I was recently reminded that the language I use can shape the outlook of my entire day. It is very true, but something I tend to forget, especially during periods of high stress. I suggest replacing the words “I have to,” with “I get to.” It is something that takes practice, but really turns my day around. For example: “I have to go to class today.” Rephrased: “I get to go to class today.” All it takes is one word to completely change the context. Although I may not want to go to a class, suddenly I am able to look at the bigger picture. I get to go to class so I can learn and become proficient in an area I would like a career in. I get to work towards my graduate degree to make money and provide for my family. I get to sit in a room and socialize with other individuals working towards similar goals. You can use this in all aspects of life. If you are in a place where recovery is difficult and you “have” to eat, try rephrasing. I get to eat so that I can (fill in the blank). Or think about how amazing your meal is and what a pleasure it is to have fresh fruit or a favorite snack, etc. Getting to experience eating is a lot more enjoyable than forcing yourself to eat. This practice helps me get back into the habit of mindfulness. It allows me to slow down and pause to think about the positives instead of hiding under an umbrella of stress. I encourage you to try it next time you catch yourself saying you “have” to do something.
In between the many papers, tests and presentations, I thought I should have an update of sorts. I have been wanting to write for a long time, but when I sit down to work there seems to always be something more pressing to do. That is no different today, but I still need to take the time for myself. This morning is wonderful and slow before I rush off to a full day. I tried the pumpkin Noosa for the first time and it was amazingly delicious. I make a pumpkin cheesecake for the holidays and this yogurt tasted a lot like that. I highly recommend it! I have had to be more conscientious of my meal plan lately which frustrates me, but also reminds me that life will always have the ups and downs. I am not struggling, but I was getting into poorer habits that could lead to destructive places. Luckily I am in a place to recognize the signs and make corrections. Starting the day sitting down with breakfast helps tremendously. This time of year always leads to a decrease in mood due to the time shift and the added stress of graduate school has made it extra challenging. More days than I like to admit I want to just crawl in bed and stay there, but I keep dragging myself (extra caffeine required) along. Being back in class makes me realize why all my bad habits were so easy. Coping skills take time, while other behaviors don’t. I have had to discover quick coping mechanisms to turn to. Some of them have included social media, short play sessions with my dogs, hot showers. Anything to clear my mind and reset so I can come back and be productive with my work. It is a balancing act, but I am looking forward to the holiday season where I get a break from the endless pile of work and get to spend a lot of time with family. I enjoy my work in cancer rehab and my clients brighten my day. My training for competition is coming along well, but also with ups and downs. School sometimes gets in the way of training and I have just had to accept that and work with the schedule I have. Overall things are good and I am very grateful, I just need to keep taking it one day at a time and ride the waves that my mood brings. I know that is a cliché saying when it comes to bipolar, but I have found it to be very true. If you go with the flow of your moods and don’t fight them, they are more manageable and the negative does pass. I am actually proud of myself. I am handling grad school very well and I am enjoying it. The stress and pressure is sky high, but I am prioritizing and also living life. I am doing what I was not able to do throughout high school and undergrad. It may have taken some time, but I feel my life is my own again.
I just wanted to take a minute and throw out some advice from experience, take it or leave it, but I feel it is something to be said. I don’t exclude myself when I say that a lot of people with eating disorders tend to make other things besides their recovery priority number one in their lives. Big mistake. Maybe one of the biggest mistakes you will make in life. I know I can look back in hindsight now, while in the midst of being sick it isn’t always clear the mistakes we are making. I get that, but that is why I am writing this to those who may not be able to see life as clearly through the lens of a disordered mind. Stop waiting for tomorrow, for the semester to end, for the seasons to change. Make recovery THE most significant aspect to your life NOW. And don’t half ass it. I told myself countless times that I was in recovery, yet refused to make it a priority in my life. I stayed sick for far too long because of it. I also talked myself into believing at one point that this was just how it was and I would just have food issues my whole life. Please don’t believe that voice when you hear it. Please don’t believe that you will be stuck forever. I know you may be reading this and you think you are different. Think you have it handled or think that other things in life are far too important. Let me tell you what has been important in my life. Taking the time to learn how to live without the eating disorder. Because of those precious months directly spent on myself, I now have the ability to A) go out and have meaningful conversations with people B) spend less time and effort on class work because I have more energy and ability to concentrate C) have energy to work out and train and appreciate how strong I am D) fill my day with things I never would have done before E)…F)….Z)….the list could be endless and I want everyone to have their own lists free of disease. I have come across countless people refusing to get the help they deserve because school or work or even family comes first. I am guilty of it too and I know that is how our brains are wired, especially after the hell we put our bodies and minds through. But you can break it. Recovery is hard and takes a lot of motivation and dedication and it hurts and sucks and it is anything but fun – but it will give you your life back. And instead of living in a state of quasi recovery, it is worth it to endure the pain to push past and find a new you free of the eating disorder. I will be the first to admit that it would have been easier just to keep on living like I was, but I look back now and the life I have is astounding and beautiful. All days aren’t always like that, but I have an abundant number of good days compared to bad and all days good or bad are more meaningful. No matter where you are on your journey, just ask yourself a few questions. What is stopping you from making recovery the priority in life? How would your life look different if you put recovery first? Everyone’s experience is unique but for the longest time me putting recovery first looked mundane. For me it was getting up and eating breakfast and taking my medication and making it to all of my appointments. Reading, writing, coloring, crying, shouting, feeling. And because of it I am able to breathe again. I want everyone to be able to breathe again.
