Friday, October 26, 2012

16 months

I likely won't have time to write on my 16 month “anniversary” of my arrival in Portugal but today is the day, 16 months ago, that I was discharged from my community hospital for the last time so, it works. There are a couple of directions I am going to go with this post. The first is the recollection of a different day, 3 years ago.

On October 28, 2009, I tried to leave the hospital against medical advice for the first time. I packed my things and called my mom, signed the papers and waited. My mom came but refused to take me home. She said she wanted me to talk with my doctor. The nurses had called him to let him know but I stood by the car with my arms crossed demanding that my mom take me to my apartment. My doctor came after he was told of my decision. Close to, if not after 9pm, in the snow and rain, my mom walked away and left him in the parking lot with me. I yelled at him like I hadn't yelled at anyone in a very long time. I told him that I hated him, that he was torturing me by keeping me in hospital, and why wouldn't he just let me go home and die? For 45 minutes he stood there with me as I screamed and cried. He came at me with kindness, calm, and genuine caring and belief that I/we could do “this”. I calmed down or exhausted myself eventually, and he just came over in silence, put his arm around my boney shoulders, and led me back into the hospital - right past my mom -and back up to my room. I stuck out that admission for a few weeks more though not likely completely without incident.

I think that was the day I realized just how much he cared about me and when I really gave myself over to him. In our discussion, he remembers that day as a day where he really saw me. He understood how desperate I was to be helped and yet how resistant I was to allowing myself that help. Three years later and many, many battles behind us – perhaps less dramatic – I am leaving the program that I was kept alive to come to.

I trusted him from the beginning. I have to say, the scarier part of me, then, tried to find ways to manipulate him into enabling my illness. It didn't often work despite what people on the outside might think. When you know someone with this, there is usually a significant difference between their true voice and the voice of the ED and that is an important nuance to figure out. He saw that, that night. I was no longer the compliant patient who tried to appear to do what she was supposed to, to get out of hospital. I was a furious and terrified girl who didn't know how to fight her thoughts anymore. I was refed enough to realize I didn't have the strength to combat my mind on my own. My mom didn't know what to do with me and she'd known me for 25/26 years at that point. It took someone on the outside to be able to see the many faces I presented and objectify what I was saying or how I was acting. That was, for me, the biggest role of my professional care team. To see me as a person and know that what was inside of my head was not really part of the true me. To see beyond my presentation, however hurtful. Families and friends can't always do that, understandably.

If there are practitioners reading this, this recollection is indication of the tenacity that is needed to tackle the maze that is a person with an eating disorder with persistence, compassion, and belief. Socially, how I acted is not acceptable behaviour – to yell at a physician and ask to be sent home to die. Usually that would result in a pink slip which, in my case, would have caused much more resistance and lack of trust. It was disrespectful and hurtful but he was able to see past the eating disorder that was yelling at him to the scared person inside that needed him and needed to be taken care of regardless of the words hurled at him. Don't let the sick person's fear of becoming well make you fight for her/him any less. They have no reference for the beauty that life holds once well, but if really brought to it, won't ever look back.

To the moms out there that don't know what to do with their own kid, it's okay to not know. If an eating disorder has taken over one's mind, there is so little of the person you might have known years ago left. No parent can be expected to recognize the consumed being that is in front of them.

Moving on to the Now! I am beginning a big transition and I can finally say that I am so excited. I've gone through various stages in the past 7 weeks that I've been back since my last trip home and have looked at them all to see if they were indications that I was “ready” to leave and step into life.

The most powerful were not pleasant. I got very angry with the people here and felt everything from lied to to betrayed to belittled to uncared for. I felt especially frustrated with small things and was easily hurt by other aspects in my interactions with the therapists and workers. I felt so alone with this step and scared. I thought that these feelings and annoyances were signs that I was ready to leave and that idea made sense. Of course, a well person would be annoyed with being in a program of any sort – so I must be better now! I thought that these things meant that I was ready. But I chose the cautious route and really asked myself, “Are you ready? Are you sure? Could you benefit from a little more time here? Are you willing to spend some more time if needed that, in the grand scheme of life, will seem very short?” And then I changed my ticket home for a later date.

