Flight Risk (20 hours in the Psych ER)

 

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Monday, 5:15pm: “Hey, it’s me. I’m in the Emergency Room. I’m feeling suicidal. They sent me to Psych. I left work. I don’t want to be here. I want to go home,” I choked on the words between sobs while on the phone with my dad. This was not how I wanted to spend my Monday afternoon, or any afternoon really. How did I end up here?

Monday, 2:45pm: I look up from my notes I took during a training on Friday to read what I have typed. Only, instead of reading about how to use Skype for Business, the only words I see are the only words that have been going through my head for the last week: I want to die. I need to die. I want to die. I need to die.

“Well, shoot.” I think to myself, “That’s not good.

You see, this is how it starts, how it always starts: a nagging feeling that won’t go away; a thought on repeat in my head. And then I cycle downward: a roller coaster there’s no getting off of; a hole I can’t climb out of; a mountain I can’t climb.

This is how it starts, how it always starts: with me trying to talk myself off the metaphorical cliff before I metaphorically jump; trying to talk myself down before I do something drastic.

And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked myself down, how many times I’ve come so close, how many times I’ve thought I just want this to all be over.

But I can tell you this: it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to struggle with suicidal thoughts 98% of the time. It’s exhausting to feel like you don’t deserve to be here, don’t deserve help, don’t deserve the love and support that you get from the friends and family who surround you.

Sometimes it only takes one person who listens, who is somehow able to convince you that you do deserve to be here, you do deserve to get help, despite what all the voices in your head are telling you.

When you’ve been struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts for as long as I have, you start to see the signs, read the writing on the wall if you will. And every time you enter that spiral, it gets harder and harder to get out, to talk yourself out of it.

And I have to tell you this, friends, I have to, even though it hurts: on Thursday, I was so so so close to ending it all, but somehow, by some sort of miracle, I was able to call the Suicide Hotline.

So, on Monday, when I felt myself entering the spiral, I knew that if I didn’t go to the ER, I would not make it out this time. It’s a terrifying thought process, guys, knowing that your life lies in your hands, or rather, legs, finding the strength to get yourself the help you deserve.

Because you do, guys. You do deserve the help.

But I’m also telling you that it’s not going to be easy, especially if you drive yourself.

It took me 25 minutes to get out of the car once I got to the hospital, and I was panicking each and every second of those 25 minutes: I cannot do this. I literally cannot do this. I’m not strong enough to do this. I could just jump right now; I’m literally almost on the top floor of the parking garage. It would be so so much easier.

Eventually, however, I made it out of my car and into the hospital. Eventually, I made it through the halls of the hospital I have been in so many times before: the hospital I was born in; the hospital I’ve visited family members in; the hospital I had my appendix out in. But this time, the hallways felt so much longer than they ever have before, and I felt like the walls were caving in around me. And when I made it to the ER doors, it took me another 15 minutes to walk through them: to remind myself that I deserve to be here, to get help, to get better. That I don’t deserve the bad things that happen in my life.

And here’s where it starts to get hard, not because I don’t remember what happened because I do. I remember everything. It gets hard because I don’t know how to tell you what I’m about to tell you. But I’m going to try because you all deserve to know. And maybe even my lack of words will be enough to help someone else.

I don’t know how to tell you that as I was sitting in the general ER next to the elevator that goes up to the Psych ED (or CPEP from here on out), I already felt dead. If you ask the tech who brought me up to the CPEP, she’d tell you that I had dead eyes–there was nothing behind them: no light, no life, no hope. When one of the ER nurses came to retake my heart rate, because having a panic attack while sitting in your car really messes it up, she said, “Poor thing. You look like a ghost.” I didn’t have the energy to tell her that I felt like a zombie: mostly dead, not really living, trying hard to fake my way through life.

I don’t know how to tell you that I wasn’t considered a flight risk because I drove myself, but I really wanted to be anywhere but there: gone, dead, home, whatever, anywhere but here. That my urge to run was greater than my urge to live. 

I don’t know how to tell you that the CPEP is the best place to have a flashback, and trust me, you’ll have many. There are only so many times you can hear Get off me. Get off me. Get off me. from someone being restrained before your own trauma catches up to you. And everything you’ve tried so hard to forget over the last nine years comes rushing back to you. If anybody understands how traumatic rape can be, it’s the ones who deal with the aftermath, the ones who see the broken, hurting people walk through their doors every day.

I don’t know how to tell you that I felt like I was 7 years old again, and for the first hour before my dad arrived, I’ve never felt so alone.

I don’t know how to tell you that I feel guilty for being “strong” enough to get help because I feel like it diminishes the strength of the people who didn’t.

I don’t know how to tell you about the guy who had been in the CPEP for three days because there where no beds upstairs, who, after my dad left at 4:30, sat next to me as I slept because no one should be alone here, especially not pretty girls with sad eyes.

I don’t know how to tell you about me waking up at 5:30am on Tuesday sobbing because of the teenager they brought in who was restrained, and when the nurse asked me what was wrong, all I could say was he’s scared and wants to go home. Because here’s the thing about that place: everyone there feels too much. Not only do we feel our own pain, but we feel each other’s. I felt their pain when they told me their stories, and they cried with me when I told them my story at 8:00am on Tuesday after being with them for 15 hours. I poured my heart out to strangers when I have a hard time telling people I know what’s happened. I told them everything: the rape, the self-harm, the eating disorder, the suicide attempt, the suicidal thoughts, the relapsing.