I think I will put my two cents in on what full recovery from an eating disorder looks like to me. It is my opinion that it is a very individual and unique process to go through recovery and therefore everyone’s outcome will not be the same. I think many people strive to return to the person they were before the eating disorder took hold and that is very unrealistic and to me dangerous thinking. In fact having been diagnosed and gone through treatment I believe that I have changed for the better. I like who I am becoming more and more as the days pass and accepting that I am different has been nothing but positive. I have to be realistic when it comes to recovery. To me that means accepting that I have to take care of myself first and be aware of areas that could cause struggles. You can’t just automatically recover and live life as though you never had this experience. To me there could always be a stray occasional thought but that doesn’t mean that I am not recovered or that I am on the edge of relapse. My brain has been physiologically wired differently due to this disease and those pathways are hard to rewire. Recovery and recovered seem very synonymous to me which is why some people adopt the thinking that recovery is a lifelong process. I agree one hundred percent that it is a lifelong process, but I also believe that to fully live a life of recovery you have to take that step and confidently say that you are recovered. I have never called myself fully recovered and I think that is a hindrance to me fully accepting my life. I know in many people’s experience, including my own, they are waiting for some defining moment where they are recovered and boom everything would be perfect. Black and white thinking is often the thinking that led us down the destructive path to begin with. I used to tell myself oh I will be recovered when I don’t see a therapist anymore. Oh I will be recovered when I can plan meals and go grocery shopping without getting stressed. Oh I will be recovered when…..the list was endless. I believe full recovery is possible because I am living a functional, fulfilling life where I once wanted no life at all. I am living full recovery so why shouldn’t I take that leap and declare myself recovered? Calling myself recovered doesn’t change who I am or invalidate the fact that life is a process and I will continue to work towards a better me every day. So I challenge you if you are in that ambiguous area where you aren’t sure if you are recovered or what that looks like to you, to take that step with me and start referring to yourselves as recovered and see what happens! And for those continuing to struggle, hold on to hope that there are many of us out there who have been through this hell of a journey and are succeeding.
How I am handling the increasing stress of graduate school without falling into old behaviors:
- I don’t care if I have work to do, in fact the truth is there will always be more work to get done, but I put everything away by a certain time every evening and unwind for bed. If I don’t get at least eight hours of sleep at night (I prefer nine), I cannot function at my highest the next day and all of my work suffers. I am a lot more productive and can concentrate a lot more if I am getting the rest I need.
- Meal planning. Every Sunday morning I go to the store and have everything for the week available. It is a lot easier to do one larger shopping every week than going to the store every other day or so because I need something for dinner. My days are very long and being able to just get home and already know what is for dinner makes the evening less stressful. I always have a couple of extra meals that I could prepare in case what I planned for just doesn’t sound good at the time. Even though I plan, I still need to remain flexible.
- I am now in training mode for competitions which can make this one a little difficult and will need to dedicate an entire post to about exercise and training as an athlete after recovery, but for now I know that being in the gym is my time to escape from the stress of school. It makes me feel strong and allows me to clear my head.
- Social time. Just because I have exams and papers to read and write, I can’t neglect social time with those I love. Even short visits or outings make my day just a little brighter. Being able to stay home and watch a movie with my boyfriend on Friday nights is a success for me and I really cherish that time. Sometimes it is hard for me to stay at home and not be studying or cleaning or worrying about things I should be doing. Relaxing with him and my dogs is exactly something I should be doing. And of course football….need I say more? (Broncos are 2-0 and so far my fantasy team is winning!)
- Self-care. This one seems to make the most sense but really is the first that tends to go when my schedule gets overloaded. Reading, writing, coloring, etc are all valuable things that help me reset my mind and allow my time working to be more productive.
As I head into the coming week with one of my biggest exams Monday I needed to put this out on paper and realize that there is a lot more to life than one class. I cannot sacrifice health in order to feel perfect about the material. That is why this morning I am writing and drinking delicious coffee and later I will be going to a college football game with my dad and boyfriend and tomorrow will be a day preparing for the week and spending time with family. I will fit my studying in here and there and not stress about it. Maybe you struggle with trying to be perfect when it comes to school and let me assure you that life is more than a test or a grade. When studying, study hard, but don’t forget all the simple things like sleep and friends that ultimately make life better and your work time more productive.
