RheasOfHope

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

When you ask for help May 21, 2015

Seated on a borrowed bike, I continued to pedal despite the South Carolina humidity and the fact that I was sweating out of body parts I didn’t know were capable of sweating. What had been described to me as a “quick, easy bike ride to the beach” was turning into the 2012 Tour de Hilton Head, and I was a female Lance Armstrong (minus the steroids). I had followed the signs along the sidewalk that pointed to the beach, but had, somehow, become lost along the way…VERY lost. My sister was behind me asking me to stop; more like pleading for me to ask for directions. However, I continued on; determined to find my way to the beach without asking for help.
Half an hour later, and, as we could come to find out, twelve miles in the wrong direction, I finally stopped at the guard station to an apartment complex to ask for directions. I unceremoniously dumped the bike on the sidewalk and handed the last of our water to my sister before approaching the security guard for directions. I, typically, am able to create a good rapport with elderly people—this man, however, was NOT having it. Before I was able to ask for directions, he barked, “Get that bike off my sidewalk; people walk there.” I went back to move the bike to the grass, then returned to his station.
“Hello…” I looked at his name tag hoping that adding his name to the question would make him nicer, “Albert. My sister and I were looking for the beach when we got really lost, and we…”

“You’re way off girls. Not even close. Just follow those signs back to where you came from” he said as if my mere presence was inconveniencing him; as if he meant to say “Be gone peasants.”
“Sir, I would really just like to rest for a moment. We came all the way from the stables. I would just like to stay here until my cousin can come pick us up.” The old man was unmoved by my statement, but allowed us to stay until my cousin arrived with a pick-up truck to collect me, my sister, and our bikes.
So, why tell a story like this? Because, as I move along in recovery, I recognize how events such as this one mirror my own journey in recovery. Hear me out on this one…
When I was an 8-year-old girl constantly being bullied for my weight, my poverty, my brains, my clothes, and just about anything else kids would find to pick on, food became an escape; somewhere I could go that the pain wouldn’t follow me. I ate to numb, to shove down emotions, to find friendship, to search for love and acceptance…and I ate and I ate and I ate. For, roughly, the next ten years, I continued turning to food to “cope”. I continued on that path, just as I had continued down the bike path, in the wrong direction. What I had originally turned to to alleviate my pain, had only clouded my path; causing me to become lost in an eating disorder. Instead of helping myself, all the eating was only masking and exacerbating the pain. And yet, I continued down that wrong path, insisting to myself that I knew where I was going and what I was doing.

When I entered my first year of college, I was convinced that the only way to help myself was, again, through food…so I began restricting as a means to reach the “right path”. The restricting, again, only served to get me more lost and continue to distance me from the life I desired. However, people began to give me positive attention. I was lauded for my “weight loss”, my “control”, my “dedication”, my “discipline”, and a whole bunch of other adjectives that described my eating disorder, but not Rhea. I thought, though, that maybe these people were on to something; that maybe my eating disorder would be a ticket back to the right path that would get me to where I wanted to be. So I kept restricting. It was then that I realized I had no clue as to what my “right path” was. However, my eating disorder convinced me that my “right path” was towards sickness…and so I followed it miles out of my way; away from my dreams, friends, family, ambitions, happiness, and, most of all, away from health.

After three years of restricting, I got bored with my eating disorder, and felt I was no closer towards finding the right path. Naturally, I returned back to food. “This time will be different,” I told myself, “This time I will be able to find my way out of the muck and onto the right path.” Thus began purging, over-exercise, self-harming, and laxative abuse; as well as seeing a “counselor” who refused to admit I have an eating disorder. I feel this mirrors the point where I asked the old man for directions; it was merely a holding area. I definitely wasn’t going towards recovery or the right path towards health, but I didn’t have any clear signs on how to get there either.

After working with Lindner, my current (amazing) therapist, Thom Rutledge, and doing lots of HARD work, I have a clearer idea of the right path. My “right path” includes: teaching, writing, photography, working for an eating disorder treatment center, treating myself well, and leading a mentally healthier life. It does not include my eating disorder. I no longer self-harm or use laxatives. I am eating more and have drastically reduced the frequency of my purging. Asking for help, in both of these experiences, was the wisest and healthiest thing I could have done. Does that mean it was easy? Hell no! Asking for help is one of the hardest things (aside from recovery itself) that I have ever done. At the same time, asking for help is, singlehandedly, the best thing I have ever done in my recovery. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; it may just end up saving your life…I know it did for me.