I don’t know how to tell you that you lose track of time because the only clock I could find was the one behind the locked doors of the nurse’s station. Everything’s locked. You can’t get in or out without a key. You’re physically trapped, which is fitting because every single person there feels trapped in their own mind.

I don’t know how to tell you that being there 18 hours before I saw a psychiatrist instead of the normal “get in, get out in 6 hours” probably changed the way this story goes, probably saved my life, probably is why I was discharged instead of held for 24, 48, 72 hours.

I don’t know how to tell you that I had a hard time yesterday adjusting to the “real world” after being in CPEP for 20 hours. That place began to feel like home, not so much because of the place itself, but because of the people. It’s like when you visit a foreign country and experiencing culture shock when you return back home. I miss the way the people made me feel: you know the warm feeling you get when you are around people you love. Because they understood my pain in a way that most people can’t. They reminded me that I’m not alone. They touched my life in a way that I can’t even describe, and I honestly really hope they’re doing better.

We’re all muddling through life, and sometimes it’s good to be reminded that there are people out there who are hurting as much as you are, struggling right along with you.

I’m so so so glad to be alive. I finally feel like a whole person instead of a broken nothing. I feel alive. I feel happy, but life is still hard. I’m still struggling with so many things.

But I know now that help is not too far out of reach. I deserve to be here.

You deserve to be here, too.

 

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Trying to Lose Weight While Recovering From an Eating Disorder

When I tell people I’m trying to lose weight, they all feel the need to share their own opinions about how they think I should go about doing it: juice cleanses, special diets, cutting out all junk food, going vegetarian, exercising a whole bunch, etc.

It’s not that I’m grateful for their advice–I am. But most of them fail to take into account one detail: I’m a recovering Anorexic.

So what? some might say.

The point is losing weight healthily is hard enough without factoring in the fact that once I lost weight very unhealthily, and it’s so easy to fall back into that destructive pattern of behavior.

As a recovering Anorexic, I am acutely aware of two things:

  1. I cannot want to lose weight because I hate how I look because the last time I tried that, my life spiraled out of control for about 5 years–Being thinner became an obsession; I would be happier if I was Thin.
  2.  I cannot cut foods out of my diet because I want to restrict calories because I remember one summer when I ate nothing but a handful of crackers a day for weeks, subsisting on chewing gum and Mt. Dew.

And because of these two things this weight loss journey has been tough. I’ve started and restarted so many times. I’ve stopped because I’ve become discouraged and have seen myself falling into destructive patterns–skipping meals (never a good idea because it’s so easy to fall back into that habit), hating how I looked (causing me to push myself way harder than I should have).

This time, though, it’s different. After struggling with my self-image and self-worth for so long, I’m finally at that point where I am comfortable enough with who I am as a person that it doesn’t matter to me how I look.  I know that doesn’t make sense, but hear me out. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a low opinion of myself–it started with bullying, and then got worse after I was raped. I started starving myself because I wanted to acontrol one thing in my life.

I thought my value was based on my weight, that it was inversely proportional: the less I weighed, the more I was worth.

After years of trying to recover my sense of worth and trying to find my identity, I now know that my value lies in who I am as a human being, and not in how much I weigh. I am beautiful because of who I am, and not what I look like.

It is for that reason that I know I am ready for this journey of weight loss because I know I’m doing it for the right reasons–trying to be my best self– and not for the wrong reasons–trying to make myself more valuable.

It’s been a month since I started this journey. It’s been a month of sore muscles, burning lungs, unmotivated mornings, and days where I’d rather do anything else. But, for the most part, (minus a few days I took off for a leg injury), it’s been a month of five-day-workout weeks.

It’s been a month of making healthy choices: choosing salads over microwaved burritos, drinking water over sugary drinks, taking more vegetables and less meat. But it’s also been a month of eating microwaved burritos, drinking sugary drinks, and eating meats. It’s been a month of limiting myself rather than denying myself.

So far, I’ve lost about 12 pounds, which may not seem like a lot, but to me, it’s huge. And it may not look like a lot, but I feel so much more confident than I have in ages. And isn’t that what this is all about anyway?

Tonight for dinner I had a greasy cheeseburger with bacon, fries, and an Oreo Milkshake. And I’m ok with that, not because I had a salad for lunch and yogurt for breakfast.

I’m ok with that because life is too short to deny myself simple pleasures. I’m working on becoming my best self and the road to that is paved with leafy greens, greasy cheeseburgers, and lots of cardio.

I’ve discovered it’s easier to make healthy choices when you love who you are. And I love who I am.

 

 

Black Holes and the Light That Escapes

There’s this idea about Suicide: that it’s a choice; that it’s selfish. I’ve never seen it that way.

We all make choices every day. We choose what clothes to wear; what to eat for breakfast; what route to take to work (depending on if we’re late or not); what to have for dinner; what to fill our evening spare time with; what time to go to bed.

Our body’s natural instinct is life–it fights like hell to keep us alive. It’s the Fight or Flight Response in dangerous situations. It’s why you can’t manually strangle yourself because as soon as you pass out, your lungs will start breathing again.  It’s why our lungs burn after holding our breath for too long as we dive down to the bottom of the pool.

In people like me, who suffer from Depression, or in those who suffer from similar mental illnesses, there is sometimes a disconnect between our body and our minds. Our bodies work so hard to keep us alive while our minds are trying to convince us that death is better.

