RheasOfHope

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

Moving Madness November 26, 2012

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When you move you often find things you didn’t know you lost or things knew you lost but got tired of looking for. Currently, I am in the process of moving back to Cincinnati, and have spent the last week organizing, boxing, wrapping, moving and donating my things. I found my late grandmother’s necklace that I have been searching for for a few months, a Tupperware lid I lost the week I moved in but gave up on finding, and an old, discarded box of half used laxatives buried under pots and pans in my kitchen. Now, I didn’t even know I had them in my house seeing as how I have been laxative free for almost a year now…and I was not excited to find them like I was when I found my grandmother’s necklace. Rather, it was like finding a filthy stranger sitting in your kitchen wearing a grimy bathroom drinking rancid milk out of the container (missing occasionally and having it dribble down the robe in chunks, and, consequently, onto your floor) with his crusty feet propped up on your table.

As I stared at the worn box of pills, I began thinking about my wild journey towards recovery after 14 years of ED. I’ve had my share of ups and downs and sideways, but, overall, it’s been slow but steady forward progress. I started thinking of all the people who have shaped my journey: those that helped, those that never let me fail at recovery, those who stayed with me no matter what, and those who were not so helpful. I thought of my own hard work and how inconsequential it seemed at the time, but how it has added up to be so meaningful in recovery. As I held the box in my hand, I reflected on who I am as a person (outside of the ED)—who I am, where I want to be, what I like, what I don’t and a bunch of other things in between. For so long my identity has been wrapped up in ED, that I’ve lost Rhea. Finding those pills was the first step in unearthing Rhea from the rubble of ED. But first, I had to get rid of the pills.

I marched myself out to my building’s hulking brown dumpster in the parking lot. I leaned against the building, took the pills out of the box, popped one out of the foil and immediately knew what I had to do. As I threw the pill into the dumpster, I said aloud one thing I liked about myself. Each pill arced through the air paired with a positive thought about myself. Not a single pill entered the dumpster without an accompanying thought. One by one the pills fell into the dumpster with a reassuring plink, plink, plink as they hit the metal bottom. Each plink was a step closer to recovery. Each plink was me becoming a little bit stronger. Each plink lightened the load in my heart and my mind. When the final pill hit the bottom of the dumpster, I ripped up the box and scattered its many pieces into the dumpster and said a prayer. When I got back into my apartment, I looked up some of my favorite Bible quotes that remind me why I am so worth recovery. I want to share them with anyone reading them in the hopes that they bring you the peaces of mind, of heart and of body that I gain while reading them.

Psalms 139: 1-6 and 13-16

Lord, you have examined me and you know me. You know everything I do; from far away you understand all my thoughts.  You see me, whether I am working or resting; you know all my actions. Even before I speak, you already know what I will say. You are all around me on very side; you protect me with your power. Your knowledge of me is too deep; it is beyond my understanding… For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

1 Peter 3:4

Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Psalms 147:3

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds

Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

 

Celebrating Health November 21, 2012

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph  over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who  conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela

One year ago today I was anxiously sitting in a waiting room at the Lindner Center of HOPE watching people buy $250,000 apartments in Boston on HGTV while waiting for my intake eval. I was so nervous that my face was burning and turning red, yet my body was freezing–so I kept on my wool coat. During the medical portion of the eval, I was so uneasy that my heart rate was in the mid 90s. I can’t even remember how many times during the intake eval that I was told to calm down, to breathe or to stop worrying. However, as the eval went on, a strange sense of calm overwhelmed me. Finally, finally, someone understood me and was taking my concerns seriously. I told the intake coordinator how my past counselor refused to treat my ED, saying it was a result of me not knowing myself—and assumed identity. I told him of my years of bullying, food abuse even as a child, self-mutilation and current eating patterns. In the end, I was unable to attend Lindner due to my insurance, but I came away with what I wanted most, what I’ve craved for so many years…understanding. For years I had felt alone, crazy, confused, damaged and I hated those feelings—but more so, I hated myself. Lindner provided me with the knowledge that I wasn’t alone, nor was I crazy or damaged…and I was no longer confused. I had a diagnosis and a new direction. They helped me find a therapist, who also understands and helps me work through my ED, who I see to this very day. I am not fully recovered by any means, but taking that first step into the Lindner Center last year was my first step towards serious recovery, my first step towards loving an accepting myself as an imperfect human being, my first step towards life…and I couldn’t be happier.

