I’ve Got Incomplete Classes, Yes, But My Mental Health Still Comes First

*article originally published on The Odyssey Online*

For most people, summer is a time without coursework, tests and classes. Not for me. At least, not this year. I have two incomplete classes to finish in addition to my summer class. And you know what? That’s OK.

Before this past year, I had never taken an incomplete in a class. I was always the “perfect student,” getting my work done *mostly* on time, making good marks and staying up until the wee hours of the morning to study or finish a project. I was good at school. It was my “job,” and I did it well.

At least, until last semester. This past spring, I did something a bit… unusual. I put my college success behind my mental health.

If you really think about it, staying up until 3 a.m. to study for an exam, working 5 hours straight per day on coursework, not sleeping, not eating properly, stressing out all the time… it’s not healthy. It gets the job done, so to speak, but at the expense of our well-being, whether we realize it or not.

For years, I didn’t realize it. I didn’t even consider how unhealthy and detrimental these habits could be. But after getting my mental and physical health back on track during a gap year between my freshman and sophomore year (yes, I am supposed to be a junior, but I am a year behind, and that’s OK too…), I stopped thinking all of the crazy measures we go to for an “A” would fit neatly into my life.

There is an unspoken competition on college campuses: Who can get the least amount of sleep? Who is the busiest? Who was up the latest working? Who is taking the most credits?

It is unhealthy. It puts what really matters — mental health — aside.

The truth is, your grades in college don’t matter. No, really.

They don’t matter nearly as much as your mental well-being.

They don’t matter nearly as much as taking care of yourself appropriately.

Your grades in college mean nothing if you are not able to function because of stress, anxiety or exhaustion.

I may have had to take incompletes, but if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be nearly as stable in my mental health as I am now.

I still have depression spells. I still have anxiety and feel overwhelmed. But I don’t work through the night on studying or projects like I used to. I sleep. I eat food. I get fresh air. I drink water (because you cannot live off coffee, as much as I tried…and sometimes still try to).

I may have incompletes, but that doesn’t make me a failure.

I may have incompletes, and that is totally, completely, 100 percent OK. Because I am putting me first. For once.

This article was originally written for and posted on The Odyssey Online in Aspiring Journalism Professionals. 

xoxo

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Mephistophelian weariness of chronic

This week, in therapy, I talked a lot about being tired.

Not sleepy, didn’t-go-to-bed-early-enough tired.

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me thinking about that recovery life

Tired of the energy it takes to do recovery. Tired of the time I have to spend thinking about what I ought to do to fight the eating disorder, what I need to do to keep myself fueled…

…when what I want to do is hit the “fuck it” button and just stop.

There is a dichotomy between chronic and chosen. With chosen–like a goal or a desire–you can stop if you opt to. You can, for example, decide you want non-decaf coffee today even if your goal was to limit caffeine.

But with chronic, you cannot decide. Your choice is void because it was never your decision to begin with. 

When you decide to recover, you waive any possible “fuck it” option. You contend with the idea of never-ending mental energy.

Most of the time, the benefits of recovery vastly supersede the annoyance of your waiver.

But occasionally, the Mephistophelian truth of your decision comes out: you don’t have a choice. 

I sound negative. I recognize this. But I also acknowledge that recovery is not universally positive.

A multitude of recovery, the little undiscussed bits and pieces, can fluctuate between the poles of experience: positive, negative, neutral.

Just like the comprehensive trajectory of recovery, the energy consumption annoyance goes up and down. Remember: “recovery isn’t linear.” Turns out, the stamina it takes to consistently pick recovery isn’t linear, either.

However, there is a silver lining (er, gold lacquer… just a little kintsukuroi reference there 😉 ).

In my experience, opting for the endurance it takes to be in recovery is much more preferable to the pertinacity  it takes to be symptomatic in an eating disorder. Eating disorders are WORK, mental energy wise. You think about calories and food and exercise and guilt and your body and etc. and etc.

If you are already putting in the energy, why not have it be directed in the direction of the path giving you back vitality… towards recovery.

 

xoxo

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NEDA Week

“Recovery isn’t linear,” I tell myself for the umpteenth time…“Ups and downs. You are going to struggle…” a constant reminder for me.