Depression is like a black hole–so thick and dense and gravity filled that no light, no anything can escape. I have days like that: days when it’s easier to lie in bed, when the weight of the expectations placed on me by myself and others is so heavy I feel like it’s compressing my chest, when the gravity of my past is heavier than my hopes for the future. On days like that, my mind is playing a tug-of-war game with my body. My mind wins for a while, but then my body kicks in–helping me put one foot in front of the other, shoveling food into my mouth, even though I tell myself I don’t deserve it; helping me get dressed, pulling one arm through my shirt and then the other; helping me get out of the house; making me exercise, because even though I don’t want to do it, it’ll help me in the long run; helping me do all the things I enjoy because maybe they’ll make me happy again.

Our bodies try so hard to keep us alive. But on those days where my body is doing all the work and my mind is working so hard against it, I feel like a zombie, like I’m going through the motions. I’m physically present, but not all there–like a stranger me watching myself on TV. My body does all the work while my mind is dead weight.

On the night I attempted suicide, my body was on auto-pilot. It’s like it was tired from fighting my mind every day, it just gave up. The time between going to bed and throwing the pills up is almost a complete blur. I remember bits and pieces: writing the note, swallowing the pills, the voice whispering, “You’ll be ok.” but it’s like I wasn’t in control. I was like a zombie being sucked in by a black hole, doomed to never escape, to be sucked in and pulled apart atom by atom. But then something–God, my inner instinct to survive, whatever you want to call it–kicked in.

Scientists don’t know a lot about black holes.Theoretical physicists posit that they may be able to be used for time travel–that if you can travel through one fast enough that you may be able to travel to the past or maybe even the future.

Some nights when the darkness is bad, I find myself being transported back to that school bathroom. I’m transported back to when I was raped–feeling them touch my body all over again, hearing the words they whispered into my ear Slut, bitch, worthless.  Sometimes I’m transported back, and I’m watching it unfold like it’s not happening to me, but there’s nothing I can do to stop it, which is worse.

The mornings after these dark nights, I look in the mirror and the dark circles under my hollowed out eyes remind me of someone else, who I was years ago when I was too far gone to ask for help.

Dark holes are too dark to be physically seen, but scientists know where they are by the way they affect the space around them.

I know that depression and mental illness is real because of the way it makes me feel: empty, alone, worthless.

On the good days, the intrusive thoughts are hypotheticals: what if I? What if I drove into a tree? What if I jumped from this balcony? What if I swallowed all these pills that fell into my hand? What if I cut myself using this razor? These are the at least I’m still alive days.

On the bad days, the intrusive thoughts are commands: do this. Sometimes they’re dares. Drive into a tree (you won’t). Jump (you won’t). Swallow these pills (it’ll be fun). Cut yourself (it’ll feel good). These are the zombie days.

On the really good days, there are no intrusive thoughts. On the really good days, I am productive and happy and free. These are the few and far between days.

For every one thing scientists know about black holes, there are a million things they don’t know.

My biggest question is: do they end? Or do they just go on forever, ad infinitum, to inifinity and beyond?

I like to imagine that at some point instead of being all black and dense and gravity filled, that they change to light and sparse and zero gravity. And instead of being sucked in and ripped apart, you float and are put back together. Order to the chaos. Restortation to the destruction. Yang to the Yin.

Even if the possibility of that is slim to none, I like to believe it’s true because I know that darkness isn’t all there is.

Because I used to think that my fear of heights was because I was afraid of falling. Then one day I realized it’s because I am afraid of jumping.

And when the intrusive thoughts come back, and I’m tempted to just jump, I’m reminded of the time I went to the mall in Guatemala, and as I looked down from the sixth floor parking structure, I realized that I didn’t want to jump. I live for that feeling again.

I stopped swimming and taking baths because I was afraid of drowning, but I now trust my body to keep me alive.

I know that darkness is just the absence of light, and on my darkest days I look at the stars, because on the darkest, clearest of days, a single candle can be spotted 30 miles away (if the earth was flat).

I have hope that on the other side of black holes, flashes the most spectacular light.

Towers and Earthquakes

Here’s the thing: we spend so much of our lives building an identity–a tower of self that is our foundation, what we base our whole life on–that when life begins to chip away at it, we begin to feel lost and confused.

I remember being younger and building my identity around people in my life, mostly friends, sometimes family. The problem with building your identity around others is that it’s permeable–there are cracks in the foundation, allowing water to get in, eroding away the tower brick by brick, piece by piece.

I left Elementary school with a reasonably adequate sense of self. I thought I knew who I was, what I was doing because when you’re one of the big kids in the school, you think you’re unstoppable, and maybe you are.

But then you’re not. You go from being the kid who’s gone around the block a few times to being the new kid in school. And it’s not the moving up of schools that bothers you because you’ve accepted that growing up and getting older is a part of life.

The problem is that you’re now a small fish in a big sea–you don’t know where you fit, where you belong, who your friends are. Something happens to people in Middle School–everybody is trying to find themselves, figure out who they are, and figure out where they fit. And everybody starts doing this at the same time, creating an upset in the social balance, causing hierarchies to form.

The massive upheaval of self-identity causes bullying to start. You try not to let it get to you. You try not to let the names they call you, the things they say to you influence your life. But they do.