Since my last post, I have taken a stand for my own health and the destigmatation of EDs. On Monday, I went to my GP for my chest pains. I typically dread seeing this man because he doesn’t understand me and is unwilling to take me seriously. This time, I talked to the nurse beforehand and told her my feelings towards the doctor. Then, the most amazing thing I could ever think of happened, the nurse stopped to talk to me as a person not a patient. She asked me how my recovery was going, what type of behaviors are encompassed in my ED, what my health concerns were, and how proud of me she is for seeking recovery because it is so brave of a thing to do. Now, keep in mind, I don’t even know this woman and I still don’t know her name. However, I was amazed that she took that time to genuinely get to know me as an individual and get an understanding of my medical concerns. When the doctor came in, he actually listened to what I said and didn’t dismiss my concerns. He ordered an EKG and gave me medicine for GERD and suggested that my concerns could also be an ulcer. When the nurse came back in to perform the EKG, she talked to me about the book “Life with Ed”, her admiration for Jenni Schaefer and Thom Rutledge (the authors), that she wants them to come speak in Ohio, how she wants to work at Lindner because of the great work they’re doing there, and, again, mentioned how proud of me she was for seeking recovery. This nurse is proof that there are wonderfully caring and supportive medical professionals out there who understand the multifaceted world of EDs. I am so thankful that she was assigned to me that evening and appreciate everything she did for me.

Additionally, I stepped out of my comfort zone to educate and destigmatize EDs at my undergrad alma mater. I was the featured speaker at an event held by an on-campus sorority. About 60 to 65 students showed up (which is actually a lot considering the resident population at the college is around 850), some were even writing papers based on the presentation to serve as enrichment for their Athletic Training classes. I was nervous to speak to these students. I was worried they would think of me as damaged goods when I told my personal story with EDs, or worse, think I was lying. However, two of my really close friends took the time out of their evening to attend my presentation and sat in the front row to calm me down. Every time I looked at them I remembered why I was there and why education on EDs is so very important. I began my presentation with statistics and general information on each of the four recognized EDs. I then transitioned into medical consequences, treatment options and ways to seek help. I ended with my story. Throughout the entire program it was silent. The silence made me uneasy because I could not readily ascertain what each person was thinking. A few questions were asked after the presentation concerning onset of symptoms, the rise of social media on encouraging/promoting EDs and other more in-depth thoughts. Although not a medical professional, I think my presentation was helpful in introducing the topic to these students or helping those who struggle realize they’re not alone. If I helped only one person, I consider the presentation a success. Education is my passion and I have felt this way my whole life. Whether it is a class of kindergartners learning the alphabet or a room of college students being taught about EDs, I find that education continues to be my life’s purpose. I am glad I was able to present to these students and educate them on EDs.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for my recovery and the opportunity to be an advocate for myself and others.

 

Signs of Life November 15, 2012

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Ok, I’ll admit it, I absolutely love donating blood. Not in a weird way, but in the “I am glad I can use my life to save lives” way. I came to terms at an early age that I would never have a career in the medical field, and I am ok with that…so, I do what I can, and give blood.

That being said, I’ve always failed in the pre-screening process somewhere along the way–leading to me getting the all to familiar “Rain Check” card which includes a list of foods I should add to my diet to increase my iron levels. I’ve come to term this rain check sheet the “fail sheet”.  However, I have been committed to recovery (with a couple of bumps along the way), and thought I was healthy enough to try again to donate. Typically they check my temperature first. Followed by blood pressure and a finger prick test to check iron levels. They siphon the blood into a capillary tube, and drop it in a solution to test the iron levels. If the drop of blood fails to fall to the bottom of the solution in the allotted time, they spin your blood in a centrifuge to get a more accurate testing of the iron levels.  This time, however, the nurse checked the iron first; completely throwing off the routine. The drop of blood went into the solution, fell slightly, then rose back up to the top while swirling around in the jar. I know the process all to well; I had just failed the iron test. The nurse walked away without saying a word, stuck the capillary in the centrifuge and pulled out the receipt-like report. Studying it with a frown, she turned back to where I was sitting. I knew it. I failed again.

