As I write this (one-handed), I am currently 4 days out of surgery. It feels pretty surreal to have this procedure done, finally, after being in pain for the last 9 years. I felt like a huge wave of anxiety rolled right off of me when I woke up on Friday morning, because I had been anticipating this surgery so much before-hand. I really hadn't even thought of the following recovery time because my brain was so clouded with stress and anxiety, and so the last few days have been a learning curve for me as I slow the eff down from all the pre-surgery nerves.
I'll be learning to write better one-handed this summer and sharing the life lessons that I will inevitably come across as I recover from this surgery. In the meantime, I wanted to reflect on what I did prior to surgery to unwind and survive this surgery.
Before my procedure, here are the things that I found to be the most effective:
I couldn't be more thrilled to be out of surgery and on the path to recovery, and I know I will learn a lot and grow through this process.
Friday was the day I officially stepped down/discharged from a higher level of care. It's been just about 4 months that I've been in treatment 5 days a week for multiple hours a day. It has been a long, difficult road to get here, and yet, I couldn't be more thankful for this experience. I thought I'd compile a list of 10 things I learned in treatment, as a little homage to the time I spent here.
1. Starting treatment is scary. Even if this isn't your first rodeo, it's pretty terrifying to go to a new center, meet new therapists and patients and commit to share everything with them over the course of the next few months. It gets easier as time goes on, but there's definitely some first day of school nerves (or full body anxiety, whichever is more your style) that happened when I was first there. It made me question everything, like, Why am I here? But I'm so glad I stuck it out.
2. Eating disorders don't discriminate. This one I already knew but have to say it louder for those in the back. Treatment was filled with wonderful men and women of all races, ages, body types, and walks of life. Eating disorders are NOT young, wealthy, white girl illnesses. Just no. Anyone can (and they do) suffer from eating disorders. This is such an important takeaway that I thought it was worth mentioning (again and again and again....)
3. There can be humor in the middle of the pain and darkness, and it can be SO healing. For the amount of times I cried in treatment, there were probably an equal amount of times I was truly laughing. For example, see my post about Donald Trump, which had me full belly laughing over with both of my therapists, in multiple sessions. Humor helped me keep things from always being so heavy, and has really helped me heal and be able to form connections.
4. The bonds you can create within 4 months will surprise you. There will be tears and sadness as you walk out of that door for the last time. Your connections with this place, the people, and the work you've done will never cease to amaze you. They now take up space in a section of your heart.
5. Your friends from treatment will get you like no one else. The shared experiences plus working through some of your hardest shit together really go hand in hand for lasting friendships. A smile or a squeeze of the hand can go a long way when someone's struggling during a group or a hard meal. A single look can also send you into (often inappropriate) laughter at these times. They just get you.
6. Speaking of friends just getting it, you'll quickly find out that just about everyone you go to treatment with can (and does) relate to the Dog on Fire Meme. It quickly becomes a short-handed, very accurate way to check in with each other and describe how you're doing. You'll even show your therapists and use it in sessions. Oops.
7. DBT will go from being a type of therapy to a way of life. I'm serious. You'll have heated discussions about whether DBT'ers are a cult or not (they totally are), start actively calling people out on using "judgements", and some will even get tattoos to commemerate what they've learned. (Not me, don't worry, Mom & Dad). Basically, DBT and being skillful will totally take over your life (in the best possible way), and you'll let it.
8. It'll become a battle of who can come up with the most obscure item you can buy at Walmart or random verb you can "teapot" with. Games will help you tremendously to get through tough meals, and obviously you will get competitive af with them. Yes, we're all here to support each other but I want to be the one who stumps everyone with what I'm thinking of!
9. Treatment will show you that you are NOT alone. You have a team of people rooting for you to succeed and kick this illness's ass. From your therapists (x100), dietitian, psychiatrist and friends, you will never, ever be alone. You have so many people in your corner, and that makes this whole recovery thing just a little bit easier.
10. You'll learn... Actually you CAN. Treatment will show you that recovery can happen. Treatment will show you that recovery is possible and worth it, and that it's possible for you.
Dear 18-year old Charlotte,
I know times are hard and being alone and independent is scary. I believe you about the bad things that have happened to you that you don't want to tell anyone about. Please know that it is not your fault and you did not deserve it. I believe you.
I want you to know that there's nothing you could have done to prevent all that went down at the end of the year. You did everything you could and then some. You're not to blame for not seeing the signs earlier; you're still so young and you didn't know any better. People are very lucky to have you in their lives.
Please don't believe that you have to binge drink or give your heart to meaningless boys to numb yourself. It's okay to feel the feelings. It's okay to be sad, and shocked, and angry. You are allowed to feel these feelings, and you are allowed to move on from toxic situations.