And they did for me, too.

They began to chip away at my tower of identity bit by bit; it began to crumble, but because of the foundation, no matter how shaky it was, I wasn’t really scared of it falling.

But then it did.

When I was in eighth grade, I was raped. And it changed everything. It took everything. It took away the foundation I had spent 13 years building. It took away everything I thought I was. It took away my ability to say “No.” because if one guy asked me out, I rejected him, and this happened, what’s to stop it from happening again.

Being raped was like an earthquake–you’ve all seen the images: the violent tremors, the collapsing buildings, the swirling dust, the weakening skeletons still standing.

Being raped was a lot like that: quick and violent, and when the dust settled, all that was left was a shell of who I once was, who I wanted to be.

When it was all over, I was depressed and broken, lost and confused. I felt as though God had abandoned me.And I didn’t tell anybody. When it was all over, I cleaned myself up, covered the bruises as best I could, and carried on with my life as if nothing had happened.

The pain I was feeling was too intense; it hurt too much–I shut down. Becoming numb was easier than feeling, especially when the voices started, repeating over and over and over the events of that day, the words said I wanted so badly to forget: Slut. Bitch. No one will ever love you. You’re worthless.

I was depressed for so long, so numb that I had forgotten how to feel anything at all. That was when the cutting started. I wanted to feel something, anything. The pain reminded me I was alive, and it became addicting. Even that soon became not enough.Soon the self-harm escalated to self-loathing, subtly over time. One day, I woke up and couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten a full meal. The roaring of my stomach quickly drowned out the voices in my head.

I needed to grasp on to something, so I grasped on to the thought that maybe this would end someday, because even the idea of death is better than grasping on nothing.

Then, one day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was tired; boy, was I tired. I let my guard down, stopped trying to shut out the voices in my head. I just wanted peace.

I don’t remember swallowing the pills, but I remember throwing them up. It came after a moment of peace and a whisper: You’ll be ok.

And I was, but not right away. Because I didn’t get help, because, I know this doesn’t make any sense, but I didn’t want to be seen as weak. So I pretended nothing had happened.

Then I broke down. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was so tired of feeling alone, so I started telling people my story. I got help. And it’s been a long, long process.

I don’t know where it ends, or who I will be when I get there, but I know it will be beautiful.

Where I am right now is beautiful.

I’ve started rebuilding myself piece by piece, bit by bit. And here I am today. My foundation is stronger now because it’s built on the assurance that I am a child of God, no matter how angry I once was at Him, He never left my side. He brought me back. He rescued me from me.

My identity is no longer founded on others, and I’m stronger now.

I am beautiful now.

 

 

 

 

Anorexia: The Long Walk Back

This past week was National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and I wasn’t afraid to share my story. But there was a time when I was afraid to admit that I had an eating disorder. There was a time when I denied vehemently that there was anything wrong. There was a time when I’d rather suffer in silence, waste away quietly than admit to battling a demon with so much stigma attached. There was a time when the greatest compliment I could receive was, “You look so skinny!” There was a time when I ate nothing but a few crackers a day for weeks on end. There was a time when my roaring stomach threatened to eat me alive.

There was a time when I gave up. There was a time that my whole life came crashing down—like, if my life were a chain of dominoes, I could have labeled each one: Sexual Assault, Depression, Self-harm, Anorexia. One domino fell, causing a chain reaction that caused each subsequent domino to fall, completing the circuit, illuminating the sign: ANOREXIA.

But then something changed, subtle at first. There wasn’t some lightbulb “AHA” moment. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “Today’s the day I get my life back together.” It was gradual, so slow and quiet that I can’t even definitively tell you when I began the journey toward recovery.

But I can tell you the day I ate three full meals again: September 24, 2013.

Since that day, it’s been a long, slow walk back to healthy, maybe even a crawl.

It’s been all about finding Happy Mediums, and learning how to deal with the lasting effects (the stretch marks, the cold hands, the extra dietary supplements, the heart that sometimes beats too fast).

When I first started eating again, it didn’t take long for me to gain the weight back I had lost. It also didn’t take me long to gain the “and then some” people like to warn you about.

During my battle with Anorexia, I cared too much about how I looked that didn’t care how I lost the weight. During my first stages of recovery, I didn’t care enough so I gained more weight than I should have. Now, I’m left figuring out where the middle is: how much caring is too much and how much is not enough? How do I lose the weight I need to lose in order to be my best self without letting it—my appearance—consume my life?

I don’t really have the answer, but I think I may have a solution that might work best for me.

I have found that I prefer to recover the same way I enter a pool: easing in.

Some people like jumping right into a freezing cold pool and sending their body into shock. I don’t. I prefer sticking my toes in, then my foot, then my leg, then slowly climbing down the ladder until I’m up to my shoulders, and then finally, an hour later, putting my head under the water, maybe.

If I’m going to reach my goals of being happy and healthy, I have to ease in. Starting with my worst relationship to date: food.

I have to ease into a healthy diet, starting to eat better a little bit at a time, until it becomes second nature. Then after I maintain that, then I can add in the exercise a little bit at a time until that becomes second nature.

And I know this doesn’t work for everybody, and it’s not supposed to–recovery is different for every person.

But I know me. I know that the analogy of dominoes may have worked once upon a time, and it may work sometimes if I want to make my story simple.