Things are going really well. I owe an update of sorts since it appears that I have disappeared the last couple of weeks. Thank grad school for that! Between classes, training a few clients in cancer rehab, coaching gymnastics and jump rope, and my own training, I have very few precious minutes left to enjoy my family and make sure I am also taking time for myself. A few highlights over the past weeks:
- My cousin got married and my boyfriend and I were able to fly out and celebrate with my family over the weekend! My best friend was able to drive out and spend time with us. She is the complete definition of my person and anytime with her makes life better. It was a great getaway from classes even though it was an incredibly quick trip. The ceremony was lovely and the reception that followed was full of laughs and dancing.
- I began to train clients at the rehab center on campus and although I haven’t been at it long it is already very rewarding and usually the best part of my day. Right now I am just volunteering as a grad student for hours towards my cancer exercise certification, but I really hope to have my internship there in the future as well.
- It is that time of year again where the competitive jump rope team begins their season and I get the amazing chance to coach and see these kids succeed and conquer challenges. I get to improve their gymnastics skills and they also brighten my day considerably.
- Regular season football begins tonight!!! Another reason I love this time of year. I am a little nervous my fantasy team won’t live up to my expectations but we will see after week 1. I am missing out on the first game of the season tonight but I will let that slide because I am going to a very anticipated concert.
Some challenges over the past couple of weeks:
- My great-grandmother passed away. It wasn’t completely unexpected and although sad, I celebrate her life and realize how awesome it was for me to have twenty five years with her around. She lived until 95 years old! I can only hope to be around that long. She was feisty and I thankful for the Native American heritage she passed down to me. Wah Doh.
- Breakfasts and meal planning in general has been quite a challenge with a vastly different and new schedule. I am not a morning person in the least and by the time I am ready for breakfast I am already training clients. I have an hour commute which doesn’t help the situation. Bagels with peanut butter have become my friends recently. Not only is it hard finding things I can eat on the go, I generally don’t like to eat while driving or being occupied because it isn’t very mindful. This is still a work in progress. Luckily I have been able to write out my dinners on a board and go to the store every Sunday to be prepared for the week. It is a lot easier just to come home and not have to think about what is for dinner or if I have everything to make it. This has worked out very well for me and I am happy to say food doesn’t preoccupy my mind like it used to. I get hungry, I eat, I move on to the next thing. The one thing I have to be cautious of is making sure that even when I get super busy that I still take the time to eat. I know it is sometimes normal for people to forget to eat because they were so engrossed in a project, but that can mean disaster for me. I have had to be more aware of that.
- Just getting back into the swing of classes has been a challenge! I graduated over three years ago from my undergrad so reading textbooks and writing papers in my spare time has required some extra motivation on my part. I enjoy my classes though which definitely helps overall.
Overall I am in a very positive place and as the semester progresses I will continue to greet my challenges head on! Writing is always a great stress outlet so hopefully you will see me around more!
When life gets busy, writing tends to fall by the wayside as I have mentioned before. I wanted to pop in and give a little update on what has me so busy and assure you that I have been working on some posts for the future. Next week I officially start grad school! It has been a long time coming, but I have been truly blessed to be able to take time and really invest in what I want out of a career. My degree will be in exercise physiology with a concentration in cancer rehabilitation. I am beginning to train clients on a weekly basis and it has been extremely rewarding. I want to continue to be involved in research and advance this field in order for clients to have insurance coverage. The treatment from cancer leaves people with many different forms of toxicities which exercise can help alleviate. For example, cardiotoxicity from chemotherapy weakens the heart muscle and pulmonary toxicity makes it difficult to transport oxygen from environment to cells. Exercise on the other hand strengthens the heart and increases cardiac output as well as strengthens the intercostal muscles to increase lung capacity and improve ventilation. These are just two examples of many in which exercise improves the awful side effects caused by the treatments from cancer. Exercise improves cancer related fatigue and improves psychological function as well. All of this comes from research at rehabilitation centers and I am excited to be involved! Coming from a background of athletics I thought that I wanted to train athletes and help them get to a high level of competition. After my spinal fusion surgery and seeing a family member go through treatment for cancer I realized that it is much more important to me to help people achieve a better quality of life. I want all people to be able to do the simple things in life like carry their own groceries and tie their shoes. I didn’t realize all of the things that I take for granted sometimes. I like to train at a high level and some people just want to be able to walk down the street. It is a very humbling environment to work in. The progress that I have seen from various clients over the summer makes my heart full of joy and I know that this is the career I want to pursue. I may not end up just in cancer rehabilitation, but anyone struggling with chronic conditions can benefit from exercise and I hope to be one to help them achieve their goals!