Interestingly enough, I did this "pie exercise" two days in a row with two separate therapists. It was SO needed. The way this works is that you draw two circles: filling in the first with the way you value yourself now or what the eating disorder says your values need to be. The second circle is filled in with your wise mind leading the way, or the way that you want to evaluate yourself.
The point of this exercise is to determine where you are currently--what you value when you're in the depths of an eating disorder/trying to recover, and what you truly value and want to make time and use emotional energy for. A big thing that has come up in my sessions is the idea of achievement, because I often over-evaluate achievement and it makes me miserable. I constantly set the bar higher than I need to, or put pressure on myself to achieve things that can't be achieved (i.e. perfection, control, unrealistic achievements with weight/shape). This contributes to lower self-esteem, more negative talk, and an increased importance on appearance. This then strengthens the eating disorder thoughts, and the cycle continues.
An important note about achievement is that it depends on the context and the values that you're trying to achieve. For me, if I'm trying to achieve something that takes up a lot of space in the ED pie, I'm probably using my eating disorder mind. If I'm trying to achieve something in the wise mind pie that I can actually achieve and that's meaningful to me, that's totally okay and very normal. It's about checking the facts. The main fact is that you cannot achieve everything BUT that doesn't mean that you've achieved nothing. This is a reminder that I desperately need to continue to tell myself, because it's so easy to get into my head about how I'm not doing "enough" or achieving "enough", when in actuality that's just the ED pie taking over for the day.
Right now, I'm living in that weird venn diagram you could draw between these two pies. I'm in recovery, but I'm not recovered. Today, my therapist had me color in one of the parts of the ED pie, and asked me which part I saw. I colored in the "everything else" section, and saw only the white (weight, control, achievement). She told me that it's all about perspective. Some days I'll wake up and I'll see the black, my values, everything else that's important to me. And some days I'll wake up and all I can do is be in that ED pie. That's why I'm living in this overlap right now, and that's totally okay.
It's all about perspective and being mindful of my intentions, values, and which part of the pie/circle I'm in that day.
It's also worth noting that even in the wise mind pie, ED is still there. It's taking up much less space, but it's still there, because eating disorders are chronic and there will always be some sort of maintenance being done to stay in wise and healthy mind. And I'm radically accepting that as okay right now.
I really enjoyed reflecting on what my values are, because it helps me step outside of my emotional eating disorder mind and see where I really truly want to be. And it reminds me that with a little perspective, I can focus on whichever part of the pie that I want to, even when it's hard. Recovery is really, really, hard but it's not impossible, and this was a really great tool to remind me that.
National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is from February 25th-March 3rd, and I couldn't miss the chance to continue to share my voice and spread awareness about eating disorders and the realities of people living with them.
There are a lot of different ways that people in the community share their stories to raise awareness, and I think they're all important. This year is the first time I've participated in the awareness week, and I feel as though I've already shared some aspects of the negative parts of my eating disorder. I don't believe as though it's important to share a before/after photo because it perpetrates the idea that all eating disorders involve weight loss (they don't) and it continues the stereotypes that there's only one type of eating disorder (there's not). Eating disorders do not discriminate, they happen to all people regardless of race, gender, age, size, or sexuality. They can and do impact 30 million Americans, and chances are, you know someone who has been affected by an eating disorder.
This is why we need to talk about them and continue to keep the conversation going about them. Eating disorders thrive and survive in shame and silence. There is no room for them when we talk about them--which is why it's so important to continue to use our voices.
Project HEAL has started yet another brilliant hashtag for this week, #myhealthybodycan. I'm really inspired by this, because of all the ways that people in this community spread awareness throughout this week, I'm feeling called to reflect on the positive side of my journey in recovery. My body has certainly changed a lot in the last 5 years, and especially more so throughout my eating disorder and recovery, but it has gotten me here and I want to celebrate that.
My healthy body...
Has given me energy to be and live and do.
Has space for all emotions--not just positive ones, and can feel everything fully.
Has given me space to rediscover who Charlotte is, without hiding behind the eating disorder.
Has increased my passion and drive to help others.
Has allowed me to live in my favorite city in the world, and to explore it.
Has allowed me to break free from the longest writer's block I've ever had.
Has inspired SO much creativity and helped me find my voice again.
