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

When you visit the manatees January 26, 2014

Recently, my friend Hannah and I went to the Cincinnati Zoo so she could teach me how to use my camera. As we stopped in the manatee exhibit, I stared in awestruck wonder at the grace and beauty at the two rescued manatees, Betsy and Abigail, as they floated through the water. The Cincinnati Zoo partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release Program to house and care for the manatees until they are ready to be re-released into the wild. Some of the manatees were rescued as an adult; Betsy was rescued at age 18, and is now 22. While some were rescued as calves; Abigail was found orphaned in Florida and is only a year-and-a-half old. So, why, you may ask, am I writing about rescuing manatees on a blog about mental health and recovery? Excellent question my dear reader. The more I thought about the Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release program, the more it reminded me of eating disorder recovery.

            Both Betsy and Abigail were living in Florida when, for one reason or another, their lives were deemed in danger and they were transported to a location in which they could receive proper care. It is at this second location that the manatees receive the rehabilitation, medical attention, and care necessary to, ideally, return to the wild.  Some manatees, like Betsy, remember their life outside of the rehabilitation center. While some manatees, like Abigail, have lived their entire lives within the glass windows of the rehabilitation center. To me, the lives of these manatees have a direct parallel to ED recovery.

            For those of us with eating disorders, our lives ARE in danger; anywhere between 3% and 5% of those diagnosed with an eating disorder will die from the disease (Walter Kaye, MD). While the types of danger in our lives are not the exact same as the manatees—as I believe our risk of getting hit by a boat while walking down the street is very unlikely—our lives are in jeopardy nonetheless. From heart failure and electrolyte imbalances to kidney failure and gastric rupture, eating disorders destroy our bodies and lives. Once it has been determined that our lives are endangered, we must move to a second location. Be it outpatient, inpatient, partial, group therapy, or something else entirely, we must move into some form of treatment plan in order to regain our lives from this deadly disease; no one recovers from an eating disorder alone. No matter the level or location of treatment, we receive the care, education and medical attention necessary to fully recover. It is through treatment that we learn skills necessary to defeat Ed, stand up for our health and are able to return to the “wild” without turning to Ed to cope. Similar to the manatees, there are some of us who remember our lives before Ed and some of us who have lived our entire lives in Ed’s aquarium. Regardless of whether or not you can remember a life before Ed, through treatment (and ultimately recovery), you can have a life without Ed.

            In essence, these manatees reminded me that recovery is possible. And not only is it possible, it is real! It will take work—hard work—patience and grace with ourselves, but recovery, real and sustained recovery, is possible. Never forget that.

Photography has always been an immensely valuable tool in my recovery, so here are some of my photos from  my day at the zoo…


The Cincinnati Zoo chose this photo of their bonobo as their pic of the week!


Crocodile monitor lizard


Red Panda


Not the greatest photo…but it is Betsy (background) and Abigail (foreground)













Isaiah 58:11

The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.


When it is your birthday… January 7, 2014

So tomorrow, January 8th , is Stephen Hawkings’ birthday…and Carl Rogers’ birthday…Elvis Presley’s birthday…oh, and mine too. When you are little, birthdays are a BIG deal. You had to have a theme; mine was typically Disney. You had to tell everyone you knew that your birthday was coming up; usually proclaiming the whole month as your “birthday month”. And there was nothing more embarrassing than wondering what do when everyone is staring at you staring at your cake while singing “Happy Birthday”. Well, now that I am no longer 8 years old, birthdays look a little different around my house. There are no elaborate Disney-themed parties, I do not tell everyone I see that January is my birthday month (barely anyone around me even knows that tomorrow is my birthday), and I sill have no idea what to do when people sing to me (good thing that does not happen with relative frequency).

Tomorrow I will be 26! Basically, what I am trying to say is that I am grateful to have made it to 26, even though that number makes me feel old (I realize 26 is not old my anyone’s standards). I have learned a lot in these years such as: not to put keys in light sockets and that maybe those blonde highlights in my black hair in 7th grade was not as great of an idea as I had thought. I have also learned a little bit about recovery; mostly through trial and error and my conversations with those support my recovery. In honor of my 26th birthday, I present to you the 26 things I learned about recovery:

1)      Everyone, yes everyone, is worthy of recovery. Sometimes our disease tries to tell us differently, but EVERYONE is worthy of and deserves recovery.

2)      Recovery is not linear. There will be ups and downs; there will the plateaus, peaks and valley; but I promise you, we will get there…all of us.

3)      Small steps towards recovery are often healthier and longer lasting than giant leaps. We cannot rush recovery no matter how frustrated we may get with taking those small steps.

