RheasOfHope

one girl's thoughts on life, mental illness, eating disorder recovery, and hope.

In defense of the internet August 27, 2012

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Ahh, the internet… according to Beloit College’s most recent “mindset study” of the class of 2016 (AKA the students I work with on a daily basis) they “have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of ‘electronic narcotics’”. They’ve always been able to visit a website, purchase their new pair of Air Jordans (do kids still wear those?) and have them safely delivered to their door in four to seven business days—because, heaven forbid, we be seen in public purchasing them from an actual store. Information is available at the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger if they’re on a smart phone. They can quickly learn how to sheer an alpaca or look up Jay Bruce’s number of home runs this season (27) in less than 30 seconds. Gone are the days when parents would yell “Look it up in those Funk and Wagnall’s in the den!” to a child crying their way through a social studies report. And yes, before you ask, I was that kid; my parents received a complete set Funk and Wagnall’s encyclopedias as a wedding gift in 1982, and I remember several reports through which I cried because I didn’t know the answers. In short, these kids have never known a time without the internet. The internet puts a veritable bounty of information within a second’s reach of the user—good or bad. We’ve all seen the TV specials chronicling the internet-addicted child through a camp for their dependence on online gaming (it’s a real camp in Korea, look it up) or seen the CNN ticker report “shocking numbers” of children addicted to the internet. We often hear news stories of children being cyber-bullied or of them visiting websites that promote unhealthy lifestyles. But that is only one side of the story.

Not often does the media report what good the internet can do for not only our children, but for us as well. When I first started to recognize that I may have an eating disorder and self-harm issues, my first trip wasn’t to a doctor, to the library to read up on it or to the school nurse. No, my first trip was to the National Eating Disorder Association website. I knew that a quick trip around the NEDA website was a way to remain anonymous and get the information I needed about getting help without anyone labeling or judging me. For me, someone who lives in constant anxiety of being judged, the ability to get the CORRECT information I needed through the anonymity of the internet was what helped me get started on my recovery process. I was a lot less ashamed to click through informational slides on the NEDA website than I would have been had I gone up to the school librarian asking for assistance in locating the ED books or to the school nurse asking for more information about a disease that I wasn’t even sure I had. That being said, we cannot depend solely on the internet for accurate information about, in specific, EDs due to the prevalence of pro-ED websites.  We must be savvy internet “consumers”, taking the time to determine if the information with which we are being presented is 1) medically accurate and 2) factually correct. We must not let the opinions of others serve as fact. Parents and educators must help instruct children to do the same. It is often difficult to sort fact from opinion, but, for medical information, I tend to find websites with .org or .gov more factually correct than others…and less factually correct than information from a person with MD after their name. And, whatever you do, please don’t diagnose yourself on WebMD despite the presence of the initials MD.

The internet is a wonderful way to reach out to those in similar situations to get the support and assistance you need. Almost a year ago, I stumbled upon an amazing mental health blog that lead to me a mentor whom I now consider a close friend. Although we are located in approximately the same area, went to the same undergrad institution (missing each other by a mere three months) and have a lot of common acquaintances, I know that without the internet, we would never have crossed each other’s paths. After reading her blog last November, I sent an email to her and we haven’t stopped talking since. She supports me when I struggle, she shares in my successes and she means the world to me. She is the first person in all my 24 years who has understood the role ED has played on my everyday life. Have I mentioned that we’ve never met? Yes, one of the benefits and drawbacks to the internet. I have an amazing supportive friend who completely gets me, yet I have never actually talked to her. This is not to downplay the significance that my best friend has played in my life, but, while she supports me 100% and tells me when I am engaging in unhealthy behaviors, it is hard for her to relate to what I am going through. This is where I turn to my friend on the internet. I feel as though the internet brings people with unique circumstances together. It is a support group, an online family, a place to connect with those who have the ability to assist you, and a place to meet people like you—even if you never actually meet them. I’m not advocating ditching flesh and blood friends for internet friends, only suggesting supplementing those relationships with internet pen pals. If you are lucky enough, like me, to find someone with whom a friendship blossoms, great. But don’t become an internet hermit, shunning human contact for the glow and hum of a computer or you’ll end up in that internet camp in South Korea.

