RheasOfHope

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

When you’re inundated with body shame March 31, 2017

no wrong way

Two images stare back at me from my computer. The one on the left portrays a sad, frumpy larger version of the person—so sorrowful you can almost hear Sarah McLachlan in the background. The one on the right displays a happy, half-naked thinner version–who most certainly has an amazing life and personal jet by now. These images typically have many exasperating hashtags, list the number of pounds lost/goal weight, and describe how much they hate the person on the left. I don’t even know this person, and yet I’ve fallen victim to their expertly- curated Facebook life and their thin-ideal proselytism. These images awaken the demon of insecurity that lives deep within us, and stirs the spirit of body-shame.

These before and after transformation photos are meant to sharply juxtapose the fat, unhealthy version of that person with the thin, happy version. These photos prey on our insecurities, and desire to fit into the cultural thin-ideal. This pervasive thin-ideal convinces us that—when we attain the perfect body—we will gain health, wealth, love, and happiness. It impresses upon us the idea that the thinner body is a “good body” and the larger body is a “bad body”—and, through the transitive property of equality in mathematics, the person living in the “bad body” must also be “bad.” When presented with these transformation photos that perpetuate the thin-ideal, the culture of body-shaming and normalization of self-hatred is perpetuated ad nauseam. This perpetuation has a cost, however, and that cost is self-destruction, self-condemnation, and devaluation of those of us who do not fit the ideal.

Society criminalizes and fears fat at the same time—leading fat to become the last socially-acceptable form of discrimination. The prevalence of weight-based discrimination has increased 66% from 1995 to 2006 (NEDA). This is likely why 42% of girls in first through third grade want to be thinner (NEDA), and 81% of ten-year-olds have a fear of being fat (NEDA). This is also likely why the dieting industry rakes in $64 BILLION annually—outearning the wedding industry and the baby product industry. Society conditions us to second-guess any of the confidence we’ve developed about our bodies and question how someone—with our less-than-perfect body—can be accepted looking the hideous the way we do. How much we weigh, eat, exercise, etc. is nobody’s business but our own. Our bodies belong to us—not to social media, not your friends or family, not your doctor, no one. The phrase “Compare and despair” comes to mind—thank you Jenni Schaefer.

Here are the facts: THERE IS NO “PERFECT” BODY and YOUR BODY ISN’T SOMETHING TO BE “FIXED.” Contrary to what society shoves down our throat every minute of every day, there is no perfect body. Have you seen the lineup of female Olympic athletes from the various events throughout the years? Each of them represent the peak performance level of their sport, and yet every single one of them has a different body size and shape than the woman standing next to them. Not to be outdone, men from various nations recreated a similar photo. Health, like our bodies, comes in all shapes and sizes. Thin does not always represent a healthful body, just as fat does not always represent an unhealthful body. Health cannot be measured on a scale or through the flawed mathematics of body mass index.  While weight can certainly be an aspect of health, it is not a sole indicator. Health is also measured through mental and emotional wellbeing, effective relationships with others, meaningfully contributing to society, and myriad other aspects. There is no one right way to have a body!

Olympic women

There is no one right way to have a body!

Olympic Men

Remember, your weight does not make you any better or worse than anyone else. When we focus so intently on our perceived flaws, we will never be able to see the remarkable, astounding aspects of our bodies. There is more to life than food or weight—don’t let it become the central fixture around which your life revolves. The answer to our body and self-acceptance isn’t found in a fad diet, a new exercise trend, a pill, a cream, a tea, a detox regime, a cleanse, constricting shapewear, expensive exercise equipment, shakes, or anything else the diet industry/thin ideal perpetuators use a propaganda to convince you that you’re worthless while further lining their pockets with cash. As the amazing body-positivity activist Sarah Vance says, “Loving yourself isn’t going to come from changing your body.”