I know that another situation happened where your body was no longer your own and you felt like you didn't have any choice in the matter. I know that your body physically rejected it and you don't think it was a big deal. I know that therapists will tell you time and time again that you had a panic attack because of your issues with people pleasing and control. Know that I believe you, it happened, it was a big deal, and you were not to blame.
I understand why you took back the control of your body. I know you felt helpless and in so much pain you didn't know what to do. It makes sense that you took your body back and gave it to ED. I understand.
Please believe me when I tell you that you have not ever been responsible for other peoples' lives. There is nothing you did too much of besides care. There is nothing you did too little of besides walk away. Whatever happens to that person is between them and themselves. You can't help someone or make them stay well if they don't want it for them selves. It's not your fault.
I want you to know that walking away doesn't mean you've failed or done something wrong. It means that you've had enough wisdom to know when toxic relationships are no longer serving you. It's something to be PROUD of, being able to listen to your gut like that. You need to trust your gut because you have so much wisdom inside of you. There are simply people who no longer deserve to be in your life. And that's entirely okay.
You will be invalidated. You will reach out for help about your concerns with your eating and will be told you don't restrict enough. You will be told your panic attacks have nothing to do with assault and you don't have problems with food. Your depression and eating disorder will be ignored, pushed down, encouraged. You will experience all of this, and it will hurt. A lot.
But I want you to keep going. I want you to keep advocating for yourself, to keep pushing forward. I want you to tell the professionals, "No! This isn't normal!" until they listen to you.
Please know that the hate you feel for your body and yourself isn't normal or just part of life. Please know that your struggles with food are not "just what everyone's doing". Please know that you are sick, and you deserve help.
Please don't ever give up. Even when you're in your lowest lows, keep going. You will eventually find a team of people who will BELIEVE you and HEAR you and you'll no longer have to communicate by how long you can starve yourself. You will eventually be completely understood and you may even find peace with the demons you've faced and the ones still lingering inside of you.
Please know that you do not have to hate your body and yourself for eternity. You may not like it but your body has never given up on you. It's been through all your darkest days and the times when you treated it like your worst enemy. I'm confident that one day you will find peace in your own skin, even if it's a moment to moment kind of thing.
You are SO worthy. You are worthy in who you are, the way you act, the way you treat your friends and loved ones, and how you always want to do good for others. Your accomplishments do not define you, and neither do your body or your weight. You are a bright, kind, caring individual with a tremendous future ahead of you. Someday you may even help others deal with their own darkness; you may shine the light of hope or simply be there for them. You have SO much to give to others, this world, and yourself.
And finally, I know that this is hard. I know that a lot of times it feels like it's going to get harder before there is any relief. But keep going. You are the strongest person I know. You are a WARRIOR. You are a survivor, who has been through hell and back and made it here. You can and will make it through this and everything along the way. And I'm truly so excited to see where you'll end up.
(almost) 23-year old
***TW: mention of eating disorder behaviors***
Last December, I was wrapping up my first semester of grad school. Finals had rolled around the corner and I was busy studying my ass off for my epidemiology final. I was also in the middle of the worst relapse I have had since I started really struggling with my eating disorder.
I got to the point that I was bargaining with myself to just eat one meal--anything!-- so that I had enough brain power to not fail my finals. I normally don't like to talk about any of my specific behaviors, but this really stood out to me today as I spent the day at the student space enjoying the free foods they brought in and working on a final paper with a full, clear mind.
I've been very overwhelmed with emotions this week. I'm feeling very bittersweet as I get ready to discharge from my treatment next week. I feel extremely proud and full of gratitude for everything that has happened to me this semester.
100 days ago I admitted to a higher level of care for the 3rd time.
100 days ago I was in the lowest of lows--my deepest depression, totally caught up in my eating disorder.
100 days ago I barely believed my treatment team that this was a good move for me, but knew I wasn't heading in a good direction if I didn't.
100 days ago I was still in denial about the dangers of my behaviors.
100 days ago I didn't believe I was "sick enough".
100 days ago I took the leap of faith that was totally necessary and took the first step to full, true, recovery.
I cried today in session because I can't believe I'm here. I'm going to miss the team at my treatment center that I've grown so close with over the last few months. I cried because when I entered treatment this January I truly never thought it would actually change me like this did. I cried for the desperate exhaustion that I've felt each and every day doing some of the most challenging work I could imagine. And I cried because I truly never believed any of this was possible.
I cried today because I was truly at such a low point, so depressed, and so engaged in my eating disorder, that in January I never believed any type of recovery was possible. I never believed that it was possible to live a life that wasn't fully controlled by my mental illnesses, or that I would ever find this elusive "life worth living" that we continued to talk about in session.
