What does recovery look like today?

Today, recovery looks like a step back. It looks like I’m doing all the right things and still feeling like a failure because I ate a little too much and I’m now a little uncomfortable. I went to the gym. I went to work. I ate vegetables and grains and protein. But then I had something sweet. I had a little extra. I realized there was a hole in the center of my chest, just below my heart and I wanted to fill it, needed to fill it. I don’t know how to fill it except for food. So I ate some more food. And then when I went to bed, I felt bad. Actually, I felt bad the entire time, but I couldn’t stop it. But the difference between a few years ago and now? Now, the binging behavior is much milder and when I wake up the next day, I don’t try nearly as hard to ‘compensate’ for the binge nor do I feel as much guilt.

I acknowledge that I used a skill that I had to cope with the gnawing emptiness, even if it wasn’t healthy. I remind myself that I’m great and keep going with my day, eating what feels good, as close to a ‘healthy balanced diet’ as possible (while also including treats, because I love food of all kinds). I remind myself that recovery isn’t linear, it’s more like the stock market when it’s not crashing. It has some ups and downs but it generally goes up for a while. At least, I hope it’s not like the stock market and doesn’t crash. I’d like to avoid crashing back down.

Some days, I’m more depressed than others. Some seasons I’m more depressed than others. If it’s not winter, it’s a crap shoot on which days I’ll be down. Unless I’ve been overstimulated and over busy recently. Then I can predict an emotional crash that could trigger emotional eating. Other times, it’s more subtle. I think I’m doing ok and then I’m eating and I can’t stop and I don’t know why. Sometimes I figure it out and solve the problem. Sometimes I eat to fill the hole and too bad for me, I don’t know what the issue is to resolve.

If you have struggles with mental health, there are going to be dips. Recovery and living with mental illness guarantees it. Just remember though, that you’re not down forever but just for right now. Like the stock market, you’ll swing back up eventually.IMG_20150802_060757997

How November Project and Weight Lifting Changed My Life

Several years ago, I discovered November Project. Anyone who was Facebook friends with me at the time could tell you that I fell hard for the group. It was exactly what I was looking for. Internally, I was uncomfortable with the shape of my body, with my level of activity-despite biking to work every morning for 4-5 miles. I wasn’t happy with my job  and had a burgeoning eating disorder that exacerbated discomfort with my body. I turned to this group as a way to change the way my body looked.

I didn’t exactly get that out of the group. Instead, what I got was a community that turned the focus on fitness instead of weight loss. I was reminded that my body was a tool for me to use. The idea is to challenge yourself, not to feel defeated by the 3:03 marathoners who also participate. It’s about the community and personal fitness growth. So instead of getting just a changing body to make my body look better, I suddenly became more invested in how my body could perform, like I had when I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. I ran two miles. Three. And then eight on one of the coldest nights of the year for a ninja race. (http://november-project.com/bostonninjarace-further-training-and-super-sunday-brunch-runners/) Sitting half frozen on the redline with other finishers, it occurred to me that if I could run 8 miles, I could run a half marathon and then I had a goal. It was once I completed the half marathon that I started looking for a new challenge and I discovered weightlifting.

Weight lifting changed my life. Suddenly, exercise was definitively not about my weight or how skinny I could get, but about how many weights I could lift up and put down. I suddenly started seeing definition in my arms and my quads. I was able to distract my little skinny-focused voice with the new muscles and capabilities. It filled the little need in me to be in control, to be powerful instead of feeling powerless in the face of weight gain, confident in my strength instead of feeling like the only solution was to run for miles and miles just to be able to eat food.

My therapist and I both agree that weight lifting was a turning point in recovery for me, giving me another outlet to feel in control in my life and less a slave to the fickleness of trying to be smaller, to be more socially acceptable. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or eating disorders, I hope that you have found effective tools for your recovery. If not, I hope that you can.

Coming into being

Once, when I was a teenager, my mother strong armed me into taking our dog for a walk. She gave me the leash, the old newspaper bag for poop-scooping duty and ushered me out the door with the dog. She wanted me to be more active, to set me on the journey towards daily physical activity. I didn’t want to walk, I wanted to sprawl over the couch and read a romance novel.

I walked to just out of sight of the house and explored a tree that had a funny growth pattern for about fifteen minutes before returning. I was pondering all of the ill will for being forced to take the dog for a walk. Minute by minute, I waited until I was sure I could come home without suffering the consequence of feeling judged (even if only by myself).

I rewarded myself for all that effort with a giant bowl of goldfish. I practically lived on that snack, much to my mother’s dismay. I stuffed down the feelings of guilt for not actually taking that walk, the feelings of loneliness for not having much of a social life, the feelings of anger and betrayal around the way I looked and why it didn’t match up to the other girls in my class.

I judged myself harshly, probably harsher than the rest of the world and I used food to feel better. I didn’t have the skills to be better at self care, the confidence to reach for something nor the self-awareness to even realize that these behaviors were reminiscent of an eating disorder. I was fat, so therefore I couldn’t have an eating disorder. I wasn’t worthy of attention. I wasn’t, I couldn’t, I didn’t. I had set some strong limitations on myself and who I was in high school and it took years to even discover this.

As I have grown since then, it consistently amazes me how my relationship with food is intertwined with my relationship with myself, with how I perceive things are going with my significant other, with my measure of self worth. It is my hope to share these stories of growth, learning, and self-care with you.