Psalm 107:28-30

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.

 

When you destroy a relationship February 16, 2015

This Valentine’s Day weekend, I decided to take an untraditional look at love by ending a relationship that I had had for many years. Recovery is teaching me that I have to love myself more than I want to stay in my disorder. With that in mind, I decided that my love for myself and my recovery, was more important than this other relationship. However, this relationship was not with a boyfriend, a family member, a friend or any other person. This relationship was with my scale.

For at least the past eight years, scales have been a huge part of my life; the eating disorder itself for eighteen. I remember the little white scale with the dial my roommate had in college, and how she used to hide it from me so I wouldn’t use it. That’s the thing about people who aren’t thinking clearly because they’re consumed with an eating disorder, no matter where you hide a scale, we can sniff it out like a bloodhound. Whenever she would notice that I had found it, she would hide it again. However, again, little Miss “no shame because I can’t even think about how wrong it is to go through people’s personal property because all I can think about is pleasing my eating disorder” would search through her things until I found the beloved scale.

When I moved out on my own after college, one of my first purchases was a black bathroom scale. I set it in a place of honor next to my closet door in my bedroom. Every morning the blinking digital readout of my weight would determine what I wore that day, if I was allowed eat, how many times I would have to purge, if I would be punished for my weight, how much I would work out, how many laxatives I would have to take, where I could go, if I had to self-harm, who I could talk to…

Now that I have stopped weighing myself on a daily basis, my black scale was sent to the inner recesses of my closet for two and a half years; I was not ready to give it up completely for fear that I may need it some day. Today, I only get weighed at my doctor’s office. I do not allow them to tell me the number, I get on the scale backwards with my eyes closed, and have them black out my weight and BMI on the printout they give each patient after his or her visit. I am not yet ready to see the number.

To say that the relationships I have had with scales have been the longest-lasting and most impactful (albeit deadly) relationships I have ever had, would be an understatement.

This Valentine’s Day weekend, I decided to end all of that. The scale had to go.

I dug the scale out of my closet; moving aside old schoolwork, discarded bags, and shoes I forgot I owned. There, on my bedroom floor, I grabbed a silver sharpie and wrote a farewell decree on the scale. Then I grabbed my keys and moved the scale outside.

My scale reading

My scale reading the farewell decree.

Thinking it would impart the most damage, I placed my scale under the tire of my car, hopped inside and started the engine. I left the door of the car open, however, in hope that I could hear the satisfying crunch of the scale under the weight of Little Red.

Say your prayers scale

Say your prayers scale

Even after running over it thirty times, the scale was undamaged. I knew this called for reinforcements.

car

I wonder how the scale reacted when all 3,400 pounds of my car ran it over?

I picked up the scale, threw it on the ground next to my dad’s tool bench, and got out the necessary tools. Not wanting to risk flying scale debris in my eye or scale shrapnel in my skin, I used a screwdriver to open the scale. Once opened, I was shocked. A little quarter-sized battery and some wires were what I was letting control my life. Maybe three dollars worth of supplies made my life a living hell for all those years. I ripped out the wires and metal pieces like a madwoman.

Blurry, but you get the idea

Blurry, but you get the idea

With all the pieces that make the scale function removed, I bagged up the remains and gave the scale a less than honorable burial.

intothebin

I hope you enjoy hell, scale

scalecoffin

WhereItBelongs

My scale’s final resting place. It will be so satisfying when the garbage man comes to remove it from my life forever on Thursday!

I could not be happier about my decision to destroy my scale and take back my life. Not a single second has gone by that I don’t applaud myself for destroying this piece of plastic that controlled me for so long. This Valentine’s Day I chose to love myself by ending a deadly relationship forever. I cannot think of a more appropriate use for this day than to celebrate my life, my recovery and myself. Remember, you are worthy of love, life, happiness and recovery!

Ephesians 2:4-5

But because of his great love for us,God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved

Psalm 139:14

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

 

When it’s an anniversary August 15, 2014

Three hundred and sixty-five days…fifty-two weeks…or, as the cast of Rent puts it, “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.” Any way you want to measure it, it all adds up to one year. These numbers all also serve to represent that I have now lived an entire year without self-harm. 