Unfortunately, life isn’t simple. There’s nothing simple about Eating disorders and Mental Illness. Because eating disorders are as just as much mental as they are physical. So in reality, there are no cascading dominoes. Instead, it’s a tangled web of events, interweaving in and out of each other until each string is indistinguishable from the next.

My identity is somewhere in that web.

Recovery is untangling that web, trying to find who I really am and who I want to be.

It’s about learning to listen to the voices around you from those who love you, instead of the ones inside you trying to beat you down.

It’s knowing that you’ll fail sometimes and choosing to get up anyway.

The road from Anorexia to Recovery is long and hard. I have fallen down many times, and I know I will probably fall down a few more along the way.

And that’s ok.

Because the journey is a slow walk, and I haven’t walked as far as I would have liked to 2 ½ years into it.

And sometimes I get impatient because I know that at the end of this journey, beauty is waiting.

But where I am now, that’s beautiful, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to My Biggest Bully

This letter has been a long time coming—forgiveness has been a long time coming. And it’s not like I haven’t tried to forgive; I have.

I’ve forgiven others.

I’ve forgiven my rapists for what they did to me, for the years of pain and anguish they caused me, for changing the trajectory of my life.

I’ve forgiven God for the injustices I perceived He let happen to me, even though He did absolutely nothing wrong. But when you’re hurting, you need someone to blame.

I’ve forgiven the friends who walked away when I needed them the most, even though they had every right to, because when you’re depressed, you tend to sabotage relationships.

I’ve forgiven those who bullied me throughout Middle School and High School because someone has to. And in order to move forward, I have to step out of the past, even if that means never going to a High school reunion.

I’ve forgiven those who have caused me harm, who have hurt me mentally and physically. But I haven’t been able to forgive you, yet.

Until now.

I had forgiven everybody else, but I hadn’t been able to forgive my biggest bully: me.

I forgive you—I mean, me. And I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for allowing the opinions of others to become the way I defined you. I’m sorry for the way my voice began to echo and mirror what other’s said about you. It’s hard enough to ignore being called ugly, fat, unworthy if it’s someone else’s voice doing the calling, but when it’s your own voice that suddenly becomes your biggest nightmare, it’s next to impossible.

I’m sorry for silencing you. I’m sorry for making you feel like you couldn’t say anything, you couldn’t speak up about what you were going through and struggling with because every time you looked in the mirror, you said something mean about yourself. It’s hard to speak up when every though that sprints (and then trips and hangs around for a while) in your mind is harsh and cruel. You believe in Thumper’s mantra: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all. And you couldn’t, so you didn’t, even if speaking up could’ve saved your life.

I’m sorry for making you hate your reflection. I’m sorry for making you feel unloved and unworthy and how all of that unworthiness translated into not eating. Now you’re stuck learning how to do all of that again, because once upon a time you ate too little, then too much, and now you have to learn how to find the perfect middle. Learning how to love yourself again is so hard, but I promise it will be so worth it.

I’m sorry for making you believe that your whole identity and lovability was definied by your attractiveness.

I’m sorry for allowing you to become some numb and full of hate that the only relief was found in a knife (or a razor, or scissors. Whatever was convenient).

I’m sorry for making you believe that you weren’t beautiful the way you were, and are, and will continue to be.

I’m sorry for becoming your worst enemy when you needed me to be your biggest advocate. I’m sorry for abandoning you, for causing you to lose yourself when you really needed to be found.

I’m sorry for the tears cried, the blood shed, the scars gained, the pounds lost. I’m sorry for trying to die.

I’m sorry for all of it.

But mostly I’m sorry for taking so long to realize how much I hurt you. I’m sorry for taking so long to apologize. I’m sorry for taking so long to forgive you.

It’s hard to forgive others, and it’s even harder to forgive yourself.

But I’m ready now. I’m ready to say: I forgive you. (I forgive myself.)

Most of all, I’m ready to accept your apology. (I’m ready to accept my own apology.)

I’m ready to step into the future together: past me and present me. I’m ready to combine the two to prepare for future me. I’m ready to learn from my past mistakes and apply them to what I will encounter down the road on the journey ahead.

Because I don’t know where this future leads, but I am ready to take that journey—together.

Recovery: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

(a continuation of my last blog post, “Bear Hugs From God”)

One of the biggest problems I have as both a reader and a writer is romanticizing things that should not be romanticized. I write poetry and use metaphors to try and make sense of my feelings, without actually acknowledging my feelings. It’s not really even that, though. What it really is, is that I’ve written about my past so many times—I’ve tried to lessen the pain by using metaphors—that I’ve forgotten to write about my present and my future.

My past isn’t beautiful. What I’ve been through isn’t beautiful.

There’s nothing beautiful about rape, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, and suicide attempts.

What’s beautiful is the fact that I’m still here. I’m still fighting. What’s beautiful is God’s grace—his mercy.

But, if you know me and my story, you already know all of that.

What’s beautiful is where I am now, and where I will tomorrow and 5, 10, 15 years from now.

What’s beautiful is recovery and healing, but even those aren’t always beautiful.

Sometimes recovery means hospital stays and feeding tubes and uncomfortable conversations.

Sometimes recovery means mending bridges you burned, going back to the people you’ve hurt with your tail between your legs to say, “I’m sorry.” It’s knowing that while you were hurting, you may have hurt others, too.

Sometimes recovery is learning that total healing doesn’t always come on this side of life. It’s having to be ok with that.

