Friday, July 24, 2009

Is that your final answer?

I am paralyzed. I am on the brink of new beginnings; I reach out, and just as I am about to grab onto what I want, I retract.

I am paralyzed by the finality of starting something. I am afraid to begin the wrong thing, so instead of trying and changing my mind, I wait. I am waiting for a bolt of lightning to strike the spot I’m supposed to be in. But there is no lightning. There is no final answer. There is nothing, and will continue to be nothing until I begin something.

Last week, I went to the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation -- a foundation that tests a person’s natural aptitudes -- to find direction, and to help me figure out where to start. Their philosophy is that people are happiest when their work is an expression of, and an outlet for, their natural talents. I hoped that if they could tell me what my natural talents are, I would be able to start the “right” thing. The results I got from my testing opened up a world of ideas and possibilities for me. They said, “learn a language, take up an instrument, dance, set goals.” They told me that I have a range of aptitudes that would be great for an editor, an crime scene investigator, a psychologist. My abilities can take me in a thousand different directions, I just have to pick one. They gave me the answers I was looking for. They gave me hope and confidence in myself. But they gave me too many options. I wanted one answer; I didn’t want choices. So now I’m back where I started. I found the information I needed to move forward, but now I am paralyzed by opportunity.

I have always been decisive almost to the point of impulsivity. I’ve never had any difficulty making decisions. I’ve also never had any hesitation in changing my mind, quitting what I started and finding the next best thing. But, this time I am trying to do things differently. I don’t want to quit, give up or move on. I want to build a foundation, be consistent, and succeed at something. I want the good feeling that comes from persistence and dedication. I want to learn new skills and use them. I want to be reliable. But, my fear of repeating the same pattern -- deciding on something, then changing my mind and quitting -- is keeping me from starting a new one. I need to take a leap of faith. I can’t wait forever for lightning to strike.

But, where do I begin?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

survival skill #2: getting out

I'm sitting in Central Park. I'm dealing with what's in my head, for a few minutes, without escaping. My apartment often serves as endless distraction, avoidance, self-destruction. By getting out, I'm shaking things up in my head. I'm not using the same noises to drown out my thoughts and feelings. There are different stimuli, so I can't be completely numb. I have to take things in, simple things like temperature, people walking by, the light. I have to recognize myself as an entity, separate from my surroundings. I am a person, making use of a worn bench, in a park. I exist. I might not have a big impact, but I exist. Right now, I am not hiding. People can see me. I am accounted for. Even if no one really notices, by being outside, in a world shared with other people and animals, I am acknowledging myself. I have a responsibility on this planet, even if it is just to be another living human, someone people pass by, someone in the park, on a bench. I exist. And that is important. It is important that I exist no matter what I do or don't do. When I'm here, outside, I'm not hiding from everyone; I'm not hiding from myself. And that's something.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

letter to my body

In Body Image group, I was asked to write a letter to my body. At first, I didn't want to. I know how I feel about my body, and I didn't want to write it a damn letter. But, what came out on paper was not at all what I expected. I'm sharing this letter with you, because I think it is a worthwhile exercise for anyone who feels a separation between mind and body.

Dear Body,

I hate you. I'm sorry I hate you, because it's really not your fault. You didn't do anything wrong. You're so good to me - you let me do everything I want to do and almost never get mad. I'm always trying to change you, to make you better. But nothing you could ever be would be good enough. I know it's not fair to you, but I don't know how to stop. I wish I could appreciate you for what you are and what you do for me, but the world around me tells me that that's not enough. It tells me that it doesn't matter if you're getting what you need; it doesn't matter if you work right. It just matters what you look like. I've never appreciated what you do; I've only ever cared about how you look. I'm really sorry. I don't know how to change.

Love, Lily

Monday, April 6, 2009

the dessert challenge

For the past month and a half, I have been following my meal plan very closely. The plan, designed by my nutritionist at the Renfrew Center, dictates the minimum amount of fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, fat and starch that I need each day. After throwing away my scale, I was afraid to eat more than the exact minimum my meal plan allowed for. Since I can't weigh myself, I have no way of knowing if I'm eating the "right amount" without these guidelines. The problem is that I have become too comfortable in my eating patterns and am afraid of branching out. Until a week ago, I had been eating the same breakfast, lunch and snack every day. Although there was some variety -- what kind of cereal I had, or what I put on my sandwich -- I was making safe, reliable choices.

Last week, in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I made a goal of having at least one dessert over the next 7 days. I'm proud to say that I accomplished this goal, and more, by trying unique desserts and enjoying them.

