Saturday, February 28, 2009

table for two

Brunch used to be my favorite part of the weekend. It was summer. My best friend, Tyler, my puppy, Mars, and I would walk down Columbus to our favorite spot. We would grab a table on the sidewalk, get a bowl of water for Mars, and light up a couple of cigarettes. Mars and I always had the same thing. I would get eggs benedict with the ham on the side--eggs for me, ham for Mars. Our weekend tradition made Sunday my favorite day of the week.

But, meals were never just meals for me. They were a battleground. Eating disorders are perpetuated by a basic cycle: restrict, binge, purge. How much of my meal could I eat without gaining weight? How much was a binge? Did I need to purge, or would I just restrict later in the day? Although I loved sitting outside, soaking up the sun and sharing a meal with Tyler and Mars, my mind was never really there. I was in my own prison, barred off from the rest of the world, deciding what this meal would do to me, what I would let it do, how I could fight it, and how I would win. I loved the tradition and the time spent with my little family, but I didn't enjoy the meal. I was happy that Tyler and Mars got to have brunch, and I got to be there to watch.

This morning, for the first time since I've been in recovery, Tyler suggested we go to brunch. My initial response was that I would be happy to go sit with him and drink coffee, but that I needed to eat my normal breakfast at home. Then I took a stand against my disorder. I can eat a well-balanced meal wherever I am. It is the knowledge of how to feed myself that protects me; it's not eating "safe" foods out of marked containers in my kitchen that keeps my disease from being in control. So, we went. As we walked down Columbus, I thought about what I would order. A bagel, cream cheese and some fruit. None of the foods would be mixed so I would know exactly how much of what I was eating, and it would be the same as eating at home.

We sat down. I saw something that caught my eye. I hadn't been planning on having a sandwich. I had figured out my meal already, before we even left our apartment. Eating disorders leave no room for spontaneity; but, recovery does. I enjoyed a chicken, avocado, bacon and green bean sandwich. It was exactly what I wanted, because I chose it in the moment. I couldn't tell you exactly how many ounces of chicken were in it, whether it was exactly 1/8 of an avocado, or more, or how many carbohydrates were in the bread. But, I can tell you that for the first time I can remember, I truly enjoyed brunch.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

had a bad day again

The nature of bipolar disorder is that the good is followed by the equally bad, or worse. But the biggest struggle is not the ups and downs, it's knowing, while I'm feeling on top of the world, that I am being set up for a debilitating crash. The cycle is predictable and completely out of my control. Medication can soften the fall to some extent, but pharmaceuticals cannot change my brain chemistry. I am, and always will be, manic-depressive.

Last night, a friend said to me, "There will always be bad days. But, that's today. Tomorrow could be a good day again." One of the most difficult aspects of depression is the lack of perspective. When I am in a low, I often feel that I will never be happy again. The ability to recognize that the storms will end as abruptly as they set in is what allows me to weather them. No one can survive utter hopelessness forever; but, knowing that it's not forever is what allows me to survive.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

look both ways

Since childhood, I have had trouble accepting the existence of a Higher Power. I have always had a logical and factual approach to the world, sometimes to a fault. Although I realize that humans are not capable of hearing, seeing or understanding all things, the concept of a God has never resonated with me. I have, however, grown to accept the power of positive and negative energy--in a word, karma. I have experienced the difference between exuding positive or negative energy in my every day life. When I "get out on the wrong side of the bed," it's because I allow difficulties early on to destroy my perception of the rest of the day. Today could have easily been one of those days.

In a rush this morning, my wallet fell to the floor of the cab I was riding in. Before I realized it was missing, the cab was long gone. Already late to a 9 o'clock appointment, I panicked. What could I do? Not much. I filed a lost property report with the city, cancelled my credit card, froze my bank account and kept breathing. At this moment, I had a decision to make. I could catastrophize--"I lost my wallet, everything of value, my life, and certainly my day, is ruined." Or, I could accept the situation and move forward.