So how can we grow to love and accept our bodies—as they are in this very moment—in a world that is constantly conspiring to do the opposite? I’m no expert on body-positivity. In fact, I’m still working on it myself. What I can do, however, is recommend the celebration of a day of body love as a place at which to start. On this day, for every negative comment you say about your body, consciously counter is with a positive. Write a letter of gratitude to your body—sure it will be weird, and it will be worth it. Wear an article of clothing in which you feel great. Compliment yourself and others on their character, not their body or appearance. Respect your body’s needs: if it wants to move, move; if it wants to rest, rest; if it wants to eat, eat; if it wants a massage, get a damn massage. It’s your body and you know its needs better than anyone else. Having needs is not a weakness—though society will actively work to convince you otherwise—and denying ourselves of our needs is not the strength we are lead to believe that it is. I also recommend participating in some body activism projects. I’ve joined some body positive groups on Facebook, and blocked a TON of friends who consistently post body negative updates. I also turn around magazines that objectify bodies by promoting the thin-ideal—if people can’t see them, they can’t buy them or fall victim to their propaganda. If you’re feeling exceptionally brave, you can post body positive post-its on those magazines or on diet products. Be bold.

I leave you with this: appreciate your body, it is yours and you get only one. Your body is a masterpiece of creation and there is no other body out there like yours…none. Live your life on your terms in your body, and appreciate all the wonderful things it does for you.

 

 

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 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.” 1 Peter 3:3-4

 

When you make a wish December 7, 2014

Jiminy Cricket may have been on to something when he sang, “When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are. Anything your heart desires, will come to you.” Ok, so maybe taking life advice from a Walt Disney character–a cricket no less–is not the most sound of life choices. However, opportunities for wishes have started to appear a lot in my life as of late.

One traditional, yet thoroughly disgusting, method of wish-making, is snapping the wishbone of the Thanksgiving turkey. As is our custom, my sister and I snapped our turkey’s wishbone (despite the fact I’m a vegetarian and didn’t actually eat the turkey; does that cancel out the wish?). Because my sister has won more years than she has lost, I took my side of the wishbone and pulled without having a wish readily at hand. To my surprise, I got the bigger half…and the wish. My lack of preparedness came back to bite me in the rear. I made up a wish on the spot, however. And even though it is considered unlucky to share a wish, I am going to share it anyway (superstitions be damned). My wish was to be able to continue to afford my therapy sessions and, perhaps, save up enough money to begin seeing a nutritionist (as I do not have good insurance).

a blurry phone phone of a nasty wisbone

a blurry phone photo of a nasty wishbone

Also over the Thanksgiving weekend, I took Christmas card photos for a friend at the Cincinnati Art Museum. While I was scoping out the perfect spot to photograph her beautiful family, I noticed a piece entitled, “The Tree of Life”. I had read about it in my local paper, and who wouldn’t be drawn in by a painted tree with glass test tubes hanging from the branches. The tree itself is a real 19-foot crabapple tree that has been painted white and strung with glass test tubes filled with colorful wishes. At the end of the tree’s installation, all the wishes (both displayed and collected) will be burnt; the ash will then be used to fertilize the planting of a new tree at the art museum.

treeoflife

The description of the piece

wishes

Up close view of the wishes

wishesontree

A stunningly yellow phone photo of a white tree

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another view of the tree

 

 

Because I had some time to kill before my friend and her family arrived, due to my uncanny ability to be obnoxiously early for everything, I decided to take a slip of paper to write my own wish. I sat there in the gallery for at least five minutes before putting pen to paper. What to wish for? Who would read this wish? Should I write  my name? More questions than answers ran through my brain. Since I had already “won” a wish in breaking the wishbone with my sister, I decided not to be selfish by asking for another wish of my own; I wanted to share my Tree of Life wish with others. Again, I think there is some sort of mandate on sharing wishes, but, again, I don’t care. So, here is my wish.

rheaswish

“Awareness, education and research of eating disorders…as well as recovery for those afflicted” nationaleatingdisorders.org

 

While I may not have wished on a star, as per Jiminy Cricket’s suggestion, I made my wishes nonetheless. I share these wishes with you as well. I wish for you all to have happy, healthy, recovered lives.

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I took this photo this summer at a restaurant in Disneyworld. Much like Jiminy Cricket, the Blue Fairy is also full of wisdom, “You deserve to have your wish come true.”

 


 

Matthew 7:7

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

John 15:7

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

 

When you decide to celebrate with kindness/100th Post November 11, 2014

Normally, I do not advertise my random acts of kindness…as I feel that is a little narcissistic to go around bragging about how I have helped people, and I wish for my acts of kindness to mirror this scripture, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)

However, with today being the FIFTH anniversary of my decision to begin working on recovery, I’m actually going to reveal some of my acts of kindness…because that is how I chose to honor the day. To celebrate five years since I asked for help in recovering from my eating disorder, I decided to do five random acts of kindness.