In retrospect, I knew that it still didn't feel right. I wasn't scared that I would become dependent on this place and people, though. I wasn't scared that I would never feel ready, I just knew that it made sense to stay a little longer, learn some more and refocus on the aspects of me that I needed to prior to transitioning. Staying just a few more weeks has been one of the better decisions I've made all along.

At some point, during these weeks, something shifted. I had to let go of the anger and express it so that I could see what it was really about. I realized that I had shut down the more vulnerable side of me as I was prepared to put on my soldier suit again and face the world as a one woman army. I had to open up again and have it be okay. I had to look at the people I was interacting with as the imperfect beings they are that, despite their humanness, have a lot of valuable input for my life, right now. That had to be okay too. And it was!

Going through those simple emotional steps wasn't easy but they were essential. Really, it seemed like overnight when a real peace about going home came into my mind. The anxiety and obsession with “what ifs” faded dramatically; I was suddenly seeing the overwhelming opportunity that my life and the world have to offer as blessings and not stresses; I looked forward to the unknown because it is just so wonderfully “normal”; I realized that absolutely nothing has to be decided right now and thus, gave myself the space in my head that I need to adjust over the next while. All these allowances have contributed to a growing excitement about going home.

I also gave myself permission to be sad about leaving the people that I've worked so intimately with for the last 16 months. I realized that I will miss them more than I can say but that missing people is part of a life of caring. Part of loving and being loved. Once again, I had to let myself be vulnerable and human. This was another weight lifted off my shoulders.

To release myself from the expectations I held was like taking off a metal jacket. I've felt this before but only as it pertained more simply. I allowed myself at various times to feel different and unpleasant emotions and to express need. I entertained extremes as far as lifestyle and careers went just because I could; and I let myself consider if I could be happy doing x, y, or z even if it went against what I thought I was “supposed” to do. Even giving myself the courtesy of feeling happy was, at one point, another metal jacket taken off. So, I don't suppose this one is any more significant but it is extremely freeing and I figured it out much more quickly than previous weighty matters (what a poor reference! Sorry, better words escape me right now!).

Now, it is time to put a few last things in my bags (with fingers crossed that I will be within the airline's weight allowances!) and double and triple check my drawers and cupboards. I thought the other day, “Wow. In 16 months I have friends that have gotten married, or divorced, had kids or become pregnant; known families that have adopted international children; PhDs started, finished, or put on hold; university degrees completed; jobs lost and found; diseases diagnosed, cured, or life lost because of; milestones of all sorts for so many people.” Then I cocked my head and thought, “And what have I done in the past 16 months? I've regained my life, myself, my happiness. I've connected with people in ways I've never been allowed. I've worked through the murkiest and strangest emotions and stages. I've reclaimed gratitude, joy, and life itself. That's awesome.” This was the first time I realized, clearly and immediately, that I had put myself and my journey on par with that of everyone else. No one was greater or better - more like: I was not less or my journey less important. That was one of the best feelings ever, to understand my worth and respect what I had tackled and conquered without ego or negative pride. I feared for many years that by respecting myself, my head would suddenly inflate and I would have an exaggerated sense of importance. Thankfully, that is not the case. I'm just on the same wonderful plain as anyone else and to have value in my own eyes is an amazing blessing and an essential part of the peace I have about leaving.

With that, I am off to take care of my last minute business and simply relax.

As always, a big thanks to everyone who has walked beside me and celebrates with me as I embark on the next part of this which is, quite simply, just life!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Determination and Choice...Making me work for me.

Yes, you read the title correctly, I'm making all parts of me work for me!