So, to sum up, despite not being programmed to understand the vast complexity of the internet in the same way that the class of 2016 does, I have managed to find ways to make it work for me. I am not addicted to internet, and, in fact, have been known to go days at a time without it. I just want people to know that the internet isn’t this Pandora’s Box of evils that we should be afraid to release to our children; because, if you remember the tale of Pandora’s Box, even after all the evil was released…hope remained.  It is my wish that people would wait for that hope, as well as understand the way the culture of our children has shifted to rely a little heavier on the internet.

 

The eensy, weensy spider that got washed down the water spout but got back up because he was not having it OR the spider on my car August 23, 2012

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Anyone that knows me can tell you two things: 1) I am the proud owner of a 2000 Pontiac Grand Prix, which, due to its large size, is ironically nicknamed “Little Red” and 2) I’m not a fan of crawling critters (in specific spiders and snakes). This story combines two of those things, minus the snakes thank goodness. One glorious morning I found myself caught in a spider web while trying to get in my car to go to work. After the immediate panic of thinking a spider was on my person and frantic brushing to get the silken strands off my face, I looked around to find the home of the offending creature. What I found was an intricately woven web that extended from my side view mirror, to my driver’s side window and then to the side of the pick-up that had parked next to me. While I had completely busted through the connecting part, the web on my actual car was still intact. Call it a moment of compassion, but I decided to spare this spider’s home the fate that had become its extension wing on the pick-up.  Later in the day, a thunderstorm wiped out the web I was too kind to destroy hours before, and that was the end of that.

The next day, after running into the web, panicking and finding the same thing I had found the day before, I decided that the spider was too tenacious to be deterred from its web building. I decided to never destroy its web. It clearly found a home on my car and who am I to destroy it…that was over two months ago. The web has been destroyed too many times to remember, my car has been driving back and forth to Cincinnati at unnecessary high speeds (…because, hey, speeding is ok, right?) and it’s been subjected to the elements. Yet every morning, this spider had a new web knit between my side view mirror and my window. Never once have I seen this spider, but every morning I see evidence of its hard work, determination and unwillingness to relent to the demands my car puts upon it. Despite what I can only assume (and only want to imagine) being a few ounces in weight, this spider has shown me the power of perseverance. Despite the constant destruction of its home, each day, without complaint (I can only imagine, as I don’t claim to be the “spider whisperer”) it does what it needs to do to get by. I’ve been so caught up in my all-or-nothing mindset of recovery that I’ve failed to see what progress I’ve made. Unlike the spider, when things don’t go the way they’re supposed to, I immediately throw up my hands, claim everything is too hard, and go running back to ED behaviors.  Whereas this tiny little spider may have uttered a few spider curse words related to its hard work had been ruined, but it kept on; not getting caught up in the negativity or giving up on trying.  This spider clearly doesn’t care that its home is destroyed on a near daily basis, and continues to live its little spider life anxiety free. Unlike me, the spider does not bend or yield to the demands of the outside world and merely continues doing what it knows in its heart is the right thing to do. Instead of running to ED behaviors and then continuing them because I thought that one slip-up meant my recovery was ruined forever, I need to find healthy ways of dealing with stress, find new ways to persevere towards my recovery goals and to acknowledge relapses for what they are without dwelling on them or continuing them. Healthy stress relief behaviors are so much more productive and beneficial than ED behaviors…just ask my little spider buddy.

 

Advice from Grandpa August 20, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — rheasofhope @ 8:45 pm
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To say that the relationship I currently have with my step-grandfather is distant would be an understatement. It hasn’t always been this way, though. He married my grandmother when I was around 2 or 3 and he was the only grandpa I ever knew on my father’s side; as my actual grandfather passed away six months before I was born. He did everything a grandpa should, and I knew he loved me. We went to church every Sunday (he’s a pastor), and he even let me color all the good pages in the coloring books (very important when you are 6). My cousin and I liked to spend the night with them on Saturday  nights and stay up to watch Cops…it’s the little things. When my grandmother was sick, we spent every day together for the entire summer caring for her together. When my grandmother died seven years ago, however, he remarried a few months later and contact was essentially cut off. It has been a phone call here and there and a card at Christmas ever since. Really wanting to reconnect, I called him on my way home from work on Friday night. We talked for almost 6 minutes; which may seem short, but it is an eternity for him as he hates talking on the phone. I’ll never forget the last thing he said to me before we hung up, “Stay Healthy”. My grandpa doesn’t know about my ED, self-harming, anxiety, depression, OCD…none of it. But, he knew exactly what I needed to hear at that moment in time. We may be distant, but I know he still loves me and continues to care for me as if there’s never a gap in our communication. I cried for a good 10 minutes in the car after that conversation and I can only guess how odd that appeared to passing motorist. But, at that moment, I realized, my grandpa is right, even if he doesn’t know what’s wrong with me. I need to stay healthy.