I began the day by writing five letters in cards.

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The very first card I wrote to the intake eating disorders coordinator at the Lindner Center of Hope. He was the very first medical professional to diagnose me with an eating disorder (most had written me off due to my size) and helped me find my current therapist when we discovered my insurance wouldn’t pay for treatment at Lindner. I also purchased some beautiful flowers to deliver to the clients in the eating disorders program to remind them of the beauty that exists within and around them. The receptionist at the front desk looked a little confused when I dropped off a bouquet of white roses to a man…at a mental health treatment facility. Thankfully, she took the flowers, and said she would let him know that she had them at her desk.

flowersLindner

 

Two cards were to be placed in the eating disorder/self-help section of my local bookstores. I carefully placed the cards between books I have found especially helpful in my recovery (Life Without Ed by Jenni Schaefer and Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia by Marya Hornbacher [some people do find this book very triggering, however, so proceed with caution])  in hopes that they would be found by the people who needed them.

bookcardBookstore

 

The last two cards were a little bit harder to figure out…inside of each I wrote:

card

At my favorite coffee house this morning, after paying for a stranger’s latte, I handed her the first card. She seemed a bit alarmed, at first, that a complete stranger would pay for her coffee, and even tried to scan her phone after I had already paid for her. However, she seemed to figure it out once I handed her the card. On my way out of the door, she called after me, “Thanks for my coffee. You made my morning. It’s been a rough day and it isn’t even 9 o’clock.”

The second card, in which I had placed $5, was left in the bathroom of one of my favorite restaurants because I didn’t have the courage to hand it to an actual person. There’s something completely terrifying to me in handing a card to a stranger; let alone accepting one.

When I came back from the bathroom–from completing my fifth random act of kindness–I noticed a Korean war veteran and his wife eating dinner. Being the granddaughter of a Korean war veteran, I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone who served in that war (especially since they might have had the opportunity to meet my grandfather who died six months before I was born). When the waiter dropped off my check to my sister and me, I quietly asked for his check, paid and left. I can only hope this man knows how much I truly appreciate his service.

So, what ended up being five random acts of kindness in honor of my five year anniversary of asking for help, turned into six…and challenged me to actually say something nice about myself on a public platform…made me realize how much I want recovery. I’ve been on this path for five years and cannot wait until I get to “full recovery”. Recovery is REAL! Recovery is POSSIBLE!

 

 

Matthew 25:35-40

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

 

When you discover what is louder October 17, 2014

“You don’t have to get rid of your eating disorder voice in your head. In fact, you can’t” my head popped up from my fervent note-taking at that point in my Recovery Recharge Retreat with Thom Rutledge and Julie Merryman.

Then my thoughts started swimming, “I can’t get rid of my eating disorder voice?! Why the hell am I even here if I can’t recover? Why did I pay all this money to hear Thom say I can’t get rid of my eating disorder voice?”

But, then (thankfully), Thom explained his previous statement, “You cannot get rid of the voice of the eating disorder, yes. But that doesn’t mean you can’t recover. You must make the voice of recovery louder. When you start recovery and even, sometimes, in continuing recovery, your eating disorder’s voice may be very loud in  your ear trying to get you to engage in behaviors for one reason or another. However, what you need to learn in recovery, is not how to get rid of that voice, but to make the voice of recovery louder so that it drowns out the voice of the eating disorder.”

Thom went on to explain that the brain cannot encode negative; meaning, the more we tell our brains not to focus on our eating-disordered the thoughts, the more we will think eating-disordered thoughts. The example he always uses is not to think of your left hand. Whatever you’re doing right now, don’t think of your left hand, or how it may feel different from your right hand. Don’t image it feeling like its getting lighter and lighter to the point that it’s lifting off the table. Now, don’t think of a pink elephant. How many of us, honestly, thought about our left hand or a pink elephant despite being told not to? I’m willing to bet a majority of us–myself included. This is what Thom means when he says our brains cannot encode negative. By constantly reprimanding ourselves for having eating-disordered thoughts, we are  rehearsing the exact thoughts we want to be rid of. Instead, by acknowledging the eating-disordered thought for what it is, and then replacing it with a louder, recovery-oriented thought, we are rehearsing recovery and implementing recovery-oriented thoughts over the eating-disordered thoughts. The consistent rehearsing of the recovery thoughts will help reinforce the recovery thoughts as our default thoughts, until, eventually, the eating disordered thoughts don’t even come to mind. We do not have to focus on getting rid of the eating-disordered thoughts then; we must focus on adding recovery-oriented thoughts and the eating-disordered thoughts will disappear on their own.