Was it easy to stop? In a word, NO! There is still a very small voice that speaks to me any time I feel I am not in control that tells me it is okay to self-harm. I have learned, however, that that voice does not have to have power over my decisions…I do. In changing my relationship with the voice that tells me to self-harm, I was able to 1) disagree with what it had to say and 2) disobey what it was telling me.

Whenever the voice of self-harm speaks to me, urging me to engage in behaviors, I look for evidence of its truth. Spoiler alert! There is never evidence that the voice of self-harm is telling the truth. No matter what trickery, deceit, false promises or fake love the voice of self-harm uses to lure us into behaviors, it is important to know that it is simply not true. Self-harm is never a solution to problems. In fact, self-harm usually ends up creating bigger problems than the one it used to get us to engage in behaviors. It is important to tell the voice of self-harm, “I hear you. I know what you’re saying. But, I WILL NOT engage in the behaviors you are telling me.” Here is another spoiler alert: that will not be easy either. The voice of self-harm will come back with a million and one reasons that we, advocating for our health, are wrong. It is important to remember that no matter how loud, seductive, alluring, etc that voice is, the voice of health is always stronger, smarter and has our best interests at heart. The key to disagreeing with the voice of self-harm is to practice…and then practice…and when we think we are all practiced-out…practice some more. It may sound silly, but actually writing down a conversation between you and the voice of self-harm is very good practice for disagreeing and disobeying.

Recovery is not an “I tried and it didn’t work” kind of deal. Recovery is an “I tried and it didn’t work, so I tried again and again and again until I found something that did work.” That is the disobeying piece of recovery; telling the voice of self-harm that we will not do what it says. It was helpful for me to make a list of activities I could do when disobeying the voice of self-harm; activities that promoted wellness, health, fun and recovery. My list included: photography, writing, coloring (yes, it is perfectly acceptable for adults to use coloring books), taking a walk in the woods, showering, playing with my cats, reading, calling up a friend, or anything else that sounded better at the moment. When one item on my list did not stop the voice of self-harm, I tried another. If that did not stop the voice, I tried another. The very wise, Julie Merryman taught me that there is always one more thing to try; when you think you have exhausted all options and are tempted to give in, there is always one more thing to try. The list of self-harm alternatives is not concrete; it can expand or contract with recovery, interests, passions or anything. The key is to keep the alternatives recovery, health and wellness related…and not to stop when you think you have tried every alternative (there is always one more).

In disagreeing and disobeying the voice of self-harm, or eating disorders, or addiction or whatever voice in our head that does not promote health, happiness, love or acceptance, we are able to regain our lives. In disagreeing and disobeying we are able to take a stand for our recovery and our life. Recovery itself, to me, means life. In practicing and practicing disagreeing and disobeying, I am learning more about myself and regaining more of my life from the negative voices. You can do this too. It will be hard and you will feel as though there are no more options. I am here to tell you that there are. There are always more healthful and appropriate ways to disagree and disobey the voice of self-harm.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.  If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

 

When you are accused of making up an ED… February 4, 2013

“You know, you don’t have an eating disorder” she sighed assuredly–and with a hint of irritation–as she gently tapped her well-worn DSM-IV with her well manicured nails. I watched as it rested precariously on top of her pink and black yoga pants, which ended in her perfectly laced Nikes, while also hiding her perfectly toned thighs. She would, often times, wear her workout clothes to my session because she did not have time to change.

 

“I know” I said, absent-mindedly picking lint off of my paisley dress and pulling my cardigan tighter around my body. I secretly hated her for wearing workout clothes to my session. I did know one thing, though, I knew she was wrong.

 

“You don’t fit any of the criteria listed for Anorexia or Bulimia. Do I need to read them to you?” she asked with a tone of both sarcasm and pity; like I was pretending to have an eating disorder so I could sit in her office every Thursday afternoon of my senior year of college. Wrong. I had a lot of other things I would rather be doing  than sitting with her every week hearing lecture after lecture about how I do not “know myself”, and am subsequently “making myself have an eating disorder” because that is “just an avenue I’m trying out.”

 

“I know,” I said again; this time through clinched teeth. I forced myself to make the words come out evenly in tone despite the tears of anger that were welling in my eyes. I am not sure what stung more: the anger of being accused of faking an eating disorder or my anger at myself for allowing her to think she was right.