My therapist was touched too. She saw me getting progressively worse, until I finally got to a point where she could no longer sit by and let me continue without additional support. She stood by me as I bitched and moaned about how hard it was to eat and restore my body, and she was there for me as I clawed and dug myself out of the deep, dark hole that my eating disorder had told me to crawl into. She told me she was proud of me, and that meant the world, as it came from someone who has seen the struggle, the falls, the wins, and everything in between as I've worked my way through the program these past 100 days.
100 days seems like a huge milestone. As of today, I am 100 days behavior free. I am 100 days into my new recovery, my true recovery, that I am actually 100% dedicated to. And I am 100 days away from the girl who never thought any of this was possible.
And yet, here I am. I have survived. I have prevailed. I still struggle. I am still emotional (as I tear up writing this), and I am still a fighter even when times get tough.
I am so grateful to my team and most importantly I am thankful for myself, 100 days ago, for taking the first step to changing my own life. I never thought it was possible, and yet, here I am.
Here's to looking back and appreciating where I've come from, and looking ahead to the future, be it full of struggles, Donald Trump jokes, and everything in between. I'm ready to face it head-on.
Welcome to my new blog series within LivingFreeC: The Shoulder Series. I've talked briefly before about my struggles with chronic pain but as my surgery inches closer (exactly 3 weeks away!), I thought it would be time to explore this a little bit more on here. Seeing as I will be in a sling for 2 months this summer recovering from my shoulder surgery, I thought it would be important to blog about my process to healing both physically and mentally. I truly believe there are unique intersections between physical illness or injury and mental health, and I'm excited to document my progress here.
I truly believe that mental health and physical health are so interrelated because you can't truly be "healthy" without considering mental health, and I've started to see first-hand how much physical health can impact upon mental health, too.
I've been struggling with chronic pain since April 9th, 2009. I remember that date clearly because I had to fill it out on every single form for the first couple of years, and the numbers just kind of stuck. That means I have been dealing with this injury for 9 years this spring. I'm only 22.
I was in the water from as early on as I can remember--swim lessons turned into a local YMCA swim team, which turned into years of competitive swimming. I loved it. It was truly where I found the most peace and was something that I was so happy doing. On that day in April I was in 8th grade at swim practice. I remember feeling some kind of popping or clicking in my shoulder and then being in severe pain the rest of the night. Two weeks of R&R went by with no relief, so I went to the first (of many) doctors. They thought it may have been a strain, and I had my first MRI (which would ultimately be 1 of 3!) Physical therapy came and went and was ultimately unsuccessful.
I started high school and decided to swim on their team as well as continuing on with my club team. My shoulder was still not acting the way it should, and eventually by my junior year we had gone back to several other orthopedic specialists in the area who again were not totally sure what was going on with my shoulder, cue the 2nd MRI with rather unremarkable results. I was growing frustrated as I loved swimming so much but my only other option for pain relief looked like quitting the thing I loved most. I was ultimately able to finish out my senior year on my high school team which was a HUGE win for me, as I was in pain or taped up the entire season.
To make a long 9-year story short, I tried swimming in college but couldn't do it because of the pain. I tried to ignore it and accept this constant, nagging, sharp pain as a part of my life until this past summer before my first year of graduate school. Everything with my shoulder has been SO bad that I couldn't take it anymore. I recognized that by trying to ignore the pain it was severely impacting my quality of life (parallels to mental health avoidance, anyone?). We finally got answers this past August. I have a labral tear and a partial dislocation in my shoulder, both of which can be fixed and will hopefully provide me tremendous relief this May.
It is incredible the impact that this injury and chronic pain have had on me over the past 9 years. I can't sleep on my left side, I can barely lift and carry things, and I've felt really depressed about living with chronic pain for the majority of my adult life. There have been times I've been completely crushed, and felt totally helpless because I couldn't carry my groceries or struggled to bring my laundry home from down the street. This type of long-term, unrelenting pain truly does a number on your brain because our bodies are wired to respond to pain, always, because it's a threat to the body. This chronic low-grade stress has left me weary, frustrated, and ultimately pretty miserable over the last 9 years.
I'm so hopeful that my surgery will bring relief, even just the smallest amount. I am hopeful that writing and sharing my experiences will help me (and others!) bridge the gap between chronic pain and mental health. I'm excited, hopeful, and slightly terrified but know that this summer will bring a much needed change to my life, no matter what the outcome. Stay tuned!
Hi, I'm Charlotte! I'm a 22 year old grad student living in NYC. I'm passionate about mental health, Chopped Jr., and making my cat an Instagram star.