In thinking about what should be louder in my recovery-oriented thoughts, I came up with these:

What is louder than my eating disorder:

Life: I plan to live a life of service, love, teaching, kindness, giving and of Christ-like actions

Hope: I have hope that I can live life ED-free (side note: Hope is my favorite word ie: Cherokee tattoo on my wrist. A word of caution though, Hope is an action word, not a passive word. We can hope and hope for recovery as much as we want, but unless we put the action of recovery-oriented choices behind that hope, nothing will happen)

Writing: With ED’s chokehold loosened on my life, I have been able to rediscover my love of writing. I have been featured on NEDA’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week’s blog roll twice and have recently learned that I have been selected for Melissa Fabello’s MarginalizED Voices Project (where I might actually be part of a published work!)

Photography: Much in the same respect as my writing, my creativity in photography has reemerged as ED has lessened. I’ve photographed weddings, babies, seniors, lots of nature scenes, cityscapes and  my cats

There are a LOT of other things I am discovering that are louder than my eating disorder voice…but, seeing as how I don’t have the time nor the energy to write them all (much like you don’t have the time, energy or desire to read them all), I decided to put my iPhone to work to speak for me.

 

Here are a few more things that are louder than eating disorders:

DREAMS FRIENDSHIP FUN happiness HEALTH HOPE
RECOVERYSELFCOMPASSON

 

LIFE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PEACE

 

Philippians 4:8-9

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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

 

When it is NEDA conference time September 19, 2014

San Antonio, Texas. October 16-18, 2014. National Eating Disorders Association Conference 2014. Be there or be square.

 

Ok, so I guess I am going to be a square seeing as how I am not actually going to be there myself. However, I DO want to encourage others to attend. This year’s theme is Share. Learn. Belong. “Thinking Big: uniting families and professionals in the fight against eating disorders”. I truly think that that is the goal of the conference regardless of theme. The conference is open to  “professionals, researchers, educators, individuals in recovery and their families”, according to the NEDA website as a means to, “connect and learn from one another in a warm, welcoming environment. This year’s theme, focusing on collaboration, will highlight the wealth of knowledge that comes from sharing our experiences and expertise to advance the understanding and treatment of eating disorders.” I stand firm in my belief that by raising awareness on eating disorders, sharing stories of recovery, loss, and simply existing with an eating disorder, networking with professionals to increase best practices of care, and impart knowledge on the disease itself we can decrease the stigma; thereby making seeking treatment at any level less shameful and more respected.

But don’t let me try to convince you, NEDA has created a convenient  top 10 list (much like David Letterman on his various late  night programs):

10) “The NEDA conference changed my life–the feeling of belonging was incredible”

9) Expand your knowledge of eating disorders and deepen your recovery.

8) Busy weekend? You can swing by for a single day.

7) Families and experts come together to learn from one another.

6) Expand your circle, make new friends, build your support network.

5) Share your personal expertise with the eating disorders community.

4) “I loved the general sessions. They were interesting, informative, relevant and challenging”

3) Hear a best-selling author discuss family relationships in the digital age.

2) Earn continuing education credits on the San Antonio Riverwalk.

1) Family-friendly event with family discount packages.

 

I think there are also 10 spiritual reasons to attend…in no particular order

10) Hebrews 3:13–But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

9) John 13:34–A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

8) Romans 12:16–Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

7) Romans 14:13–Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.

6) 1 John 4:11–Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

5) 1 Peter 3:8–be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

4) Ephesians 4:32–Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

3) 1 John 3:11–For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another

2) Ephesians 4:2– Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love

1) Proverbs 19:8–The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper.

 

NEDAConference_Reason9

 

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…

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

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Crocodile monitor lizard

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Red Panda

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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.