Has strengthened my relationships with my friends, family, and boyfriend.
Has been integral to me being in school, pursuing my dreams.
Has helped me break the silence about eating disorders and the stigma around mental illness.
Has supported me through my times of sickness and relapse, and hasn't given up on me.
Has fought for me to recover, even when it's uncomfortable, even when it's painful.
Has showed me what is truly important.
Is helping me heal.
Is the true me.
I am so inspired by the amazing eating disorder community, and think it is so important and necessary that everyone brings their voices together during this week. It is my sincere hope that through my blog and by speaking up, I am helping raise awareness by bringing my voice and personal experiences to the conversation.
For those of you who are struggling in silence, know that you are not alone. You are seen and your struggles are valid. It is SO terrifying to speak up and talk about eating disorders. I hope that this week brings more awareness and support to all the aspects of eating disorder recovery. I hope that it helps those who are unable to speak up, from fear of stigma, or rejection. I hope that there comes a day where we live in a world without eating disorders. The conversation starts here.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and need help, know that there are SO many resources there for you. Check out Project HEAL here, and NEDA here. They are both fantastic organizations that can point you in the right direction for treatment, support, and hope for recovery. If you ever need anyone to talk to, know that I am here. You are not alone. There is hope, and recovery is possible.
We did a mindfulness meditation from a fascinating TEDtalk the other day during supported lunch. It was incredibly relaxing and reminded me of why I love mindfulness and meditation so much. The monk who did the talk said a couple things that really stuck with me. The first is that all of true feelings (be it happiness or sadness) are created from within. The second was something she brought up during the guided meditation as well. You can check out this incredible talk here.
She asked you to imagine all the negative, dark, and unhelpful thoughts and to let them go as you exhaled. She called this your "dark smoke" being released. With each inhale, you brought in a peaceful, calm, white light to center and ground yourself.
This concept of the negative being our "dark smoke" really intrigued me. While she spoke and continued to lead us through this brief meditation, I developed a new mantra out of this.
I am not my dark smoke.
I am not my dark smoke.
I am not my dark smoke.
I was surprised how quickly I clung to this mantra, and how important this felt.
Because it's true. I am not my dark smoke. I am not my weaknesses, my insecurities, or my faults. I am not my mental illness. I am not my negativity, and I am not my dark smoke.
I find sometimes when we're doing work on ourselves it can feel really easy to get defeated and feel defined by the things that make us "weak". Sometimes I feel like I'm defined by my conditions or the fact that I'm in treatment. Sometimes I feel like this somehow makes me damaged, or less than, because I have dark smoke that I need to work on. And I call bullshit on that.
Everyone has some amount of dark smoke within them, whether they are actively working on it or not. It is brave to work on it, it is brave to not work on it & simply exist knowing that it is there. The dark smoke doesn't make someone weaker or less than. It just is.
You are not defined by your dark smoke. You are not defined by your weaknesses, your demons, or your struggles. They are a part of your story, but they do not make up the entire story. There has to be a balance between all of the dark smoke and that beautiful white light that exists within you, too. They both need to exist together so you can truly appreciate the white light when it's there, and so you can understand why the dark smoke is there as well. It's a balance that I need to try to remember, especially when I am feeling down or defeated.
Because I am not my dark smoke, my story is more than that.
To start off this post, take 2 minutes to do a mindfulness activity. For the first minute, imagine that you just failed a test. Write down all of the things that come to mind about how you're feeling, what you'd say to yourself. After the first minute imagine that your friend came to you saying they failed the test. Again, write down what you'd tell them in that scenario.
See any difference between the two conversations?
Here's a few examples of what came off of mine versus the one to my "friend":
You should have studied harder/longer/more.
You're going to lose your scholarship.
Everyone is disappointed in you.
Maybe you're not smart enough for this program.
I'm really sorry to hear that happened.
This one test doesn't define you, or your success.
You've been working really hard, and I'm proud of you.
So, what's the deal? Why are we SO quick to react negatively and in a mean way to ourselves, and then able to quickly flip the switch to be kind and validating to others in our lives?
Check out the chart below, called the self-invalidating process. We went over this today in DBT, and it's made a lot of sense to me.