When I first began treatment 617 days ago, I didn’t believe in anything beyond my eating disorder. There was no “life without anorexia.” Although I don’t necessarily think there is a recoverED—a point I struggled with for a long time—I believe wholeheartedly in recoverING: the ability to live a life free of disordered thoughts, actions, restrictions; one where I make the decisions and enjoy the turbulence of living. A constant, everlasting work-in-progress type of life. Part of my personal recovery was denying the dichotomy of healing, and learning to embrace a “third space.” It was learning to be okay with imperfections in all spheres: body, recovery, intelligence, actions, feelings.

617 days ago I got my life back. Granted, it didn’t feel like it. I was living in a different state at a place where you had to ask to do just about anything. I tried to quit recovery more times than I can count. I wanted to recover, but “not like this.” I wanted to be MOSTLY better, but hold onto a bit of my eating disorder because it was safe, known, and it made me feel in control. Turns out, you can’t do that. Surprising, right?

For me, recovery meant letting go, going against everything the eating disorder “supposedly” gave me—what I thought was control—to become autonomous. It sounds so easy, when I write it out and look at it… but if you ask anyone who is in recovery or treatment, I can almost guarantee they will tell you the process of freeing yourself is no where near simple. (I want to make sure I note, here, eating disorders do NOT discriminate by gender, race, social class, age, etc. You don’t have to look like you have an eating disorder. Eating disorders come in a variety of forms.q They are ALL illnesses. They are ALL real.)

“Recovery isn’t linear.” Recovery will never be linear. Healing isn’t linear. And, although sometimes I wish it was, ultimately, these twists and turns supply more than a straight line ever would. Sometimes I still struggle with accepting my ups and downs; I probably always will. That’s okay. “It’s okay to not be okay.” And it’s okay to ask for help, take time for yourself, and give yourself the love you deserve.

 

XOXO

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*This post was originally published on my personal Instagram

it’s been a bit

It’s been more than a month since I last blogged on here.

Over the past 4-5 weeks, I have opened this blog, thought about how I “should” write something, opened a draft, stared at it, closed the draft, sighed, closed the tab…. more times than I would like to admit.

The truth is, I didn’t know what to write.

I still don’t. But I want to write anyway and just see what comes.

I recently got the metaphorical rug pulled out from under me when I fell and broke my wrist. In treatment, you learn to build your foundation and go to that whenever you start to feel unsteady.

But what happens when your foundation doesn’t just crack… it collapses?

My foundation was art, journaling, working my barista job, doing yoga, driving, and taking my bunny places. But if you break your dominant hand and end up in a full arm cast for two weeks (just came off today BITCHES!), and then have a short cast for 2-3 after that, and then a brace after that… what do you do when insurance doesn’t come through and you need to switch practices and therefore end up with a brace for a week AFTER the long arm cast instead of a different cast and you have to work and a removable hard cast is 600 dollars and so maybe that won’t work, especially without insurance, and having to wait a week to figure it out puts you without a cast and a week closer to going on vacation to a lake with your boyfriend and a week further from finishing with this cast business for good? (massive run on there, but hey, stream of consciousness writing currently).

Then what do you do–foundation less and confused?

I’ll be honest: I felt this making me start to slip. I felt my eating disorder warping it into a “you CAN’T do anything and therefore, since you can’t get the food easily you don’t have to eat it because it’s too hard and your arm hurts when you strain it.” I felt it telling me that, since I couldn’t be active (or at least as active as I was before the injury) I didn’t need as much (read like no) food.

FUCK THAT.

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I made a sling out of a scarf because the actual sling didn’t fit my bulky arm cast.

The last two weeks have been spent on my floor with the bunny boy, then a week and a half at my bf’s where he helped me be a functioning (albeit down an arm, temporarily) human being, and then back here again playing more hours of sims 4 than I would like to admit… but I have a really nice virtual sim house to show for it!

In a way, I am thankful for my broken wrist. Because it taught me a lot about being a ‘person being’ instead of a ‘person doing,’ as my therapist likes to say.

Over these past two weeks, I have done exactly zero “exercise” (just sightseeing and thrift shopping), eaten water boiled bagels more times than I can count, had dinner and lunch out a ton (sometimes both in the same day), eaten ice cream to my heart’s content, and been super flexible with food in general…. guess what, I feel just fine and I am the same as I was before. Well, aside from the broken bone.

Because sitting and just being doesn’t matter. I don’t NEED to do ANYTHING to deserve food or love or life. I can simply enjoy being in the world.

