I'm so sorry that I have neglected this space for so long.
The two year anniversary of when I first left for Portugal has come and gone. Over the last month, I considered what I might want to say about this anniversary and there is so much! However, it was one interaction in particular that offered the content of today's post.
I have been at St. Paul's a lot recently, for courses and reorientation as part of the exciting process of getting me back to work. The time I spent around the hospital has been great. I had the chance to really experience my emotional progress with exposure to that old environment. I had no reaction to the general areas of the hospital. On the unit where I worked, my excitement to get back to work only grew as I practised my skills in the lab, observed the other nurses hard at work, and had conversations with educators and those in leadership roles. Overall, though exhausting as I am not accustomed to working anymore, this process has gone very smoothly and at a most reasonable pace. Each new task or decision has been placed in front of me only as I have reached a point of readiness for it.
It does not mean that it is easy, but it is quite a peaceful experience of the challenges I am faced with as I work towards something I never imagined would happen. Something that I used to hold passion for and am feeling that same drive be ignited again.
A couple of weeks ago, I went back to the inpatient eating disorder unit at the hospital to visit a friend. The day I went I continued to experience peace. I considered what might cause me distress about the situation and decided that I was in a solid enough place and surrounded by the right support to contend with whatever might come up.
When I stepped onto the unit, I had no reaction. The nurse asked me if I had been there before and I responded, “Yes.” (obviously). He confirmed that I was familiar with the routines and I said, “No, I don't think so.” All he asked was that I did not bring food onto the unit. I laughed and told him I had gum and asked if he would like me to hand that over – he didn't. How bizarre to be on the outside, as a visitor, unfamiliar with their routine but aware beyond what they required!
Anyway, I enjoyed my friend's company and on the way out, stopped to say hello to a couple of other nurse who knew me from the past. Once I told them who I was, they seemed quite thrilled to see me as a well person. High fives and big smiles....it was a great moment (one of a few with numerous ED program staff). One of them asked to speak with me for a few minutes about how the program in Portugal was different than what I had experienced in Canada. This is where the inspiration for this post came from.
I have been faced with this question before and have not managed to answer as well or as clearly as I would like to. Sometimes it is simply a slight head shake and, “Everything.” Other times it has been an unstructured mess of words trying to highlight what the most important differences were for me. In this instance, I was able to offer a more concise description of the program and the components as I had experienced them. The nurse went on to ask something along the lines of, “So, with this kind of therapy and treatment, do you feel that you were given the tools to set appropriate boundaries and practice assertive communication?”
I smiled and the answer became so clear. I responded with what is true:
What they gave me in this program was myself. They debunked the lies in my head that had me certain that I was a bad person. Once I learned and understood that I was actually a good person, deserving of life and ultimately desiring life, self-respect and love naturally followed. With that knowledge, I explained to her: When you have yourself and you like and love yourself; when you want to live and be a full part of this world, like any other well person - knowing your limits and seeking fulfilment of needs in effective and healthy ways, becomes the only way to live.
What greater gift could a program offer me except the understanding of myself? Any practitioner can give a patient skills and illustrate communication systems that should work but when a person doesn't understand what or why they are seeking what they are, what good are these tools?
It was so neat to me to be able to tell her this. As for the how I got from there to here...that is a little blurry. Of course it took extensive guidance, support, persistence, and patience on the part of the team that worked with me and also from my friends and family as I stepped forward into the new ground that was becoming me.
All of this continues to require work as I solidify caring for, respecting, and loving myself as habit. The best part now, is that my focus can extend beyond myself. I made a video days, days before I left, in which I spoke about how scared I was but how hard I was going to work to overcome my condition if they thought they could help me. In there, I indicated that in the future, I would like to help others but that I had to work on/help myself first. I didn't know that it would take “as long” as it did but I am so thankful that I had the chance to do all the necessary, foundational work. The encouragement to maintain the focus on my improvement was also imperative as I was often wanting to run off and help the world as I felt that spending so much time thinking about and talking about myself was simply selfish. Perhaps it was, but it was needed. Now, I have the rest of my life, if I use it as I would like to, to extend my whole self to others and to the moments of life as they present themselves (and as I seek them).
Two years ago I could never have imagined what lay on the other side of the pain and self-hatred. The idea that life could be so beautiful and that I could be so okay was more than foreign – it was completely alien.
Seems like no time and a lifetime at the same time. And now, it's time for the best time(s).