Sometimes recovery is being angry, and then sad, and then angry again. It’s about learning to use those feelings to motivate you to live every day, not just survive every day.

Sometimes recovery means grasping for straws, hoping that you can find one to hold on to. If you can find one reason to stay alive, no matter how small, it makes day-to-day life so much easier.

Sometimes recovery means doing things you don’t want to do. It’s like my sister talking about the Super Bowl: “If the Patriots and Panthers both make it, I’ll cheer for the Panthers, but I won’t be happy about it.”

I’ll ask for help if I need it, but I won’t be happy about it.

Sometimes recovery means not being afraid to fail and having faith that God knows what he’s doing. You know like Peter. “Ok, God. You called me out upon the waters, but I sunk. Now what?” And God replies, “Have some faith.” Oh.

Sometimes recovery is a bear hug from God, but often times it’s more like Him carrying you while you’re kicking and screaming, “But I want to.” You know like how a parents tells a child not to touch the stove because it will burn them, but the child does it anyway? And then they get burned. Or how a child throws a tantrum in a store because mom won’t buy them candy, and then when they get home, they’re put in time-out. It’s sort of like that—learning from your mistakes.

Like you’re standing on a bridge, and God says, “Don’t you dare jump.” But you do anyway. And then of course you hurt yourself. And God picks you up, wraps your ankle, and says, “What did I tell you? This time you just sprained your ankle, but next time, it could be worse. Don’t do that again.” But of course you do it again, just to make sure gravity works. And God keeps saving you over and over and over again. He doesn’t have to, but He does.

Sometimes recovery means remembering how great God’s love, grace, and mercy are. It means being grateful because you are so unworthy of any of it.

Sometimes recovery is trying so hard not to revert to old habits. Repeat after me: “I will eat today. I will not pick up that razor. I am beautiful.”

Last night, I was angry—don’t ask me why because I have no idea—and I was being mean to myself. I knew that if I went to bed with those feelings, it would lead to a terrible today, and a possible relapse. So, I went to my happy corner: the corner of my room, under my bed, next to my desk, in front of my bookcase where I have blankets and stuffed animals. And I curled up there, and I wrote for a while, and then read Edgar Allan Poe for a while.

After about an hour of this, God and I had a conversation. The exact details don’t really matter. But it played out like a parent talking to a child:

“Do you know why I put you in time-out?”

“Yes. I was angry and being mean.”

“Correct. And you’re not angry anymore?”

“No, I’m not.”

“And you promise not to be mean?”

“I’ll try my best.”

“That’s all I ask. You can get up now.”

Sometimes recovery is about learning how to keep bad feelings in yesterday to make for a better today and tomorrow.

Yesterday, I was angry.

Today, I am content. Today, I am “Carpe Diem”ing. Today, I will do my best to prepare for a better tomorrow.

Rejoice in the Lord . . . Always?

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”- Philippians 4:4

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard to rejoice all the time. It’s easy when everything is going right, when life is smooth sailing, when the sun is shining bright. It’s a lot harder to rejoice when everything is going wrong, when life is choppy and bumpy, when the darkness has swallowed the light.

It’s a lot harder to rejoice in these times because it feels like God has abandoned you.

I used to feel this way. Sometimes, I still do.

In my darkest moments, I may feel like God abandoned me, but I know God exists because I have experienced immense pain, and I’ve come out to see the other side. In the deepest, darkest time of my life, God was there. He heard the cry of my heart, and he spoke to me—not with a thunderous boom, but with a gentle whisper: You’ll be ok.

Sometimes the quiet is more powerful than the loud.

So, He called out to me, and He rescued me from myself, and I’m still trying to make sense of the why. Why me? Why did I get a second chance at this thing called life? Why me when so many others do not?

I don’t have an answer. I don’t know if I ever will.

But I’m thankful for this second chance. And I’m rejoicing because of the way God has worked through my life, the healing that has come.

I believe God exists because my experience has answered that question. But there other questions that are a lot harder to answer.

Like, for instance, where was God when I was being raped? (There are no metaphors for this—nothing suitable enough to cushion the blow, nothing deep enough to distance myself from my memories.)

Where was God when I was dealing with the aftermath: the depression and the eating disorder?

For years, I wondered if it was easier to pretend God didn’t exist because then I wouldn’t have to blame Him.

For years, I was angry at him because being angry is easier than admitting that He never walked away—I did.

I was the broken one who had so much faith in a Mr. Fix-it-All God that I forgot about who God really is.

I thought if I prayed hard enough, cut deep enough, ate not enough, God would swoop in and make everything ok again.

And then I wondered if I believed enough because I still suffered.

It took me a while to realize that the God I was raised on—the God who wouldn’t let His people suffer—is not the God of the Bible.

Suffering was never a part of His original plan for mankind, but c’est la vie. Because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, we are all destined to suffer at some point in our lives because of the sin of mankind.

Out of the suffering, grows strength. Out of the ashes grow beauty.

And so I thank God for this. . . this. . . whatever it is. Because I can’t call it a gift, but I can’t call it a curse either, because I’ve learned so much, grown so much, helped others so much.

God isn’t “Mr. Fix-it.”

God is “Mr. Redeem It.”

I had enough faith, but I was expecting the wrong outcome, so I failed to see what God was doing right in front of me and within me—the strength he was giving me.

There are different kinds of healing.

I was expecting complete and total healing, but that’s not what I received.