I know that I cannot control my world. But, I have total control over how I respond to it. You know the phrase, "let go and let God?" Well, God or not, I let go. I certainly didn't hope for the best, but I didn't waste energy expecting the worst either.
Proving that there are good people in the world, despite an economic recession, my wallet was returned with everything, including cash, in it (less than 8 hours later!). I still have a hard time believing that my positive energy, and the prayers of others, were the reason my wallet was returned. But, by accepting that I could not predict or alter the outcome of this situation by obsessing and panicking, I enjoyed my day and got my wallet back.

Higher Power or not, I'll be checking the seat and floor of every cab I ride in from now on.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

nothing good happens after midnight

I've begun to notice that most of my friends' amusing, embarrassing, or regrettable stories begin with, "so this one night, I was totally wasted." Since my high school years, this has seemed like normal behavior. Having fun almost always included mind-alteration; having fun meant escaping reality. I never thought it was truly possible to have a fun night out without drinking. Or if it were possible, I thought that drinking would always make the night more fun. This may be fine for some people, but for me, drinking was never just having a few drinks. Why would I consume the calories in alcohol without getting trashed? But, I didn't see a problem. I thought what I was doing was normal behavior because, well, I'm young.

I once told my psychologist, Dr. Joan Lavender, that "being healthy is boring." She has never let me forget it. My roller coaster of emotions and impulsive actions was always exciting. I never want to wake up and know exactly what is going to happen. I thought that being healthy would make my life predictable. What I've found is the exact opposite.

In recovery, I am creating a reality that I don't need to escape from to enjoy myself. Using substances is not my only way of having fun anymore. When I'm intoxicated, I miss what's going on around me. I lose the memories of time with friends and the ability to make real connections. I'm learning that just because I'm on my way to health, doesn't mean that I'm on my way to boredom. In fact, every day becomes more meaningful, more memorable, and more enriching. The time I spend with my close friends strengthens our relationships - whether through laughing, crying, talking, or playing. And I have the presence of mind not to waste my time on people who I don't want in my life. Before going to treatment, I thought that I would come back as a robot - no drinking, no drugs, no fun, perfect, perfect, perfect. But, today, I'm more animated, more vibrant, more creative, and more fun than ever.

So, Dr. Lavender, being healthy is exciting.

Monday, February 23, 2009

sacred ink

When I was younger, I never thought I would get a tattoo. But, today, I got my second one. As someone who cycles through phases of stability and depression, I am often in a state where I lose faith in myself. When I am stable, I am confident in my ability to achieve my dreams and can see my good qualities. When I'm depressed, I think that the "stable me" is wrong -- I have no talents, I'm not smart, I can't function like normal people, and I'm incapable of achieving my goals. The first tattoo I got was a reminder to my depressed self that there is a version of me that knows that these are distortions. I have "touch the sky" tattooed in white on my left wrist. I see it every day, but others don't see it unless I show it to them. It's a permanent, private affirmation.

Some girls get tattoos of the eating disorder recovery symbol upon leaving treatment. But I don't see myself as always being defined - or ever being defined - as someone who recovered from an eating disorder. I want to be someone who uses the skills I learned in treatment to battle all of the difficult things life throws out me, the eating disorder being just one. So, to remind me of this, I got a tattoo on my right shoulder that says "above the storm." The idea came to me in a reflective writing group a couple of weeks ago; it was part of a quote I liked.

"Your hopes, dreams and aspirations are legitimate. They are trying to take you airborne, above the clouds, above the storms, if you only let them." --William James

Sunday, February 22, 2009

painting my disorder

Before being in recovery, I felt like I had no personality. My three sisters have many passions - poetry, writing, acting, singing - and I didn't have any. I thought that if I wasn't the best at something, I couldn't do it. But I learned that creating something is infinitely more important than what it is that I create. Just because I can't draw a tree that looks like a photograph of a tree, doesn't mean I can't be an artist. And more importantly, it doesn't mean that I can't get something out of creating art.

The painting I'm working on is a reflection of cyclothymia -- rapid cycling bipolar. It's not done, and it's not perfect, but it doesn't matter to me right now. The important thing to me is how it feels to paint it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Ultimate List of Coping Activities

(adapted from The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook)

These activities have often come between me and acting on eating disorder symptoms or using substances. By delaying the response to urges and engaging in an activity first, I put one step between relapse and me.