That doesn’t mean I am not antsy about getting back to my life. I miss my job and yoga and journaling. But, I know I can always think back to these few weeks if my eating disorder ever tells me something bad is going to happen if I just take it slow and let me be me.

 

finding balance

In my opinion, one of the hardest things about “re-learning” how to live life and take care of yourself through recovery is finding balance. For much of the time one is in treatment, the day is simply JUST treatment. But leaving the world of formalized and center-based treatment back into the world of outpatient appointments and mostly free weeks results in a lot to be determined and time to be filled.

Balance.

It is something I talked about so much with my therapist and my treatment team. It is a vocabulary word that has been a staple in my language for the past 5 months.

Balance.

Balance.

Balance.

What the hell is balance.

I can’t say I have done a perfect job moving from IOP to outpatient and balancing recovery and life from the get-go. But I also didn’t expect that I would.

If I learned ONLY one thing in treatment (which is far from the truth…I learned more than I can communicate), then it would be that I cannot expect perfection because it is realistic, possible, human. I would disappoint myself literally every time if I expected to be perfect. Never in my life have I or will I be perfect. This transition is no different. In fact, the lack of perfection is what makes it so successful.

I have had to sit down and talk to myself. I have had to tell myself that “yes, I can eat that. I will be okay.” I have had to make a conscious decision to order the hard thing that would have been so easy to avoid. I have tried new things. I have internally fought and won. I have internally fought and lost. But I have kept going and corrected and worked my ass off for the recovery that I so want and love.

That is what balance is to me. It is realizing that I am going to have a few bad days…maybe more than a few. But that I can persist anyway. It is relearning what life in the “real world” is like… with the constant daily challenges that I was somewhat sheltered from in treatment. It is picking the hard things because I know I can… and more than that… that I have to. It is realizing the mental difficulties are all worth it because they get smaller and smaller with exposure.

And it is giving myself grace for the days when I have more trouble. For the days when I need some help. And for the moments when I question it all and keep going anyway.

It’s a process.

That is balance.

sacrificing the wants for the want mores

because choices have sacrifices and, inevitably, that means giving up something that you want for something that you want more.

I found those words in a White Collar episode of all places. But I wrote them down, because the message is one of utter truth.

When I heard this, I immediately thought of my eating disorder.

But wait, I thought I had broken up with that bitch? I did. I have. But the thing about break ups is you can still want. You can still want that which you KNOW you cannot have. But if you really look at it…do you really want that relationship back or are you just missing the feeling that came along with it?

For me, it is the feeling.

I miss the feeling of “safety” which was going back to my anorexia. I miss feeling like I had all the willpower in the world and like I could control my life. I miss feeling like I was special because I had this “friend” who was steering me to “success.”

All of these feelings were lies. They were elaborate concoctions of my disordered mind that told me I had it all. But, in all actuality, I had nothing. I didn’t have control, willpower, success, safety. I was slowly dying. I was starving my soul.

Maybe I am grieving my loss. I am grieving the loss of the image I have of what I want to look like, because I know it will never happen unless I begin to slowly die all over again (which is NOT an option). I am grieving the loss of my coping tool for all the fucking shit life throws at you. I am grieving the loss of an identity I held for so so many years. I am grieving the loss of the control I thought I had. I am grieving the loss of the feelings I had in my disorder.

The thing is, I remember all of these feelings that I liked… but I also look back and see all the misery. I remember (and still experience) the depression. I see the shit I put myself through and the tired, sick form of myself. I see the way I pretended to have it all together and then cried to myself in the shower so no one could tell. I remember the fear I had walking into a college cafeteria, party, club, etc. I remember the constant worry and thoughts about food and weight and exercise. I remember the darkness and how I couldn’t have cared less about life. I remember feeling the intense secrecy of it all. I remember feeling the pain. I see the scars that illustrate the points I thought there were no other options and it was all my fault. I remember how I really did feel like I was falling into a hole I would never leave.

“Choices have sacrifices and, inevitably, that means giving up something you want for something you want more.”

I want those feelings of control, identity, success, safety. But I want recovery more.

I’m giving up my wants for the ones I want more. Because life is a gift, and I want to really live it.

why do numbers have power?

Today I almost saw my weight.

After 4 years of not weighing myself and being SOOO careful not to see it, I almost did on a discharge sheet from my visit to an urgent care last week.

