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 attend a lecture and get a gift from your sister August 20, 2013

Last week I went to an amazing presentation held by the Lindner Center of Hope featuring a lecture by Dr. Chris Tuell entitled “The Addictive Brain and Co-occurring Disorders”. Although the lecture focused mainly on substance, gambling and internet addictions, Dr. Tuell brought up many points that, I believe, can be applied to eating disorder recovery as well as life in general.


Firstly, Dr. Tuell described addictions (and yes, eating disorders are addictions) as following a “Three C’s and a T” model:

C- Loss of Control


C-Continued use despite the negative consequences

T-Thinking (obsessions)


I think treating eating disorders using this addiction model is very helpful for both those who suffer from the disease and those assisting him or her in recovery. Not only are eating disorders a loss of control in terms of thoughts and behaviors (contrary to what society believes), but they soon exercise control over your entire life; including parts of your life you thought were not in danger of being taken over by the eating disorder.  These diseases are compulsions—you feel compelled to engage in thoughts and behaviors even though, consciously or subconsciously, you know they are irrational and unhealthy–continued in the face of negative consequences (and believe me, there are PLENTY of negative consequences and I have experienced many of them) and have many obsessive thoughts. Once both the sufferer and society view eating disorders as addictions rather than brief illnesses in the pursuit of vanity, we can get serious about getting the necessary help and treatment available to all that need it.


Dr. Tuell also related a story of when he participated in a blindfolded rope maze as part of an educational experience. Dr. Tuell and his fellow doctors attending the educational session, were blindfolded and told to find their way through a maze made from rope by walking through the maze holding on to the waist-high ropes to guide them—as they did not have the benefit of being able to see the path to the end of the maze. There were only two rules 1) you must keep the blindfold on at all times and 2) if you need help, raise your hand and we will help you. Dr. Tuell expressed his frustration when the maze facilitators would call out that another one of his colleagues made it through the maze while he was still desperately grabbing at ropes trying to find his way to the end of the maze. After twenty, then thirty, then forty minutes, Dr. Tuell’s hand when up and a facilitator came over to ask what he needed.


I’m sure you are thinking exactly what I was thinking at this point, “Ok, the good doctor was in a rope maze forever and finally gave up,” but you have probably also added, “and why is Rachel telling me about this now?” Well, simply put, Dr. Tuell’s blindfolded rope maze is very metaphoric of recovery. We go through this blindfolded rope maze of recovery without any clear objective other than to get to the end–which is, of course, recovery. We hear shouts of others as they get to the end, and use it as proof that we are hopeless and will never make it to the end. However, we continue working at finding our way; determined we will get to the end eventually. And even though we know we can get the help we need by asking for it, we are determined to “do it on our own”; after all asking for help is a sign of weakness, isn’t it (it’s not, by the way). Finally, fueled by frustration and self-hatred for not being able to make it to the end, you raise your hand and proclaim, “I need help!” You say it out loud, with pride in your voice and the security of knowing that you do not—and cannot—make it to the end alone. There is no shame in asking for help. If Dr. Tuell had not asked for help, he may still be trying to find his way out of the rope maze and would not have made it to the lecture at all. Asking for help is a strength that few people posses; it is a strength to acknowledge your need for help and find ways to go about getting what you need. I don’t know–and don’t care to know–where I would be had I not sought out both professional and personal help for my eating disorder. Ask for help. You are worth it.


My little sister bought me this bracelet. It says “I am enough” and has the date 11-11-09 (the date I admitted I need more help; that I cannot do this alone)

Psalms 29:11

The Lord gives strength to His people;  the Lord blesses His people with peace.