4)      Mentoring! I know there is no way I would have been able to stay on the path to recovery without my amazing mentors past and present. This is why I am so steadfast about the importance of mentoring on recovery.

5)      When in doubt, write it out. You do not have to have proper grammar, spelling or even full sentences. No one is going to judge your personal writing. Write down the good, the bad and the amazing! I always feel it is better to get out whatever emotions I have than it is to let it weigh on my chest.

6)      Ed’s thoughts do not have to be your thoughts. “Sure,” you say, but it is true. With lots of practice, time and thought reframing, I am able to take Ed’s thoughts for what they are and then reframe them into recovery-oriented thoughts.

7)      The DSM is not meant to disqualify you from the treatment you deserve; although it does do that sometimes. No matter what the diagnosis, or even a lack of diagnosis, everyone deserves treatment.

8)      I have learned that there is a person that exists outside of my eating disorder and that she is deserving of life and love.

9)      You cannot change the hurtful and insensitive comments about weight, appearance and dieting that others make. However, to continue down the path to recovery, you CAN change your responses to those comments.

10)   There is absolutely no shame whatsoever in asking for and accepting help when you need it. Asking for help indicates a very high level of strength and dignity within you; a level of strength and dignity that acknowledges the fact that you deserve recovery.

11)  Despite what both Ed and society will tell you, food has no moral value. There are no “good” or “bad” foods and neither does eating these foods determine whether one is, themselves, morally “good” or “bad”. Food is food, nothing more.

12)  Every time you do something you genuinely enjoy, you are taking back a piece of yourself from your eating disorder.

13)  There is always a little grey in a situation even if it only appears to be black and white.

14)  Recovery will take time; it is not instantaneous. Just as it took time for your eating disorder to develop, it will take time to recover as well.

15)  Have grace with yourself. Grace is one the most important tools I have learned in recovery.

16)  No one can recover alone. Finding and maintaining a kind and knowledgeable support team is essential. Support teams should be a good mix of professionals, friends and family. With me, my support staff is mainly friends and professionals as most people in my family do not know or understand that I have an eating disorder…which brings me to…

17)  Some people will never understand what an eating disorder is or what it is like to have one. These people will simply never “get it”, and that is ok. The important thing to remember is to continue striving for recovery even if people around you do not understand. Besides, recovery is for you, not for those around you.

18)  Recovery is not always easy. Sometimes it is downright hard. In spite of this, do not use recovery being challenging as an excuse to stop. Recovery may be difficult, but it is so worth it.

19)  Gratitude lists make me feel more positive about my recovery and my life. All too often I find myself dwelling on the negatives or the things during the day I could have done better, and that often leads to neglect of recovery. However, when I look past those things to find moments of gratitude, recovery becomes more important. The gratitude lists do not have to be grandiose things; they can be as simple as “I am grateful for the little boy who held the door open for me at Krogers” or “I am grateful that I got to see a squirrel furiously nibbling at an acorn on my front porch”.

20)  Mistakes are not failures. As Sir Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” That is basically recovery in a nutshell. Use your mistakes–because they will happen–as learning opportunities and motivation to continue working towards recovery.

21)  Perfection does NOT exist. It never has and never will. Constant striving for this unattainable ideal of perfection only serves to frustrate us and allows Ed to flourish. Being genuinely ourselves is enough; no one is asking for perfection, despite what Ed may tell us.

22)  There is no shame in having a mental illness. We have come to a place in our society where there is this huge taboo on discussing mental illness, and having one is even more unmentionable. Where did this shame and stigma come from? Mental illnesses are not character flaws or wide-spreading contagious diseases or world destroying. It is time to lift the veil of stigma off of mental illness and dispel society’s myths and misconceptions about what they entail. There should not be a disgrace attached to mental illness.

23)  Visual reminders of recovery help me stay on the path to recovery. The reason I have recovery tattoos and wear my recovery rings (one says, “the journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step” and the other is the Scripture verse Jeremiah 29:11 “I have plans for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”) is because when I see them, I am reminded why I so desperately want recovery.

24)  Finding alternative thoughts and behaviors for when Ed steps in. I have a list by my computer of activities I can do when Ed wants me to engage in behaviors, they include: writing, photography, knitting, reading, or even taking a walk.

25)  Be honest with your doctors and/or therapists. When you lie, they know. They are not stupid people. And although we may think we pulled a fast one on them by lying, we did not…they know. Lying only slows down and hampers recovery. By being honest with doctors and/or therapists, they can help guide you in the right direction and assist you with further recovery.

26)  Find what you love about yourself and embrace it!

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got! I am only 26, it is not like I have a cache of sage advice. Always remember to take care of yourself and stay strong in recovery.

Romans 15:13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.