 

The road to health is not paved with bricks of shame August 10, 2012

Recent columns in the Cincinnati Enquirer and Columbus Dispatch sparked this post. These particular columns were on the topic of Ohio Senator Eric Kearney’s recent report on the findings compiled as a result of the passing of Senate Bill 210 (the Healthy Choices for Healthy Children Act) in September of 2010. This bill requires all school districts in the state of Ohio to report the BMI findings of students in kindergarten, third, fifth and ninth grades.

To understand my viewpoint on this recent publication, I must first take you back to the year 2002– my ninth grade year. I had just finished the agonizing ritual of dressing out in the locker room for my gym class, and was sitting in the middle of our enormous yet aging gym while the overhead florescent lights flickered ominously. It’s not that we didn’t have money to replace the lights either; I’m convinced the whole thing was a sick experiment in the psychology of gym class on teenagers. Anyway, as our gym teachers walked out of the locker rooms and announced that we were dividing the class into boys and girls, I knew something unpleasant was imminent. While the guys were shepherded into a remote corner of the gym, we girls were lead down the hallway to the wrestling room like sacrificial lambs to slaughter.

As we were lead into the room the first thing I notice is the red padded walls emblazed with our school logo, followed closely by what was set up by each of those walls. Along the first wall was a scale; the kind where you have to move the weights over the bar, get it to balance, and wait anxiously for it all to be over. Affixed to the second padded wall was a measuring tape. Along the third wall was a table containing a caliper and what appeared to be a steering wheel for a Fischer-Price-sized car. We were lined up along the fourth wall. That’s when I was dealt a devastating blow; today was BMI day. Glorious. At this time I already knew I was medically obese, I knew I was the largest girl in my class, I knew I was teased relentlessly for my weight, and I knew today would be no exception. What I did not know was that I was already in the thick of an eating disorder. First up, the scale. We went up one by one in alphabetical order. We were weighed, the numbers announced aloud to a class of silent girls each eagerly waiting to hear the weight of their classmates, and were expected to do this without complaint. I don’t remember my name being called, walking up there, hearing the number or her writing it on the clipboard. What I do remember is the feeling of complete degradation and shame during the entire process. Next, we were all lead to the tape measure on the wall. This portion of the humiliation was fine; as most girls in my class were of similar height to myself. Apparently 5’2” is a popular height among Midwestern adolescents. Again, one by one, we were measured, the number called aloud and written on the clip board.

Third came the caliper and steering wheel (which turned out to be an instrument that somehow measures BMI through electrodes you touch on the wheel) tests. As before, we approached the table one by one, did the test, and had the numbers announced to the class before being recorded on the clipboard. Again, the feeling of indignity returned as she grabbed my arm and placed it between the caliper points. The number placed me off the chart she had created. Anything I had felt about myself that was positive melted away as the girls in my class laughed at the fact that a new category was created solely for me. Somehow I made it through the class, through high school, through college and after. However, this day in class ten years ago is never far from my subconscious. I feel that it, along with a variety of other factors, was a major trigger in my later development of anorexia/bulimia, depression, self-mutilating behaviors, and a general sense of feeling lesser than those around me.

I write this story not as a “feel sorry for me” story, but as a cautionary and all-too-true account of what is happening to children around the state every day. Each time these tests are conducted, children face unnecessary shame and humiliation based upon what the state perceives they should weigh. They are told by trusted teachers, administrators, counselors, whomever, that they don’t fit what society thinks a child of their age and height should be. They compare their numbers to those in their class; whether to brag or to bring embarrassment to those around them. They wear their BMI numbers like Hawthorne’s scarlet letter; whether they intend to or not, whether the testing was conducted privately or in front of the class, whether they’re proud of it or not. Every day children are subjected to the message that they don’t fit in or that they are not good enough; recording and reporting their BMI only strengthens these negative messages.