She walked back to where I was sitting, fail sheet in hand. I looked up and said, “oh man, the fail sheet?” She kind of laughed and replied with what I could do to raise my iron levels. Then I was exiled to cookie and orange juice island to wait for my friend who was actually able to donated blood.

However, this failure didn’t affect me the way failure has in the past. Before, I would get discouraged, and go running back to ED behaviors to cope with my emotions and perceived failure; as failure in any way in my life seems unacceptable to me. This time, however,  I knew that I was on my way to well, and my iron levels were just low this one time. It didn’t mean I am failing at recovery; it simply meant that yesterday my iron count was low. Recovery is showing me that health isn’t something to be feared. I now have tools and practices in place that I can draw upon in situations that would normally tempt me to reunite with ED behaviors. In fact, although I was telling myself lots of horrible things after I failed and wanted desperately to engage in ED behaviors, I went back to my office and had a normal lunch…and kept it down.

So although I couldn’t save someone else’s life by donating blood, I was able to practice some self care strategies to fight ED behaviors and work towards saving my own…because sometimes, you just have to take care of yourself because that’s all that really matters. After all, even the airlines tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs in case of emergency.

 

Be your own advocate November 13, 2012

I’m a shy person. Let’s just get that out of the way straight off. I always have been and, more than likely, always will be. And, I’m ok with that—I’ve embraced it as something about myself that cannot change, so I better learn to accept it. I’ve always had someone in my life to speak on my behalf, to be my voice or to be my advocate. I hate drawing attention to myself, and thought standing up for myself would just create a scene; and I most likely wouldn’t get what I wanted anyway. I guess you could say it was a pattern of learned helplessness (to use the terminology one of my favorite psychologists, Martin Seligman). Now, as I inch towards 25, I am learning to become my own advocate—to break the cycle of learned helplessness…and  here are the three areas in which I plan to do so: Health, Recovery and the Destigmatization of EDs.

Health

After being brushed aside by my general practitioner after telling him I have an eating disorder (despite diagnoses from both the Lindner Center of HOPE and my current therapist), having him ignore my insistence that my knee was out of place (which progressed undiagnosed for so long that I now have arthritis and almost no cartilage) and, the latest, his refusal to believe that my heart palpitations are anything more than me not recognizing my anxiety…it makes me wonder why I am letting myself be controlled by a man who obviously does not care about my medical concerns. Why am I not speaking up for myself when I obviously know that something is wrong?  Why are we, as a collective, not speaking up for our own bodies? We know our bodies better than anyone else. Defend your right to treatment and proper medical care. Voice your concerns, and demand that they be taken seriously. You have the right to make your own decisions regarding the health and care of your body, not your doctor. Your health depends on you, your actions, and your reactions to what health care professionals say. Many people, even people in the health care field, do not understand the medical repercussions or the seriousness of ED behaviors on overall health. This is exactly why you must stand up for yourself. Don’t be afraid to disagree with doctors; they’re not always right. This is why, next Monday, I will stand up to my doctor. I will have an itemized list of symptoms, what I’ve done to try to alleviate the symptoms and various other notes I feel will be necessary to the appointment. I am going to advocate for my health; as health is a privilege denied to many.

Recovery

All too often I find myself compromising my recovery goals to adapt to those around me. If no one else around me is eating, I will often skip the snack I’m supposed to be having…or if no one around me is ready for dinner, I will hold off of my regular scheduled meal time to accommodate their timetable; and so on and so forth until I’ve completely let ED behaviors back in my life. And for what? To be seen as “normal”, to fit in with those around me, to not cause a row by demanding we eat on my schedule? Is being accepted that important to me that I am willing to sacrifice recovery? Hell no! The select few friends that I have disclosed my ED to are the only ones with whom I will hang out for an extended period of time. Why? Because they understand my recovery goals. I feel open to speaking up about my needs when I am with them. If I say we need to eat, we eat. If I say we need to eat at a specific restaurant, that’s where we go. If they see me getting uncomfortable after we eat, they make me leave the restaurant to prevent purging. By speaking up for myself and being my own advocate for my recovery, I have been able to put it first; in EVERY situation. Recovery is a wonderfully courageous and beautiful thing, don’t attach any negative emotions to it. Recovery shows your strength to survive and be the best you that you can be. Your health (both mental and physical) should be a priority over other people’s perceptions of you or their schedules. You matter. You are important. Your recovery is worth it. Own your recovery and don’t let anyone sway you away from it.