I've been threatening to write for days now but didn't know what to write about. Tonight, I learned a pretty significant (for me) lesson and am inspired to tell about it!

There are days where I am scared that I will, not necessarily go back to the eating disorder but, pick up some other sort of destructive behaviour to get my rush. No longer do I play Russian Roulette when I go to bed at night, wondering if I'll wake up in the morning...that's from a very long time ago now it seems. However, there's still part of me that craves the rush of risk. I know that there are other ways to find that rush and I have a few, healthy ways I get it now, but the fear that it won't be enough, that I'll have to push it a little further and end up possibly risking my life again is present all too often. I figured it out a bit tonight. Additionally, I realized the power of determination and the role it continues to play in my forward movement.

Carrying on with the preamble, I will illustrate the situation this evening that gave me the lesson I needed: I just arrived home from the salon with a new “do” that I'm quite pleased with. I finish my dinner and realize...if I let today go by, it will have been three full days without purposeful exercise. *alarm!* Then the hamster wheel starts analyzing the past three days. The first was after an amazing and spontaneous squash practice where I had the luck of working briefly with a coach from the UK - my body was tired and sore from the new technique. Yesterday, I was busy in good ways and exhausted by the evening. Today, however, I just didn't get myself together enough to head to the squash court in the morning and then spent all afternoon at the salon. It's evening time, the clouds are growing thicker and threatening a wonderful storm. Part of me doesn't feel like going for a walk but part of me says that I “should”. And here begins an all too familiar war of me versus her...

I've already been going through some pretty significant anxiety again as I approach my time to leave Portugal and return to the “real world” with more finality. I have moments of reprieve from the hamster wheel of fear and doubt but it affects each day to some extent at this point. Today was no different in that regard and therefore the thoughts snow balled: when I walk I think even more, I need distraction right now rather than another opportunity to ruminate; I can't go 3 days without purposeful exercise – but that seems like a negative thought so I probably shouldn't engage it and should choose to fight it; if I walk I might run into someone who smiles at me or returns I smile I give to them and that would feel better than sitting at home by myself...but it's late in the evening and at this time of year, very few people are out and about at this time; I need to do something physical, why? Because it's good for my body.

Aha! Sifting back through those thoughts I see that the real motivation is that it is good for my body, my back is stiff from driving so much the past few days, the fresh air is lovely and it's amazing that it is cool enough to be out in it, it's good to do something different than my usual squash practice and games, I can do whatever I choose to for the rest of the evening, etc. The fear was of my mind. I was a) scared of thinking too much while walking without sufficient distraction and b) couldn't figure out if wanting to “treat my body well” with a bit of movement was just a trick my mind was playing on me in a bad way. Part “b” of that needed to be examined carefully and I felt that it was the Real Me desiring this activity. When I realized this, I made my decision: I was going to walk because it would feel good and I was going to make it a positive event. Quickly, I gathered my iPod, umbrella, and phone, put on a better pair of shoes, and nipped out the door.

I hadn't thought it through (read: over-thought it) and figured out what “making this a positive event” might look like. The thoughts started as soon as I began up the hill outside my apartment. Just a whirring of activity in my head and for a moment, I felt powerless. Not for long though, I remembered what I've been thinking about recently that being here, coming through the program, has given me so much and one of the greatest aspects has been the gift of choice. I'd be darned if I was going to feel victimized by my own mind! So I decided I would choose to spend some time remembering the good of my day, the best interactions, rethinking compliments given and received, and humorous moments. That worked for a bit until I was reminded of my earlier anxiety and how big it seemed. I started to analyze that anxiety and...was hit with the most beautiful smell of flowers coming from behind a cement wall! That brought me back out of my head and into my moment. Horray! was I going to hold onto my present? Sing? Sure!

So, I started to sing the song playing at that moment, quietly. It helped a lot to distract from my thoughts. Over the next few minutes, I saw a cute older couple who gave me big smiles. I observed people eating dinner at one of the few restaurants that's still open in the little town I'm in. I felt a breeze and just stood for a moment in the cool air, not thinking at all.