My first challenge was at David Burke Prime steakhouse, where I ordered a cheesecake lollipop tree. Yes, a tree with cheesecake lollipops on it! It was fun to eat, and since the lollipops were each a bite of cheesecake, I didn't get too full or feel guilty. Then, with the check, the server brought us complimentary green apple cotton candy! I've never been a big fan of cotton candy, but it was light and delicious, and eating it made me feel like a little kid.

The next night, out to dinner at Alta Strada, I challenged myself a second time. My friend and I tried pastry chef P.J. Waters' famous Cinema Paradiso -- caramel popcorn, chocolate-covered golden raisins, chocolate mousse with popcorn ice cream, and a tangerine slushy. Although we didn't even come close to finishing it all, we mixed the remaining chocolate raisins and popcorn and took it to go!

So, all of this is not to say that I've conquered my fear of desserts for good. Dessert is still more challenging for me than most other kinds of foods. But, this experience allowed me to have so much fun with dessert that it was, in both cases, the best and most memorable part of the meal. And that, in itself, is a victory.

Monday, March 30, 2009

survival skill #1: sake-infused bubble bath

Dialectical behavior therapy teaches crisis management skills known as "distress tolerance." Distress tolerance skills can be mental processes or physical actions. Mentally fighting distress requires a lot of practice, but distracting from an immediate crisis with an activity comes more easily. Many of my survival skills are activities that help me when I'm in, or approaching, crisis mode.

A calming bubble bath is like a mini vacation; it removes me from the fast pace of New York City and slows my racing thoughts. I don't get to take baths as often as I'd like to, but when I do, I make sure they're special. My secret ingredient is
fresh Sake Bath. I may not drink alcohol, but who says I can't soak in detoxifying sake? With the right candles, this bath becomes a full sensory experience. I watch the flickering lights, feel the warm water, hear the crackle of bubbles, and smell my favorite scents - Diptyque's Baies and Feu de Bois. Whether it's a mini vacation or a nice long bath, I find it impossible not to feel better afterwards.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

just move

For the past couple of weeks, I've felt hopelessly depressed. But, on Friday, the depression finally lifted. In the past couple of days, I've found the energy and strength to take on new activities, and the hope to keep going.

I have a history of alternating between periods of compulsive exercise and periods of not exercising at all. I've never been able to attain a healthy balance, and my motivation was always disordered. When I was exercising, I did it because I had to. When I wasn't exercising, I was actively rebelling against what I really "should" be doing. About a year and a half ago, when my eating disorder started to take over, I decided that if I controlled my food intake I didn't have to go to the gym. I didn't see the health benefits of keeping my body moving, because working out wasn't about my health -- it was about chasing the perfect body. As the bulimia became stronger and stronger, I began to lose weight. It was the perfect solution; I was getting closer to the perfect body with no work whatsoever. I didn't have to spend my evenings at the gym, because I could cheat the system.

Recovery takes an extreme mental and emotional toll. No longer hiding behind the disorder, the past couple of months have taught me about who I am, how I want to be, and how to care for myself. Until now, I haven't had the energy or stability to work on physical strengthening and healing. In the past couple of days, I have found myself ready to move. My body wants to take on its part in my new life. An eating disorder creates a great divide between the mind and the body. The mind is focused on hating, criticizing, controlling and changing the body. The constant harm leaves no room for connection or acceptance. Now, out of my recent depression, I am starting to feel strong enough to connect my mind with my body.

On Saturday, Brittany - a friend from Renfrew - and I, went to a yoga class together. We headed to Sonic Yoga, on 9th Ave. and 51st St., for a 90-minute session. What possessed me to make this all-level hour-and-a-half class my first-ever yoga experience? I have no idea. Luckily, Brittany and I were clueless together. Somehow, we made it through, doing our best to keep up with the advanced students. As exhausting as it was, I felt a connection with my body that I have never really felt before. Before treatment, exercise meant rejecting my body, trying to make it something better. Now, movement is a chance for me to accept my body and learn to work with it.

As I continue to try new ways of moving, I am excited to become more comfortable with myself and happier in the body that I need in order to live.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

survival skills

In recovery, part of my every day life is implementing healthy coping skills. Some are cognitive, but many are active -- ways to distract myself from acting on old symptoms. While I hope that the list of coping activities I posted will help people, I think showing how I'm using these activities in my every day life might help more. So, "survival skills" will be an ongoing series of entries about various things I am doing to get through tough moments.