Destigmatizing EDs

As anyone can plainly see, I am advocate for not only my recovery, but the recovery of others. That being said, I feel as though society does not share my view. To society, EDs are a joke, a choice, a political statement, a big f you to the world, vanity, and whatever else runs through their minds. When, in reality, EDs are a DISEASE; a life-long medical and psychological condition that impedes in almost every aspect of daily living. EDs remain in your mind even when behaviors are not present; much in the same way an alcoholic is still medically and psychologically considered an alcoholic even when not drinking. They don’t see the everyday struggle that goes into recovery; they see a girl or guy pushing a plate away from them at dinner, or that same person visiting the bathroom repeatedly after lunch. What they don’t see are the thoughts running through our minds, the recovery brain duking it out with the ED brain while eating, the therapy, the medical issues, anything. What they see is a stubborn person who won’t recover…and that’s simply not the case.  I may not be an advocate about destigmatization on the lobbying congress level or protesting on the streets of the national mall, but I hope this blog can serve as an informative tool to provide people with the knowledge and resources to better understand EDs and those that suffer from them.

What if we treated every illness the way we treated mental illnesses

 

Just some handy information to know November 8, 2012

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This infographic was taken from Rehab Today’s Blog

For those unfamiliar with EDs, this is a great, quick and easy way to get some general information.

 

EDs are not funny November 6, 2012

“And, what’s more, this ‘precious’ body, the very same that is hooted and honked at, demeaned both in daily life as well as in ever existing form of media, harassed, molested, raped, and, if all that wasn’t enough, is forever poked and prodded and weighed and constantly wrong for eating too much, eating too little, a million details which all point to the solitary girl, to EVERY solitary girl, and say: Destroy yourself.”

― Emilie Autumn, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls

                I love a good joke as much as the next person and I handle most things in my life with a large dose of humor. I remember sitting with my cousins after our grandmother’s death, healing by telling our favorite funny stories about growing up with her. I feel as though humor can take the edge off of a situation and move us towards a place of healing. There are some situations, however, where I feel humor only serves to humiliate and degrade. I feel as though this culture, as a world culture not just as an American culture, is rather insensitive. When we don’t understand something, can’t relate to something or don’t want to admit something is true, what do we do? We mock it, we stigmatize those who deal with it, we ridicule, we reject, we stereotype, we label, we fear and we condemn it. Well, I’m sorry, but I am tired of that. I’m going to use my voice (albeit in wordpress form) to stand up for those with eating disorders and mental illnesses. I want society to know it is not funny, nor is it acceptable, to demean those with eating disorders. We are not the butt of jokes, we are not a tribe to be outcast and we are not crazy. We are, in fact, HUMAN and deserve to be treated as such.

Here is what I mean:

