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.

creating a safe space

Being home alone is dangerous for me. An eating disorder feeds on secrecy; time alone in my apartment used to mean Ed's time. That association is difficult to break. So, I am slowly relearning how to be healthy while I'm alone.

My apartment has a small loft area. This space had been collecting clutter since Tyler and I moved in. Once in a while it served as a guest room, but mostly it served as storage space. When I came home from residential treatment, I wanted to create a safe place for myself -- somewhere I could go to be calm, alone with my thoughts, and away from danger. While it is still a work in progress, this weekend the space finally became usable. Now, when I'm afraid of falling into disordered behavior, all I have to do is climb the stairs to my safe haven.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fighting Ed

I've been laying low for almost a week now. I haven't been perfect. I've been depressed, and I've acted out on eating disorder symptoms. I thought that if I wasn't optimistic about my recovery, or moving forward every day, that I shouldn't be posting on this blog. After all, I want to give you hope that recovery is possible. But, the depression hasn't lifted, and the fight against my disorder has continued to intensify. I kept telling myself that I would feel better tomorrow, and I would post about my progress tomorrow. But tomorrow kept turning into today, and I was still depressed. I felt like I was losing the battle, and I didn't want to write about it. But, if this blog is going to help anyone, it has to be honest. And, recovery isn't perfect. There are bad days; there are days when I'll lose a battle. But, losing a battle doesn't mean I've lost the war. So, today, I'm choosing to write about the hard stuff, the times when I haven't felt optimistic about recovery, and the times when I've slipped up. Let me just say this: relapse is not a requirement for recovery. But, for me, lapses have been part of the journey. The important thing is to learn from the mistakes and keep fighting.

Yesterday, I gave in to my eating disorder, but it was different from any other time I have acted on symptoms. Oftentimes, people refer to their eating disorder as "Ed." Before treatment, I thought it was silly to give my disorder a name, a separate identity from myself. But, I've found that it's the best way to describe it. In my head, there are two people: Lily and Ed. For a long time, Ed got to tell me what to do. I didn't know how to stand up to Ed, so I did whatever he suggested. In treatment, I learned techniques for fighting Ed. Now, I know that he is wrong, but knowing that that doesn't always translate into disobeying him. Yesterday, I won the mental battle, but lost the physical one. I knew that Ed was wrong, that I didn't need my eating disorder to cope with depression. But, I did what he said anyway. I was so exhausted from fighting a mental battle, that I didn't do anything to stop Ed from controlling my actions. Looking back, I know I could have won. I could have called someone and asked for help. I think the reason I didn't was that I let myself believe that nothing would make me feel as good as giving in to Ed. Of course, giving in only made me feel worse. Next time I am exhausted from fighting, I will reach out for help. I know now that there will be days when Ed is stronger than I am. On those days, I will call for reinforcement.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose." -Mary Shelley

For as long as I can remember, my life has been driven by striving to achieve a greater goal. What that goal is has changed over time, but the process of reaching for something has always kept me moving forward.

For the past 5 years, I have been driven by my dream of a successful career in the magazine industry. I majored in communications, and minored in business, to learn the basics for both editorial and publishing. My summers were spent interning. The summer before my senior year of college, I had an opportunity to work in London. Instead, I interned in New York, one more time, to be certain that I wanted to work in editorial, as opposed to advertising. Within a month of graduating, I had moved to the city and was working as an assistant editor. I loved my job; it was everything I had been working towards.

Then my eating disorder took over, and everything I had been working for came crashing down. I resigned from my job to focus on my health. Now, back from residential treatment, I'm floating. Many of my dreams are the same, but the path I will have to take to reach them is very different. My tendency to live in the future made changes in the present devastating. My future shattered, and my future was the purpose of my present. But, treatment taught me to balance my dreams with my reality. I still need a purpose, but I try to look at unexpected changes as detours, instead of road blocks. Every day, I am doing everything I can to pull myself out of a depression by finding something to reach toward. What I'm reaching for today might change tomorrow, but what matters is that, whatever the goal, it's propelling me towards tomorrow.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

i am not a number

Since the day I learned to count, numbers told me how good or bad of a person I was. A 99 percent on a test meant I was one percent less than perfect. Anything below a 4.0 GPA meant I was not as smart as I should be. If the scale showed more than 100 pounds, I was fatter than I should be. There were no shades of grey when it came to evaluating myself--only perfect and imperfect. And I was rarely perfect. If I did reach an ideal number, there was always a new perfect. A 4.0 GPA one semester wasn't good enough, because my cumulative GPA was only 3.8. A 100 on a test was not enough if I missed the extra credit. Or, if there was no extra credit, it only made me a good person that day, not the next. When I reached 100 pounds, all of a sudden only double-digit weights were acceptable.

I don't think I'm completely to blame for my obsession with numbers. For the most part, children are taught that high grades are good, and low grades are bad; that high amounts of fat and calories are bad, and low-fat or low-calorie is good. I learned that above a 1400 on my SATs would give me a shot at the ivy leagues, and that a 1390 meant I just wasn't good enough. (Even my 1460 wasn't good enough for me; it wasn't a 1600). Popular culture has taught me that smaller numbers in some areas of my life, and larger numbers in others, are the key to happiness. Lose 10 pounds. Earn 1 million dollars. Be a size 0. Lower your cholesterol, raise your credit score, then you can be happy.

Not anymore. I will no longer be a slave to numbers. I will be happy with less than perfect. Today, my mission is not to be the right weight, it's to accept who I am with all of my imperfections. There will always be room for improvement, and there is nothing wrong with striving to be better. But, I've realized that there is no such thing as perfect in an imperfect world. And, if there was, I wouldn't want to be it.