As I turned towards home, I realized that I was doing it! I was making my thoughts and activity work for me. I decided to stop fighting, reduce the effort I was making, and see where my mind went. Quickly, over about one minute, I found myself frowning and feeling very angry about a few things. This is one emotion I have become acutely aware of recently, specifically why I react to certain situations with anger, so I questioned it and encouraged what was underneath to come out and just be. I started to cry. I was simply sad at the thought of leaving! I let myself realize how much I am going to miss about this place I've been for the last year and a bit and allowed myself the tears that brim frequently these days. This all happened over about 3 minutes total and I started to giggle while I wiped my eyes because I realized, I was “doing it”. I was doing exactly what I want to be able to do:

  1. Choose my thoughts and actions and make them best for me.
  2. Be aware of my emotional reactions and allow what is real to be, even if it hurts.
  3. Figure these things out on my own, if necessary.

So, now I sit here, peaceful again and appreciating the determination I have towards achieving the wellness I desire.

I mentioned previously that I acknowledge that the mindset and little devil in my head are not completely gone yet, despite the length of time I have spent in treatment and working towards eradicating my eating disorder completely. This is yet another example of the little battles I still face but far more important than that, it is proof that I'm winning. The real me.

I decided when I was offered the opportunity to come to this place last year, that there was no going back if I was enabled to move forward enough that I could see the end. That commitment hasn't changed, I want to be well more than anything at this point and I need to remind myself of that commitment and put my efforts towards making the wellness I want come to fruition.

So, with today's very simple experience, I've realized how unnecessary my fear of falling prey to destructive behaviour is. I've reclaimed the choice I can have in my life and as far as I am humanly able, I will keep working towards making the right choices for me because I can. I'm far beyond the confused little girl from last year who was either drowning out her thoughts with behaviours or berating and hating herself for any choice to act against the dictates of her mind if she made positive behavioural choices that enabled life. I didn't have a choice then but I've been brought to a place where I do.

This is today's reason why I don't think it's possible to relapse after really coming through this completely. People with EDs are warned that there is a risk that remains for a very long time if not forever. I disagree, as I'm sure any of my readers are aware of! If I have a choice and elect to make the better choice in as many situations as I'm faced with, be they external/situational or internal, eventually, it will become what is natural. I've been built up mentally and emotionally to understand the strength and worthiness I have to live a full life. I understand where tendencies towards negative behaviour (in any way) come from. With those parts of me working alongside each other, I will make a well life, habitual.

No, overcoming eating disorders is not about overcoming a habit. Practising positive choices, once brought to place where that is an option, is.

I so appreciate how stubborn I am at this point. Determination was a better word tonight, I wasn't digging my heels in against something, I was figuring it out, as I went along, what was going to work for me. I did it, I learned. And it's an awesome lesson.

So, for anyone wondering “when it gets easier?”, for me, I think it might be now or at least soon. I've acknowledged that I don't need to be scared of my mind because I choose how to let it work more often than not. I choose how I see things, what I take away from situations, and where I am going to spend my energy. Some days, I still crawl into bed completely exhausted from the emotional fight – but it's not everyday. Additionally, I finally see the real “light”. I see where this process I'm going through right now can take me. Throughout the last years of being sick, once I understood something, I was often able to work a bit better with it/resist less. It was more practical then (why I needed to be in hospital and fed, etc.) but now, the way I see the fight I need to put up at times still, is a means to a really beautiful end!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Peas and Carrots

As of late, probably 5/7 days of the week, if I'm eating dinner at home, I make myself peas and carrots as part of my meal. Simply boiled, drizzled with olive oil, and heavily salted (not like “heavily” used to mean). I love them. I enjoy them. I actually, look forward to them.