Now, back to Senator Kearney and his wonderful (read: ANY antonym for wonderful) report. Under the HCHC Act, EVERY school district in Ohio is required to report annually on the BMIs for kindergarten, third, fifth and ninth graders. However, only 244 districts actually reported; with 686 others either applying for a waiver or opting not to conduct the screenings altogether. Only 75% of counties in Ohio reported results; even if it was only one district in the whole county, it was recorded as part of the 75%. Almost 92,000 students were screened. The results concluded that in every grade level, between 59 and 67% of students were at a healthy weight; with the remaining percentages split between underweight, overweight and obese. Because of how the categories are arranged, approximately 33% of students in each grade fell into the latter two categories; results that shocked and appalled Senator Kearney. He is calling for the Ohio Department of Health to become further involved in the BMI screening process as a means to decrease the skyrocketing incidences of childhood obesity by reforming cafeteria food, increasing the amount of physical activity in school, and making BMI screening MANDATORY. While I agree that students need healthier food in the cafeteria and more time spent engaging in physical activity, I do not agree that children need to take part in the shaming BMI screenings as part of a mandatory school curriculum. In fact, BMI is not even the most accurate measure of health or obesity. According to BMI measuring techniques there are some current Olympic athletes that fall into the “obese” category despite their peak physical health; as BMI fails to take into account a person’s muscle mass. Children and parents do not need to take part in BMI screenings at school to determine their student’s level of health. Parents and doctors can  screen a child’s health in a protected, private and non-judgmental environment—not a school.  I know that I am just one person, and that I cannot overturn this senate bill myself, but I do know that I can do everything in my power to ensure that my future students do not face the same fate that I did as a result of these discouraging BMI screenings. I wish, for once, the state would consider a student’s mental health when making decisions related to their physical health.

 

Jane Austen, I am not August 1, 2012

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“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”           Joan Didion

Sometimes, at least to me, it seems like writing is the only place where I am truly free to be myself. To think whatever I want. To say what I please. To be who I really am. To pose questions I would be too afraid to ask anyone. To express all the thoughts careening through my head like runaway trains, and put them into some semblance of a grammatically correct sentence; without fear of judgment or consequence. In short, writing is where I feel the most unrestricted. And in my world of ED, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder/ritualistic behaviors, and constant worry, a world in which I am permitted to be completely myself is the greatest thing I could ever imagine.

Lately, I have fallen into old unhealthy patterns. I’ve let my true self become overwhelmed with the burdens of disordered eating, feeling the need to control everyone at all times, needing everything to be done in even numbers and then beating myself for being overwhelmed with those preoccupations. But, through it all, writing has been there for me. Everywhere I go, my little Monet-painting bound journal goes with me. I write whenever I feel anxious, when I have a question, when I want to engage in unhealthy choices, when I am engaging in unhealthy choices, when I’m mad at myself, when I’m mad at others, when I have a profound thought (admittedly, this is quite infrequent). I write when I’m working, I write when eating (again, admittedly, quite infrequent), I write as I’m watching TV, I even write when reading (although, that usually doesn’t make sense when I go back to read it…both the book and the writing). Ever since I started writing three years ago, I’ve filled up five journals and countless scraps of paper; all kept in a box in my closet.

One would think that over the years my writing would improve to the point that the thoughts would connect, the punctuation would be correct, or, at the very least, be interesting. But, that’s when I remember, my writing is for me. I write for my own sanity, creativity, enjoyment and recovery. My purpose for writing reminds me of the best gift I ever got from a mentor. This particular mentor had been a co-worker and close acquaintance for some time, and was only a few years my senior. I, however, knew nothing of her story and she knew nothing of mine. It wasn’t until I was told to speak with her about my struggles, that I understood that I am not alone. She showed me that I can overcome anything, she gave me strength when I didn’t have any, she encouraged me to work towards recovery, she was a shoulder to cry upon, she was a person to share successes with and she showed me how amazing life can be without ED. She gave me a page out of one of her old journals, which I hold dear to me today. No one, aside from her, knows I have this or has ever seen it. Every time I read it I am reminded of her raw emotions, her uninhibited writing, and hope to be as real as she is with herself in her writing.

Essentially, this post has no purpose other than to express my love of writing; albeit not the Pulitzer prize winning writing of those who came before me or will come after. It is merely one girl’s thoughts and challenges in her own life and working towards bettering herself as a human being. That is what I hope people take away from my writing, as I do it for no other purpose.