I bet some of you are like what…why is that a problem? But it’s actually horrible. It’s terrifying and mind-controlling, and preoccupying, and just miserable.

Because numbers still have power.

I bet you are also wondering how I almost saw my weight. You know how you can do the thing where you blur your eyes a bit? I did that. And then my brain started to wonder what I saw. It started to try to compare numbers in their most basic of shapes. Like when you look at something from far away and it is blurry and a 3 could be a 5 and the 1 could be a 7. That’s what my brain did.

Because ONE of those digit options was okay. The other one DEFINITELY wasn’t.

Why was the other one so taboo? Why did x number of pounds in the up direction make a difference? Here’s what my ED brain thinks:

  • having that x amount of pounds makes me heavier than other people in my friend group and I already don’t fit in because I can’t run and they can and I can’t just enjoy food whenever and they can
  • if I am x then I definitely look the f-word (fat)
  • if it really is x does that mean I am now unhealthy in the opposite direction???
  • that’s too high. period.
  • obvi you are out of control. Don’t follow that meal plan.
  • yup, you’re the f-word

Why do numbers have that amount of power? Enough power that I actually question my BODY DYSMORPHIA and wonder if it is telling me I am thinner than I actually am…. wow, what a turn to the opposite.

Why does a number have enough power to make me think I will automatically not fit in with my friends? How could it do that?

Why does a number make me think that all these professionals have it out for me and don’t care if I get the f-word?

It shouldn’t. But it does.

I partly blame society for putting so much emphasis on weight and numbers in general. But I also know that I can eventually be strong enough not to care… I am just not quite there yet.

So why do numbers NOT matter….. let’s see:

  • Numbers (your weight) cannot tell you who you are on the inside
  • Numbers do not show your personality and your love for life
  • Numbers do not define your self-worth or your worthiness.
  • Numbers cannot make or break a friendship or relationship.
  • Numbers cannot show love and comfort you.
  • Numbers are simply a mental construct that we made in order to explain natural phenomena and life.
  • I am not a number.
  • You cannot know what my weight is by looking at me.
  • Weight does not determine my worth.
  • I will never be happy with the number I see, and I don’t need to know it because it is just a fact, and not one that will help me.
  • Numbers are simply digits on a page. I am a soul.

I might have almost seen my weight…. but there is so much more to life than whatever number was on that page. And it’s going to take a bit to stop worrying about it, but I will give myself the grace and time I need to process and become stronger from my almost viewing of an unhelpful, meaningless number.

mind vs. ed

 

*Note: ED means eating disorder

Conflict:

 

Imagine what the world could be

if it was only you and me;

the chatter of many fading slowly to few,

Think of all the time, the things that we could do.

Imagine all the wreckage, all the dead, the diseased,

the souls of all others suddenly ceased.

Wouldn’t it be quiet, only whispers on the breeze.

the crashing of the waves, the surf on the seas.

Imagine all our chances, the beauty and the grace.

The sky the only boundary, with smile on our face.

Imagine the sky crashing down,

the city burning, ashes on the ground.

The cries of helpless, panic ,and fright

darkness overwhelms, an ending of their plight.

Imagine all the good, the love and light

as we build a city of glass, mirrors shining bright.

The sun glints and shimmers as we finish our design,

but the world is far from done, beauty waits in line.

Imagine all the horror as the earth splits in two.

Run you silly souls, have you seen what I can do.

I have only gotten started with the torture you will face.

Brightness versus darkness; light will lose the race.

Two together make the devil present in the brain

fighting, clawing, biting, but only one can be tame.

Which will rule the conscious, which will fall behind?

Which will be the champion, who will win the mind?  

depression

a whisper weak yet growing near

creeps and seeps into your fears.

it koons to you of things undone,

of mistakes, ends, and lies unspun.

it reminds you of the truth of life,

the growling, sharpening teeth of might

which rip and tear you into bits,

and pull and mangle you to your wits.

a life of anger, fear and pain;

a life of torture, angst, and no gain.

a dream curled up into a ball

shivering shrinking, soon to fall

into the chasm which is life

a reality world sharp as a knife.

and with a sting the cut appears

and bloody words creep to your fears.

the whisper grows, its voice deep

into your words and images, it seeps.

the whisper calls up morbid scenes,

conjures specters, murders, crimes unseen.

in its control is the night

and so, again, you succumb to fright.