When building a gazebo is building your recovery May 28, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — rheasofhope @ 11:07 pm
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My screw and washer fall with a clang as they break loose from my grip. The washer slipped through the cracks of the porch and my screw rolled under a chair. “It could have been worse” I thought as I started my climb down the ladder. This is how I spent my Memorial Day; helping my 70-year-old grandfather assemble his new gazebo. Unfortunately for me, I went to his house not knowing this chore would await me. I was wearing my usual choice in footwear, three inch heels. Additionally, my grandfather kept conveniently “disappearing”; leaving me to build most of it by myself. Guided by a packet of the vaguest instructions known to man (or woman) and under the hawk-like watch of my mother, I set to work on the gazebo. I am no stranger to construction so I quickly found myself using the electric drill, ratchet set and ladders to piece together the structure. Then it came time to put on the piece that anchors the other pieces together; they keystone, if you will. I wanted to prove to my grandfather that I am helpful and intelligent. Aaaand, that is when the screw hit the ground. I realized, at that moment, how often situations like this present themselves in my everyday life; particularly in my recovery.

It goes like this:

I often start out with these huge, unachievable ideals and ambitions with  no clear path towards achieving them.

     -Thought while building (TWB): I can, single-handedly, build this gazebo. I have a college degree. How hard can it be to read some directions and slap together a gazebo?

     -Thought in recovery (TIR):I can recover right this very moment. I will not make mistakes, and it will last forever without going back


Building in heels…no big deal…I’ve got this





Then, when I realize I am in too deep, I try to figure it out myself.

   -TWB: I will consult my instruction packet. Piece M hooks to D. Screw AA goes with washer BB and into part J…and despite the unclear directions, I am confident of my ability to move forward.

-TIR: I consult with my therapist and Meredith. Maybe I read some of Thom Rutledge’s writings or work in my “Finding Your Voice Through Creativity” recovery workbook or anything else to reset my mind to recovery mode. Again, I have unclear directions, but I am confident in my ability to move forward.


Check out these super clear directions





Then, when I inevitably reach a point where I need additional help, I have to seek other options.

-TWB: Crap, I am not 8-feet-tall (I am barely 5-feet). How in the world am I going to get the roof together? How am I going to get the canopy on the roof? Where is my grandfather?

-TIR: Crap, ED’s back. How am I going to do the next right thing? How am I going to get out of this relapse and back into my recovery?


My grandparents’ dumb chihuahua, Toby, showing how he helps




Then, when I have stopped to assess the situation, addressed my needs, thought of how I am going to achieve those needs as a means to do the next right thing…I have to put a plan into action

-TWB: Ok, I know I need another person to get the canopy on. My mother is shorter than me; so she will not be helpful. I have to get off the ladder and find my grandfather. Ok, he is here now. I need to communicate to him my needs in terms of completing this gazebo. Then we work together to complete what I need.

-TIR: Ok, I know I need to do the next right thing. What is the next right thing in this situation? (For example) I know I need to eat. What can I do to make sure that I eat? I know I can go home and have an apple and peanut butter. What is the first step towards making that happen? I can leave work in X number of minutes and make sure I eat first thing when I get there.


Oh look, my father showed up…and Grandpa reappeared…just in time to help.



Then, when it is all over, I can sit back and look at how it all worked out

 -TWB: Well, that was a lot of work for such a dinky gazebo. But, I am glad I asked my grandfather for help and was able to help him in return by building the gazebo. Am I upset I had to ask for help? Yeah, a little. But I am glad I got the help that I needed and he now has a gazebo under which he can read the paper and drink his coffee.

-TIR: What did I learn in this situation that I can apply towards future situations that will arise in my recovery? Did I do the next right thing? If yes, remember that and keep doing it. If no, what can I try next time to produce a healthier result that promotes recovery? What did I learn? How can I apply what I learned in this situation to continue recovery?

Then I can have a cup of coffee with my grandfather in his new gazebo…and put ED in the empty gazebo box by the curb for Rumpke to take to the landfill


The final gazebo. I forgot to take a picture with my phone, so here is the one off the website


Just for fun

2 Thessalonians 3:3

The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you