, and never in HD.  For a while, I wanted that because that’s the best I thought I would ever have and I did want to get better.  Through my earlier attempts at treatment as an adult that’s what I strove for and felt supported to attain but it wasn’t enough to hold me for longer than a few months and eventually not longer than a few weeks.  In retrospect, I realize that that coping was all I had to look back on as a possibility for the future.  Hearing over and over that I could “get my life back” was so empty.  I didn’t want that life.  I wanted and needed something different.  I had “all that”.  I had had a great job that could have turned into a successful career; I had lots of friends; I travelled; I dated; I had a great apartment.  But tell me that when I recovered, I could have all that back?  No thanks.  I was burnt out from nursing; I was lonely; I was used and hurt by men; I was lonely All. The. Time.  But, I had my eating disorder.  When everything else in my life was painful and chaotic, I had that one steady.  Prior to my adult manifestation of my eating disorder in the severity that it became, I had other “quirks”.  Diagnostically: OCD, severe anxiety, and depression.  However one looks at it, the fact remains that I was not living.  I was coping for the most part but life isn’t about merely coping.  Somehow I’ve known that all along.
The thing is, in trying to convince a person with an eating disorder that life is worth it, one takes on the insurmountable in my opinion.  I didn’t believe anyone who told me life could be beautiful for me.  There was a constant double standard.  I couldn’t see myself being able to tolerate the day to day of life and being okay.  All I felt that I knew was darkness and difficulty and with absolutely no reference point, how could I even begin to believe what others said?  An important message I received early in the program I’m in, is not only is this life of wellness possible and attainable for me, they were going to show me it.  I understood from them from the start that they could not begin to describe the world I might experience as a well person so they had to get me there to see with my own eyes.  It’s kind of like trying to describe the mountains to a prairie girl who has never even seen a picture.  Or the sky to a child who’s never left a deep cave.
I find it interesting to think of how afraid of the word recovery I was and the concept I had of recovery.  In my mind, to recover was to fail at my eating disorder which had become my one successful thing.  Recovery wasn’t healing from what fed my behaviours and thoughts it was just applying yet another guise to cover what was happening inside.  I’d long given up on acting the part of a well-adjusted 20 something.  
Honestly, recovery is not about managing and coping.  It’s not about hiding feeling miserable behind a normal body weight and shape.  It’s not being “strong” enough to keep it together with all sorts of superficial tape and glue.  And what’s so difficult for me also, is that recovery is not measurable.
I often had scales for my progress (or perhaps a metaphorical ruler stick if we want to avoid the weight reference).  If I was doing x and not z than I wasn’t sick anymore.  Or if I had increased my calories to x/day then I was just about recovered.  If I managed x more weeks out of hospital than last time, then I must be recovering.  As I see it now, these measures often just reflected how in need of guidance I was because I was constantly coming up with new rules that might explain me to me and my teams one way or another.  The emotional nurturing and growth that needs to happen in order to feel safe enough to move away from these false structures is not at all measurable.
 So, what does recovery mean to me now?  My goodness…Most importantly it means life without fear.  I lived with a lot of fear that was moderately numbed by my symptom usage.  “Feel the fear and do it anyway” ruled my life from getting out of bed, to checking my email, to getting dressed, to measuring my daily milk allowance for my coffee.  I did all those things despite the anxiety and dread but there was an underlying fear to nearly everything.  I’m not scared anymore.
It means actually not needing the symptoms.  It’s not a constant fight mentally or emotionally.  It’s not always painful without an escape. 
It’s being safe with me; being comfortable with me; liking me – and thus never being lonely because I have Me! 
It’s finding and accepting comfort from others and from myself.  Being able to break down if I need to and feel overwhelmed, share that and get through it with the help of others and not feeling worthless and dependant for needing people and not being able to conquer everything on my own.
It’s making a life that is as often as possible full of what matters most to me and finding ways to work towards a career, living situation, and relationships that are reflective of my core values.