This was amusing to me when it started a few weeks ago because of how I used to balk at peas and carrots being put on my plate by my mom. Everyone had the same and although I do not remember ever having messages of “Finish what is on your plate” given to me directly, there was an expectation within me from a young age to appreciate what I was given and darn well get through it. Sure, there were the peas that “slipped” off my fork and landed on the floor and the “that's plenty” comment for carrots (or turnip! – which I have also incorporated as of late from time to time) even if it meant a not quite full belly after a meal. No one could have convinced me at 5 or 7 or 9 or even 17 that I would ever desire peas and carrots and choose to make them for myself!

Of course, there are the more recent, and less amusing, memories of filling out menus in hospital and trying to choose the “safest” items – vegetables included – and dreading the days when peas were my only option. Or, knowing that I had whatever cooked veg was coming from the kitchen that night and having panic attacks at dinner when the vegetable happened to be peas (which usually came with corn too – gasp!). What I can now say is that I, the real me, delighted in those days because I was cornered into having what I enjoyed. My favourite meal was peas and corn all mixed up with cottage cheese with an insane amount of salt and pepper. My “head” sure didn't like those days though and emotionally, sometimes it was too much to handle. Another “chess move” that was difficult for me and any care provider to navigate. It's sad, looking back at the past number of years, and thinking that I could be so scared of something so simple. Yes, my outward expression was simplified to fear of calories when beneath that and so much more importantly, there was that unworthiness that I should not enjoy food. If I must eat, I need not enjoy. Food was categorized in my head as, at best, a necessary evil and not to ever become something I delighted in.

So tonight, I sat with my heaping bowl of veggies, heavy on the peas, and smiled as I do each night I make that choice. It's funny because of the 5 year old who, yes, tried to get those darn peas stuck under her plate, or mix them in with my mashed potatoes (which actually became the most favourable way for me to eat them! Kind of like an Orbitz drink was...a little texture to the tasty delight). Or who just got them “over with” first so I could get onto the better things like roast beef and spuds. And a bit of a proud smile at the significance of those little, round, green, sweet, delights and how very much allowed I am to enjoy them as and when I want.

In other news, I've changed my return to Canada to a later date. I had a bit rough but therapeutic week along with a few other experiences that indicated I could use a few more intensive weeks before heading on my first, real transition trip home. I'm already looking to book my follow-up in 2013.

I wrote about in my post about anxiety how pleased I was that no eating disorder thoughts had come up. I need to write more on this but I am tired. So for tonight, I hope it suffices to say that it is not always so straight forward. The ED is still a “go to” in my head in some of the hardest times. To be clear, it is only in thought, but the mental fight against behaviours sometimes arises too.

I want my walk through my process to be one that can inspire hope but I cannot clothe hope in even mild deceit. I choose to write more often on my better days but I will not deny that sometimes, it is really very difficult even 15.5 months into the most intense treatment I've ever experienced and despite all the emotional progress I have made. I've worked hard and I am by no means giving up - ever, I am merely recognizing that the real end of all of this...the distant memory of me with an eating disorder and it inhabiting my thoughts at all, remains in the future. I know it will come. It took a long time to cement in my head, and it will take a whole lot less time to get over by choosing the high road repeatedly. By perseverance, belief in my self, engaging my stubbornness in the most positive of ways, and not neglecting the part of me that still needs to reach out, I will get through to the other side will bells on. I still need reassurance and encouragement sometimes, though. I know I can do it but sometimes, like having someone remind you that you are loved even when you know it, it's nice to hear that other people know that I can and will do this. I will see it through to the end. I can. I will.

There are easier days which are becoming ever more plentiful than the difficult days. I held a standard for myself that these more challenging days “should not” exist after all the work I have done and all the effort I have made. I still fall back into judging myself for my thoughts and feelings at times. But today, a great day, I see it for what it is. I got through these weeks as my body and mind adjust further and I will get through it again the next time any of this arises with even more chutzpah!