Instead, I am at peace with the fact that the struggles I face every day will never go away. I will have to battle these demons, face them head-on, as long as I continue to breathe.

There are different kinds of healing. And as Christians, and humans, we expect healing to mean life. But sometimes healing means death. And we have to be ok with that.

So where was God when I was being raped? When I was dealing with the aftermath?

He was right there with me, carrying me—sometimes dragging me, kicking and screaming—through it.

He waited for me to cry out of my brokenness, before He answered, “I’ve never left you.”

And so I rejoice.

It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with all of this, for me to understand it all, for me to be content with the cards I’ve been dealt.

I rejoice because He saved me.

I rejoice because He redeemed me.

Rejoice in the good times because God is evident in the way He blesses your life.

Rejoice in the pain, not because it is a gift, but because God is right there with you in that present moment.

 

I Didn’t Know I Had an Eating Disorder

This picture popped up on my Facebook timeline a few days ago, with a note from Facebook that read: This memory happened four years ago. Share it with your friends!

I thought to myself, “Oh, I’ll share it with my friends all right, but not like this.” So I’m sharing it now, in this form, because there is so much to say about this picture, and I don’t really know where to begin.

I don’t know where to begin, and what I didn’t know then was that I had an eating disorder.

And now I bet you’re wondering how I didn’t know I had an eating disorder.

It’s easy not to know you have something when you know nothing about it, let alone talked about it.

Eating disorders weren’t really disorders as much as they were taboos, the elephant in the room no one talked about. Maybe if we ignore it, it will go away.

Problems don’t usually go away by ignoring them (no matter how long college students ignore their pile of assignments to be done).

Not talking about eating disorders at home is one thing, but not talking about them at school is another and potentially dangerous thing.

Yes, I had the mandatory “unit” on them, but I’m using that term lightly because we spent about five minutes discussing the differences between Anorexia and Bulimia: starving and barfing.

I didn’t think I had an eating disorder because at the time I didn’t describe what I was doing as starving. I was limiting, counting, stressing about the number of calories and the number of pounds. I didn’t think there was anything wrong (which is a classic sign of Anorexia, but they don’t teach you that in school).

I didn’t think anything was wrong until I was in the Emergency room, waiting to be admitted for my appendectomy, and I overheard a conversation my doctor was having on the phone:

I have a 17-year-old anorexic female presenting with appendicitis.

I didn’t think anything was wrong until I heard that one word that hit me like a ton of bricks in the chest, and I wasn’t sure what hurt worse: the weight of that word or the inflamed appendix.

Anorexia.

The shame of being labelled as an Anorexic was enough to keep from talking about it for another year. I didn’t want to be labelled as the “Girl with Anorexia.” People can’t identify you as something if you keep yourself hidden.

School teaches you a lot of useful information: basic math, how to be literate, the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.

It also doesn’t teach you things that could be useful: how to balance a checkbook, how to write a resume and cover letter, how to tell if you have an Eating Disorder

Society talks a lot about the problems occurring today: racial tensions, the Middle East, Drought.

It’s only recently that society has begun to talk about the way media affects adolescents.

I didn’t know I had an eating disorder because I was never taught about how complex they are.

What I was doing didn’t fit the definition given to me, and so I wasn’t anorexic, even though I was.

School didn’t teach me how to deal with my eating disorder, and because I refused to tell anybody for fear of being labelled, I had to deal with it on my own.

School didn’t teach me how complex eating disorders are. Instead, it provided me with simple, one-word definitions that I didn’t even fit.  I didn’t know I had an eating disorder because I didn’t fit the simple definition.

School didn’t teach me about the mental components of eating disorders, just the physical. I didn’t know I had an eating disorder because, for me, it was just as much mental as it was physical.

School didn’t teach me about how hard the recovery process was going to be. It didn’t teach me about how much eating was going to hurt, physically and mentally. It didn’t teach me about how much my self-esteem would be lowered with each bite I took.

School didn’t teach me about how to deal with the effects of this 5-year battle. I can’t skip a meal because habits are hard to break, and the chances of relapsing are higher than I’d like to admit. My hands are cold more often than not. I have permanent dark circles under my eyes, and my eyes seem to be sunk in a little too far in my face. There are stretch marks all over my body from the weight gain during recovery.

These are things I’m coming to terms with. Some days I’m ok; some days, I’m not.

I didn’t know I had an eating disorder because society wasn’t talking about them in the right way.

We’re getting better because now we’re acknowledging the complexities of eating disorders: they overlap, there are many than two kinds, they can affect anybody and everybody: girls, boys, chubby, skinny.

I didn’t know I had an eating disorder. I didn’t know how to talk about my eating disorder. I didn’t know how common they are, how many people I know who had, or still have, one.

But now I do.

And I’m making the most of everything I now know.

For more information on eating disorders, and for help for you or someone you know, visit: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

In which I’m open and honest about my eating disorder

“People with eating disorders are so strong” – actual words that came out of an actual person’s mouth.

Wait, what? It’s 2015, and we still have to talk about this? Being me, I couldn’t keep quiet:

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I love food way too much to not eat.”

“I do, too. But that didn’t stop me.”

She had nothing to say after that.

But I did.  I do. I have so many things to say. And I don’t really know how to start, so I guess I’ll just tell you my story. I’ll be open and honest because even though I’ve talked about it, I’ve never really talked about it.