 

“So, what do you think is the REAL issue here?” she prodded as she took a sip of her Diet Coke, leaving coral lipstick prints on the straw.

 

“Honestly, the real issue is that you refuse take my concerns seriously,” I wanted to scream, but I ended up just shrugging my shoulders in defeat. Maybe I am making it up? Maybe I am imagining my symptoms? After all, I did not tell her about my purging, and, although I was restricting, I was still at a higher than normal weight. If she was not going to listen to my concerns, why would I want to tell her about my behaviors? So, I conceded to her false accusations. And, in doing so, I allowed ED a temporary victory as well.

 

I ended therapy with her believing I was making up my eating disorder as an affectation of sorts to hold me over “until I discovered who I really was”. I was, subsequently, lead to believe that I was eating like a “normal” person, with intermittent bouts of purging, restricting, overexercise, and laxative abuse. I still wonder why I let myself fall into the trap of believing she was right, and why I put off treatment for so long.

 

But that is not the important part. The important part is this, 1) why wasn’t she educated on ED-NOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) and 2) I went to Lindner Center of HOPE, and got an actual diagnosis that lead me to the treatment I needed…despite what she wanted me to believe.

 

For those unfamiliar with ED-NOS, it is commonly thought to be the most diagnosed eating disorder in clinical settings. Additionally, despite what my former therapist tried to tell me, it is in the DSM-IV along with a list of certain behaviors it can encompass. However, it also states that there are other behaviors that would fall in the category of ED-NOS, but could not all be included in the DSM-IV. Including all ED-NOS behaviors would be far too exhaustive to put into writing, and may still not include all the possible behaviors due to the individuality of each person’s disordered eating. Essentially, in the easiest to understand language, ED-NOS consists of disordered eating patterns that meet some or most of the criteria for Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa but not all criteria are not met. Meaning, a person could have severely disordered eating but, because they don’t meet one or more of the criterion for Anorexia or Bulimia, they will not be able to receive a diagnosis of an eating disorder. This further results in this person not being able to get the treatment they need, get their insurance to pay for services required, as well as allowing the eating disordered person to think that his or her disordered eating is nothing to worry about (like I ended up doing before I received the treatment I needed). By not having a diagnosis of an eating disorder: sufferers miss out on necessary treatment that could save their lives, they miss out on medical testing that could prevent certain ED-caused/related conditions from getting worse, and it allows their eating disorder to continue dominating their lives.

 

Additionally, due to society’s misunderstanding of the complexity of behaviors and medical severity of ED-NOS, it is often not taken as seriously as the more well-known eating disorders of Anorexia and Bulimia. Medial professionals may not recognize the symptoms of ED-NOS, or may not understand that ED-NOS is just as life-threatening as Anorexia and Bulimia. Suffers of ED-NOS may not think they are “sick enough” to warrant treatment as they do not fall into the specific diagnosis of Anorexia or Bulimia; having a diagnosis of ED-NOS may seem like a non-issue. Thus allowing the eating disorder to flourish and steal their health. And, those sufferers who do understand that their eating patterns are disordered, may be steered away from treatment by people assuring them that they do not have an eating disorder or by those implying that ED-NOS is not serious.

 

I am here to tell you this, ALL disordered eating needs to be taken seriously both by people with the disordered eating and those medical professionals involved in their lives. Families and friends need to be aware of the multifaceted world of ED-NOS as well, so they are better able to support and encourage the recovery of their loved ones. Most of all, though, if you or someone you know is struggling with suspected or known eating disordered behavior, there is help available. The National Eating Disorders Association has a 24-hour confidential helpline, staffed by trained professionals, which can be accessed by caregivers, friends, family, medical professionals, and those individuals with eating disordered behavior. The helpline’s number is (800) 931-2237. However, if you would prefer an even more anonymous route, an instant messaging version of the helpline can be found at http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/information-referral-helpline. Furthermore their website (nationaleatingdisorders.org) offers many free and reliable resources on eating disorders that can be used at any time.

 

Remember, despite what society or ill-advised yet well-meaning medical professionals may say, you know your body better than anyone else. Stand up for yourself, your health and your recovery. You deserve to live eating disorder free. You are worth living a life of love, grace and joy. There is hope. There is help. Recovery is possible for EVERYone.

 

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.”