I also thought that recovery would mean someone taking away what I felt defined me.  It felt so real that by giving up the eating disorder, I would become an empty shell of a person and then what?  Another very meaningful but confusing in the beginning idea that was told to me was that my team “would bring me to myself”.  And it’s happening.  I’m not there yet.  I’m still discovering who I am more and more every day.  This person I’m meeting and getting to know that is me is certainly not “normal” (or even typical) like I had feared (fear of losing the feeling of being special to put it simply) but definitely not diagnosable by any means!  Regardless, I’m a growing and developing person.  With this understanding in mind, the whole concept of recovery seems to lose such significance and much of its definition.  Recovery is about coming into myself and that’s going to be a lifelong process.  I suppose that’s why people say that suffers of eating disorders are “in recovery” for life but to me that idea poses a risk of relapse.  That’s not my experience.  Once being fully brought into myself and knowing that I am okay and understanding me a little better “in recovery” boils down to just living like everyone else.  It puts my eating disorder as part of my past and something that I can draw on for insight but it is not the looming threat that I need to guard against at all time because with the real me around, I don’t need that definition at all.
I had to heighten my standard for recovery in order to want it.  I made it all or nothing:  no behaviours, no thoughts, no urges, no shame, no fear, no relapse…or no recovery.  I’m a bit of an extremist at times and in this case, if I couldn’t have it all, I didn’t want to live a half-assed life anymore.  I was either well or sick and either way, the world was going to know it.  I wanted to be able to live life, not manage or cope.  I have all the skills in the book for ‘coping’ with life but I wanted to really live in all aspects.  I still hold that standard for recovery because I finally know that it’s possible.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

I'm off again!

Tomorrow I begin my journey back to Portugal.  I’ve wavered so much on how much I want to go back.  I’m feeling fairly neutral right now which is actually great.  I could go, or I could not and that says a lot about the success of this visit.  When I arrived, everyone, including myself, held their breath a little and held onto the hope that I would be okay.  We all had said positive things and anticipated a good result but there was underlying anxiety everywhere.  I felt strong enough to come for the most part.  If not strong, I was at least stubborn in a positive direction.  I was anxious about seeing so many people again and wondered how they would receive me and my new outlook and attitude.  I was, of course, nervous about what people would say about my body.  I had prepared for as many hurdles as I could think of but I knew all along that the most challenging difficulties would be in those situations that I hadn’t or couldn’t have predicted.  It almost felt like a public speaking event where I had my speech ready to go and felt confident with that but I had to moderate a question and answer period after.  I had a bit of the jitters as I approached the stage, my presentation went well and the rest I just had to take as it came.  Was I going to be ripped into for what I had presented?  Was I going to be faced with questions that I didn’t know the answer to even though I was familiar with my material?  How prepared can one be for that?  I had to constantly reassure myself that this wasn’t some researched topic, it was me!  I know me, finally, better than anyone else.  I am me through and through and nothing externally was going to shake that if I could help it.  I put my shoulders back and swept my hair out of my face as I faced my old world not because I knew that’s how a confident person presents and I wanted my body language to fool people but because that’s really how confident I felt.
Throughout my visit I found myself questioning myself a lot.  Before I left and for many many years, I’ve been very good at telling people what they wanted to hear.  I used to be such a smooth liar that sometimes I didn’t even recognize what was coming out of my mouth in response to people.  I used to believe in “faking it til you make it” and by doing that, I tried so hard to hide what was real – the effort it took not only to stay alive but to act like I was okay.  This time, when I heard myself responding spontaneously to people in a positive and assured fashion I sometimes had to smile a little and be very curious about my response.  Was it real?  Or was I doing “it” again and pretending that I was okay?  I can actually say that it was always real.  It always felt authentic.  That doesn’t mean that all my responses were positive but when they were, they were real.
It hasn’t been easy to be back and to be testing out this life without my walls up.  I’ve had a few difficult lessons interpersonally and on my own.  I’ve become aware of other people’s insecurities and how they affect me.  I’ve had to make some difficult decisions about whom and what I want in my life, as familiar and comfortable as they/it might be and as much as I really wanted things to be a certain way – I had to be objective and really ask myself what’s best for Julia.
I have been made very aware of how imperative interactions are for me at this stage in the process.  I crave good conversations, discussions, and to be challenged on different levels.  I’m learning how to seek those interactions out.