This “ultimate list” only contains a small percentage of the activities that can be used for coping. To add to this list, please email ideas to:

Make a coping box:
A coping box is a place for you to put activities and affirmations that you can go to when you need them. Making the box can be a coping activity in and of itself. Go to an arts and crafts store and buy a wooden or sturdy cardboard box. Get any materials you’ll want to use to decorate it – magazines, paints, markers, glue. Decorate the box by painting, coloring or creating a collage on it with calming colors and inspiring words. Then write coping activities, tools and affirmations on slips of paper to keep in the box.

- Call a friend
- Go out and visit a friend
- Invite a friend to come over
- Organize a party
- Do yoga, tai chi or Pilates, or take a class to learn
- Sit or lie down, take deep breaths, and do some stretches
- Go for a walk in a park, or someplace peaceful
- Go outside and watch the clouds
- Ride a bike
- Go for a swim
- Go hiking
- Go to your local playground and join or watch a game being played
- Sit and throw a tennis ball against a wall
- Get a massage
- Get out of the house, even if it’s just to sit outside
- Go for a drive, or a ride on public transportation
- Plan a trip to a place you’ve never been before
- Take a nap, or go to sleep
- Take a cooking class
- Go outside and play with your pet
- Give your pet a bath
- Borrow a friend’s dog and take it to the park
- Volunteer at an animal shelter
- Go outside and watch the birds and animals
- Find something funny to do, like reading the Sunday comics
- Watch a funny movie (collect funny movies to have on hand for when you’re feeling down)
- Go to the movie theater and watch whatever’s playing
- Listen to music
- Watch television
- Go to a sporting event, like a baseball or football game
- Play a game with a friend
- Play solitaire
- Play a video game
- Go online to chat
- Visit your favorite websites (maybe you are doing that already!)
- Create your own website or blog
- Join an online dating service
- Sell something you don’t want on the internet
- Go through your old clothes and bring them to Good Will or Salvation Army
- Do a puzzle
- Call a crisis hotline to talk to someone
- Go get a haircut
- Go to the spa
- Go to a library
- Go to a bookstore and read
- Go to your favorite café for coffee or tea
- Visit a museum or local gallery
- Go to the park or mall and people-watch
- Pray or meditate
- Go to your church, synagogue, temple or other place of worship
- Write a letter to a friend, family member, or your Higher Power
- Call a family member you haven’t spoken to in a while
- Learn a new language
- Sing along with your favorite songs
- Turn on loud music and dance around your room
- Take photographs
- Join a club
- Plant a garden
- Work outside
- Knit, crochet or sew—or learn how to
- Make a scrapbook with pictures
- Paint your nails
*this has been one of the most useful tools for me – it keeps your hands tied up until your nails dry – a crucial delay
- Change your hair color
- Take a bubble bath or shower
- Sign up for a class that excites you at a local college or online
- Read your favorite book, magazine, newspaper or poem
- Write a list of things you like about yourself on a picture of you
- Write a poem, story, movie, or play
- Write in your journal or diary
*journaling is one of the my most used coping tools—don’t worry about what to write, just write.
- Word purge
*write all of your stresses, worries, fears and negative thoughts on paper, then tear it up and throw it out
- Write a loving letter to yourself when you’re feeling good and keep it with you to read when you’re upset
- Draw a picture
- Paint a picture with a brush or your fingers
- Write about someone you admire and why
- Make a list of ten things you’d like to do before you die
- Create your own list of pleasurable activities

The Rules

Adapted from the Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders’ group rules, to guide entries and discussion on this site and in our everyday lives.

1. No 3 or 4-letter “F-words,” fat, fine or the “infamous”
Why? Fat is physical matter, not a feeling; saying “I’m fine” is always less than what you actually mean; and the infamous f-word keeps us all from better ways of articulating what we really want to say

2. No weights, calories or numbers

3. Speak in the “I,” not in the “we”
By telling my story I hope to help others, but I will never assume that “we” are all thinking, feeling or acting the same way

4. Confidentiality is key
Unless you’d like to, you do not have to identify yourself in any way that will allow other users to know your real name or personal information

5. Talking to others is fine, but talking about them is not

6. Don’t tell anyone they’re wrong or don’t deserve to be here – we are all different