  • In the new “comedy” The New Normal, a woman named Goldie is serving as a surrogate to a gay couple. Ok, normal enough, no problem. But, she also has a pregnancy craving that repulses one of the men…cheeseburgers. When he walked into the house and found her eating a cheeseburger, he proclaims, “I hope you’re bulimic so that [the cheeseburger] doesn’t get to our baby!” Seriously? He wants the woman carrying his child to suffer with a disease that can kill her? He wants her to go through the physical and emotional pain of an ED so that his baby does not gain the caloric fuel from a cheeseburger? And, if it was supposed to be a joke, what is so funny about wishing someone was bulimic? Since when is it ok, solely for humor’s sake, to wish a life-threatening disease on someone? What makes it so humorous to joke about EDs? All this did was further the cultural perception that we should negate the seriousness of EDs and turn them into some sort of laughingstock, so we can all feel better about ourselves.
  • This is not a new trend, however. In 1995, an episode of Seinfeld hinged upon the running joke that George thought his girlfriend was bulimic. He spent most of the episode thinking of Wile E Coyote ways to trap her during a purge episode. The Seinfeld gang turns it into a big joke, getting Kramer’s mother to spy on the girlfriend in the bathroom. George is only concerned about buying food that she is going to purge, not about her health or wellbeing—not that she has a disease that can kill her. His only concern is his wallet. How have we gotten to a place in society that we value money more than the health of a loved one?
  • Not to be outdone, everyone’s favorite, America’s Next Top Model, a show that has seen its fair share of eating disordered contestants, did a photo shoot in which each contestant was to portray a different “model stereotype”. Ok, so fun little shoots, right? NO! They used this as an opportunity to glamorize and editorialize eating disorders by making one model represent anorexia and then continue the degradation by having her twin sister represent bulimia. In what world is it EVER appropriate to glamorize eating disorders? What is so glamorous about starving, puking, hair loss, decaying teeth, esophageal tears, heart problems, passing out, constant fear, being cold all the time, dizziness, depression, cuts on your hand from violently shoving your hand down your throat, ulcers, constipation, feeding tubes, amenorrhea, osteoporosis, weakening of the immune system, memory loss, tooth loss, muscle disintegration, lanugo, brain atrophy, and death? Nothing. There are absolutely NO positives associated with EDs. None. Why do we allow ourselves to live in a society where sickness and disease are alluring and high fashion? Health should be trending, not disease.
  • Three more quick things…
    • Saturday Night Live had Calista Flockhart (at least I think it was her, I was very young at the time) deliver a monologue about how people are worried that she is too thin and that she should eat more (little did they know she had an ED). She proceeded to lift up her shirt revealing a molded plastic stomach that showed various foods, point them out and insist that she eats. Yeah, because having someone poke fun at their own eating disorder for ratings is a wonderful idea (NOT)
    • And then we have the sweet little Disney program “Shake it Up” which follows two young friends who star in a local dance tv show. At a party, the girls are told by an adult partygoer about their cuteness, “I could just eat you up—if I ate.” Fortunately, Demi Lovato (whose courage to speak out against EDs I greatly admire) bravely took to Twitter to get that offensive garbage off the air. Why do we need to teach our children about body loathing and eating disorders when we can teach them to embrace who they are, what they have to offer and to love themselves?
    • The Biggest Loser, Extreme Makeover, Fat Camp, Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, the Victoria Secret Fashion Show, America’s Next Top Model, Bratz dolls/Barbie dolls, and all the other messages we are sending to children that they aren’t good enough as they are—that they must conform or become shunned from today’s society.

In summation, I am horrified that I live in a world where we have become so inconsiderate and unsympathetic to those around us that we feel it is perfectly acceptable to mock those who aren’t what society has deemed “normal”. I am saddened that children have to grow up in a world where they feel that they have to fit in or run the risk of being stigmatized or rejected for who they are. Eating Disorders are not a laughing matter; they are potentially fatal diseases that need to be treated seriously. Eating Disorders are not a choice, nor are they easy to recover from. People have this misconception that if we eat, we’re recovered; or that if we stop purging, we’re recovered…and that’s simply not true. Eating Disorders are life-long diseases that linger in the mind even when symptoms and behaviors aren’t present. Every day is a struggle to remain on the path to recovery. Every day we must eat, we must keep it down and we must not complain…meanwhile, our brain is yelling at us that we are fat, that we don’t deserve food, that we’ve eaten too much…whatever the hell it decides to insult us with that day. It is like a little voice, nagging in the back of our heads trying every minute of every day to convince us that we are not worthy; that we’re not worthy of love, not worthy of food, not worthy of life. If you had to go through this every day, I’m sure you would find it majorly offensive if someone were to mock your condition, to exclude you as a productive member of society, to label you as a fuck up. I just want everyone to be cognizant of what they’re saying and how that may affect those around them. I’m not asking you to never make a joke again. I’m not telling you that you have to filter everything you say. But, what I am telling you, is that it is not ok to exploit eating disorders for humor.