I am also noticing my need for balance which is not easy to attain!  I have a lot of physical energy that I need to expend and I feel good while putting my body to use.  However, I have a lot of mental energy and my brain needs exercise too.  In my first few weeks home, I pushed myself physically to soak up every waking moment I had but after a little while, I found my vocabulary slipping and my conversations becoming limited to my daily activities and that didn’t fit for me.  I realized I had to entertain my mind a bit more so I started doing random word and vocabulary games and reading-comprehension tests.  Those helped entertain me and refocus the more academic side of my mind but then there was emotional energy.  I found myself really looking for deeper interactions.  I am a passionate person, when I’m geared up about something I need to talk about it and get excited and feel my experience with people.  I’m tired of keeping my reins on, I am dynamic and animated, and that’s a new part of me for a lot of people and sometimes it seems to require a bit of adjustment.  I also crave input not because I need someone to tell me what to do but because, in many aspects of life that I’m currently considering, I want to make sure that I’m not missing an opportunity or direction that might work for me and deserves my consideration.  I want to say, “This is what I’m thinking, what do you think” (about many things, not just me) and listen to other people’s responses.  Some people are hesitant to share their opinions for fear that they might say something wrong or they feel that their input is not valid.  Other people are so forceful that their opinion is fact to them and anything that is different is absurd and/or wrong.  Some people really don’t have an opinion on some things.  In all these circumstances, I am exercising my every growing patience but continue to make an effort to engage with a variety of people in this way.
I set out to type, “Not every day is wonderful…” but that’s a lie.  Not every moment of everyday feels good, true.  But as a whole, yes, every day is wonderful.  There are moments where I notice familiar thoughts racing through my head and it I still need to make a very conscious effort to choose what I will give strength or even air-time to.  There are also some familiar patterns that pop up that are almost automatic.  They are often behaviours that are not what you might initially suspect or that appear overtly as specifically eating disordered, although those random urges do still rear their ugly head and pose momentary challenges for me.  An example of a behaviour that I might experience now is during a time of low mood or energy, I might find myself mindlessly walking towards a room with a mirror with the intent of studying my body.  This is something very familiar:  feel badly? à Make it about my body.  I have caught myself more than once on my way to a mirror and have been able to think to myself: I know that I am going to be hypercritical of what I see and that I may or may not be accurate in my perception of my physical self in this moment and that after I do inspect myself in the mirror, I am likely going to feel even more miserable and potentially bring my environment down with my mood.  What purpose does this serve?  And in that moment, I need to turn myself around and actively distract myself.  That doesn’t necessarily make the feelings that prompted this potential body examination go away but it helps prevent it from becoming needlessly worse.
There are many days, also, where I need to make a conscious effort to make life “worth it”.  Sometimes real life is boring, stressful, difficult, and painful and every day is an opportunity to see those unpleasant experiences for what they are.  Objectively as big or small as they really are and choose how much of an impact they are going to have on me.  I am open to feeling whatever my limbic system hits me with.  I’m not trying to shut down or avoid painful experiences by minimizing them.  If I lean towards sadness, I allow myself to feel sad but I have to look beyond that momentary feeling and keep my eyes on the “up” that will inevitably come next.  I will feel happy again despite the very real feeling of gloom or anger or grumpiness or doubt.  That’s just how feelings are.  Other times I might feel like what my life currently holds isn’t enough and if this is it, why not go back to being sick?  In those moments I have to pack myself up and do something that I wasn’t able to do when I was sick or try something new that might add to my life to make me feel like I have more purpose and more to look forward to.  I have to create not only the present, but the future moments that I want to have.  This is a wonderful balance that I am succeeding at: the real experience of being human (not super-human and not sub-human) and living a life with peaks and valleys and allowing myself both ends of the spectrum and everything in between.
It’s quite simple:  each experience is no more and no less than it is.  There are no feelings that do not pass – good or bad -and none don’t come again.  And there is no hurdle that I can’t overcome, learn from, and overcome with more grace the next time.
So, with that all out there, I pack my things and leave behind snow-capped mountains and evergreens for sunny beaches and palm trees.  This time, it is so temporary and I feel very blessed to have had such a successful trip and warm welcome back home.  And to have the opportunity to go back to my people in Portugal to talk about this experience with them and learn a bit more that will propel me further forward and ready me for my next venture back to my home.  I take such peace with me in my heart that everything really is going to be okay.  It’s not as noisy as confidence might be (and was when I first arrived).  It’s just a quiet knowledge; like a gentle, comforting hand on my shoulder; that I will make it and I’m going to live and that the worst of this is over forever.