Lost Identities

The worst part about an eating disorder – you lose your identity.  You become the disorder and it engulfs the person you once were.  Learning how to separate is by far the hardest part of my recovery.  As people grow up they develop their own desires and passions.  As I grew up, I grew apart from mine.  People form opinions and begin to stand up for these opinions during a crucial part of adolescence and young adulthood.  I became an empty shell just trying to get through school with perfect grades and was never assertive in the least bit.  This is the problematic thing about recovery.  How do you even begin to find a lost soul who has spent the past several years in disorder and never really figured out who she was in the first place?  Eating disorder behaviors can be so comforting and easy compared to sorting out who I am and what opinions I hold.  I write about this today because it has been a struggle.  I have a lot of anxiety when asserting myself on any level, but I am finally realizing throughout this whole process that I am worth something and so are my values and opinions.  It is a healthy thing to disagree with people and it will not be the end of the world if someone doesn’t like what I have to say.  I am slowly but surely discovering my core values and the next step is to be able to express them without apprehension about how I will be viewed by others.  Deep down I know who I am and what I want out of life, but the hard part is uncovering myself under all the years of passiveness.  The easy part of recovery was stopping behaviors.  I don’t say this to discourage anyone at that point in recovery, but I have found this to be true.  It isn’t easy to quit behaviors, but it is easier than trying to find your lost identity.  All I can say is start small.  What is your favorite color?  Favorite book?  As you begin to piece together some of these easier questions, they begin to tell a story about who you are and why you like some things versus others.  It may sound odd but taking a sort of inventory of your favorite things helps put things into perspective.  I have learned in some wellness courses the value of asking yourself why things are important to you multiple times to really get to know yourself and I do find it helps.  For example:

What is your favorite weather?  Rain

Why is rain your favorite?  It is calming

Why is it calming? The sound it makes on the roof and the smell in the air

Why do you love that smell?  It reminds me of camping in the mountains and being surrounded by nature.

Just by asking why several times after an answer you can begin to tell that I love being outdoors and the sights and smells of rain are very calming to me.  This may not seem like a lot, but doing this exercise reminds me how much I love camping and hiking and this makes me realize oh I do know what is important to me.  I do value spending time outside and soaking up all the surroundings from my senses.  It is just another way of checking in with myself that I find helpful.

A Missing Piece

Maybe it is no surprise to you, but some of my greatest supporters in recovery have four legs and a tail.  My horses and my puppies could comfort me in ways that no person could ever do.  I have always had an extreme difficulty expressing myself to others, let alone understanding my thoughts myself, but I never had to with them.  Just holding them or hugging them made everything calm and okay.  It is hard to describe this connection until a piece is missing.  I woke up this morning with a heavy heart.  After a week long ordeal with vets and emergency visits, it was discovered that my miniature dachshund, Sawyer, had a large tumor on his heart.  It was compressing his trachea, liver, and lungs and it just grew quick enough to make him slid downhill in a matter of days.  As I held him in my arms and his suffering came to an end, mine began.  He has been my whole world for the past nine years.  He always burrowed under the covers and slept with me every night.

I got him as a 6 week old puppy on a trip to visit family in Oklahoma.  He was part of an April Fool’s joke which was really no joke at all.  “Wait, you really brought home a dog?!” This was my stepfather’s reply when we pulled into the driveway.  He had played a rather mean joke on me earlier so he thought I was just messing with him when I told him I was bringing home a puppy.  Just like me though, he fell in love with him instantly.

I got him when I was 16.  For a little more background, ages 16-18 were the most difficult for me.  I had really just began my recovery journey, but my life still revolved around eating disorder and self-harm behaviors.  Sawyer (yes he was named after the super fine LOST character) became a new coping mechanism for me.  Many nights I would hold him tight, fighting urges, and crying all over his fur coat.  Poor guy!  But he would always lick my tears away and keep me motivated to keep trying.  He was the first dog that was truly my own and he even switched houses with me every couple weeks as my parents had been divorced since I was young and that is how I grew up.  He loved toy ducks, loved camping, loved eating, and loved sleeping.

I have nine years of wonderful memories and photos to hang on to, but the sting right now is so real.  I do have two beautiful and healthy dogs at home to continue to hold and rely on.  It breaks my heart to see my other love Nessie pace the house looking for him.  She loved him so much and always got on his level to play with him.  Just this past Sunday we were all playing in the yard roughhousing together.  It was perfect.  This is one of those moments I am grateful that I am practicing mindfulness because being fully present in that moment allows me the pleasure of remembering it in great detail and makes me smile.

Sawyer made me take responsibility for my recovery.  He made me get up every day to take care of him, even on the days that I didn’t want to move.  I am very thankful I am in a strong place of recovery today.  Even though he is physically gone, he continues to motivate me.  I feel very low, but I still need to stay busy, follow my meal plan, reach out for support, write, paint, color, etc.  Self-care.  His loss is not a reason to relapse.  I need to celebrate his life and continue to move forward.  It is also important that I let myself feel.  Feel the sadness and grief and not stuff it away to haunt me.

I will miss you weenie.  Thanks for all the amazing memories, I love you with all my heart.  I hope everyone can have a deep connections to their animals, especially if you are healing and need some unconditional comfort.  Take time to hug your fur children for me today because life is so fragile and precious.

Mental Health Awareness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I can at least do my part by blogging and speaking about my experience with these issues.  I talk a lot about eating disorder recovery because I have had a few years of recovery to figure out things that work for me and feel confident that I will fully overcome my struggle.  Yet I also struggle with a different mental illness that I don’t often talk about because it can be misunderstood.  When I was 17 I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  My diagnosis is officially type II, meaning that I don’t experience full blown manic episodes, but the depression and swings can be extremely difficult.  Balancing medication has taken years to figure out and I still often have to adjust.  I have made a lot of life changes that make it possible to sometimes go without medication for a period of time, but I also know when I need a little something to help balance everything in my brain.  Some of these changes include sleep, following my meal plan, writing, regular exercise and reaching out to people when I need support.  I have come to accept that this is really a chemical issue in my brain and there is nothing “wrong” with me.  I used to be very self-conscious of my emotions and how people would perceive me.  I didn’t know how to deal with the ups and downs in a healthy way, which ended in the development of shit coping mechanisms like the eating disorder, self-injury, and other destructive habits.  I was very good at stuffing my emotions so that people wouldn’t see them, which led me to ignore all my emotions to the point that I no longer knew what I felt anymore.  It has taken several years in order for me to even distinguish between certain emotions and sit with them.  I have had to learn to experience what I am feeling instead of running to old habits.  It may sound odd, but I really didn’t know what I was feeling most of the time except numb or angry.  With treatment I have been able to live a healthy life and so do many other people with mental illness.  There can be such a large stigma with these disorders and I want to bring awareness to the fact that anyone can be affected and that there should be no shame.  I have been extremely lucky to have a supportive family and treatment team and I want to advocate so that others can receive the best care they deserve.  The best thing people can do is become more educated about mental health in order to be able to give others the support they need.  It is a struggle at times, but I have learned to embrace the fact that I feel so intensely.  I may be diagnosed with mental illnesses, but they are not my identity and I am learning to find who I am beneath these labels.  If you know someone struggling, please try to see them as a person and not their illness.  Find support or more resources from the National Alliance of Mental Illness at http://www.nami.org.