And now is as good a time as ever, perhaps the best: I’ve heard young people close to me make comments that I cannot ignore. It’s time to tell you my story, tell you about my fight against Anorexia, and maybe, in the process, I’ll help destigmatize eating disorders. We, as a society, don’t do a good job talking to our children about eating disorders, but that’s beginning to change.

It’s time to put a personal face on Anorexia.

My name is Kaleigh Distaffen. I’m 20 years old, and this is my story.

I like to think my eating disorder started after my sexual assault. It’s easier that way. It’s easier to blame the root of all your problems on a single event. However, looking back, my sexual assault made my eating disorder worse; it didn’t start my fight with Anorexia.

Puberty did.

It started in 6th grade, Middle School, the nightmarish years of every child. It started when I noticed the changes occurring with my body didn’t match what society was telling me was beautiful. And I just couldn’t accept that.

I thought being beautiful was the most important thing, and I would do anything to achieve the standards of beauty society put before me.

It started with skipping a meal or two here or there. Putting less food on my plate and eating a smaller amount was easy when I ate “barely enough to keep a bird alive” to being with.

All through Middle School I did this: buying school lunches and then not eating them; throwing away money like I threw away calories, not caring about the consequences, not caring about the effects on other people.

And then, at the end of 8th grade, I was sexually assaulted. And everything changed. No longer was not eating connected with being beautiful, not eating was connected with being somebody else. If I could be somebody, anybody else, I wouldn’t have to remember what happened.

They say muscles have memory. You can ride a bike after years of not riding one because your muscles remember how to do it. You can type without looking at the keyboard because your fingers remember the placement of each key.

I tried to starve my muscles away hoping they’d forget the feeling of unwanted touch on my skin. It didn’t work.

It started with skipping a meal here and there, picking and nibbling at smaller and smaller amounts of food. It escalated to not eating anything but a few crackers for weeks at a time.

Ninth grade is a terrible year for everyone, but it was especially terrible for me. After having the summer away from my assaulters, I was thrust back into an environment where I encountered them every day. And, on top of all that, I started to get hips (Gasp)! And breasts (double gasp). That was the moment I knew I’d never be the tall, skinny super model society wanted me to be.

And everywhere I looked I was reminded of what happened. I couldn’t look in the mirror without hating what I saw. So, I skipped meals like an atheist skips church: trying to starve away the memories.

Things food wise started to get better in tenth and eleventh grade: I started taking AP classes, which means I was never in the same class with any of the guys I avoided at all costs. It wasn’t perfect. I never ate three meals a day; I tried to kill myself (which is a totally different, but not unrelated story, but which can be read about in so many posts on this blog).

I wasn’t eating three meals a day, but I was eating all the food I took, which wasn’t much, but it was a start.

During my Senior Year of High School is when my eating disorder became just that: a disorder that caused order to become chaos. I’ve never dealt well with chaos. My life felt like it was spinning out of control, so I tried to control what I could. I could control the amount of food going into my mouth, and so I did. I meticulously counted calories. I started eating less and less and less. My schedule was perfect: I woke up too late to grab breakfast, so breakfast was usually a granola bar grabbed from the kitchen. I was taking too many classes to have a scheduled lunch, so I grabbed lunch (either snack bars from my locker or something from the cafeteria). The food I bought (which wasn’t much) was thrown away. The food I grabbed from my locker went back.

My locker became a storage facility for all the calories I didn’t feel worthy enough of eating; I gave it away to my friends who needed it more than me.

I swore when I went to college that I’d do better. I’d eat. I’d have a clean slate. I would not worry about others judging when I ate. I would forget the fact that with every bite I put in my mouth, I’d feel less and less secure and more and more judged by those around me.

But it didn’t happen. I walked into my campus dining hall on the first day of classes my freshman year, and then I immediately walked out.

There were so many pretty faces, and I wasn’t one of them.

I can’t tell you when things began to change, but I first noticed a change about two years ago. I was exhausted all the time: physically and mentally. Between the not being and the not eating, I was having a hard time. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to start eating. And I don’t know why I had the sudden change of mind. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I was worth enough to eat. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I was beautiful. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide my life was back in control, because it’s not. I don’t have my life controlled. At all.

Every day is still a battle: a battle to get out of bed, a battle to put food in my mouth, a battle to not hole myself up somewhere. But I try my best to do what I can to live. Life is not about surviving; it’s about thriving. I was barely surviving for so long, I want to thrive.

I’m trying to do just that. I still compare myself to others, but I have to not let it affect me: if I start to get anxious about the way I look, I’ll worry about eating. Skipping even one meal is super dangerous for people like me: Recovering Anorexics with a love-hate relationship with food.

I’m not sure how to end this story because it’s not quite over yet. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve come farther than I ever thought I could. And that’s something to celebrate.

I never thought Anorexia would happen to me. Italians are genetically bred to love food, and I am no exception. However, my love of food was not strong enough to overcome my hatred for myself.

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The picture on the left is from the end of my freshman year of high school (age 14) when my eating disorder was at (one of) its worst. The picture on the right is from last year, end of junior year of college (age 19).

I may not be society’s idea of beautiful, but that’s not stopping my beauty from existing.

I’m definitely 5000x happier in the second picture than I am in the first picture. I choose happiness over being Anorexic.

There’s nothing strong about having an eating disorder. True strength is found in overcoming it.

(if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, get help.)