It starts with emotional vulnerability (your temperament, sensitivity, reactivity) and is combined with a history of invalidating responses. This then makes you more likely to react with judgements and heightened emotional arousal when a certain event happens (i.e. failing a test). For example, your reaction may initially be embarrassment or sadness, but it can come off as anger, and that's what others see as well. This then leads to invalidating responses, which can come from yourself and/or others, and the cycle gets stronger and repeats itself over and over again.
This was SO important and stuck with me for a number of reasons. If we look at psychology, punishment is meant to decrease a behavior. When we invalidate ourselves and act in this way, we are punishing ourselves with the intention of increasing a behavior. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense, right?
Punishment of yourself doesn't decrease suffering.
Self-invalidation is simply a punishment, and it doesn't actually get us anywhere. It keeps us stuck. As you can see in the chart above, it's cyclical, and unless we are actively practicing and trying to get out of it, it makes a lot of sense why we remain in this cycle. And why it keeps us miserable.
So what do we do? How can we take our skills for validation that work so well with others and apply them to ourselves?
There are 3 major components to validating yourself, which again, are SUPER important in improving behaviors and reducing suffering.
1. Use mindfulness. Be mindful of the thoughts & feelings, notice judgements, do not attach to them. Let them go. Try to accurately identify feelings and focus on the primary emotions.
2. Use radical acceptance. Search for understanding and legitimacy, try radical acceptance of feelings, thoughts, and actions, and practice willingness to accept this experience.
3.Change how you respond to yourself. Normalize emotions, rather than criticize or judge them. Find compassion for myself when I'm suffering, as I would for any other human being. Use my wise mind. Provide myself nurturance and support, or seek it from others.
So there you have it. A very quick breakdown of what self-invalidation is, why it remains so hard to change, and some possibilities on how you can break through the cycle. We went through this today in DBT and it was so revolutionary to me, as someone who has been so self-invalidating for so much of my life. I really want to practice these skills and continue to work towards self-validation, and I hope that my sharing this sparked something within you as well.
Let me know what you think!
You can learn more about DBT, created by Marsha Linehan, PhD, here.
We are all so caught up in the constant "GO, GO, GO" that our culture both encourages and promotes. If you're not doing a million things at once, why even bother? This mentality starts early on--as we grow up, we start to engage in multiple extracurricular activities. It's okay then, because you're young, and they're activities you enjoy. Then you reach high school and you have to start worrying about all the things that you're doing, if they're enough for college, if you're enough. This carries into college-you've gotta pad that resume, right? You eventually either get out of this cycle of doing too much on your own OR you keep going until you totally burn out and have no choice but to slow the fuck down.
Any guesses which scenario I ended up in?
Like I've talked about before, I am really good at doing a million things at once and never once coming up for air. And by "really good", I mean it goes great for years and years until I literally crash and burn from lack of rest and never slowing down.
This kind of crash and burn happens whenever I'm really sick with my eating disorder. This is the first time I've ever had to really re-examine what I was doing and take a step back. And that's completely terrifying.
Last winter, I spent time at two different treatment centers, my first time ever receiving any type of eating disorder treatment. When I first admitted, there was talk about the possibility of staying home from school that semester to get better. I swore up and down that was a choice I'd be willing to make if it came to it (spoiler: I wasn't). One month of treatment later, I was back at school. I took a full course-load, taught spin class, had an awesome internship, and traveled the Northeast for graduate school days. I graduated on time and enrolled at NYU for graduate school. I'm exhausted just thinking about this, and yet, this was my life. I didn't slow down, and I certainly did not have enough time or energy to truly commit to my recovery.
This time around has been very different. I was "functioning" and got good grades and had an internship, but I was barely hanging on by a thread. I wasn't managing, even though I was really good at pretending I was. I was actually really sick and had reached my breaking point. I knew when I had started to bargain with myself to eat so that I could take final exams that it was time for me to slow the eff down.
While considering my treatment options, school very quickly came up as something to strongly consider. "Medical leave" was thrown around a few times, which scared the living shit out of me. I was committed though, ready to actually, finally, do whatever it took to get better.
When treatment was finally settled upon, we decided that school had to be part-time, with no internships, no research positions, and limited volunteering. This was extremely hard for me because for so long I've defined myself based on what and how much I'm doing.
It's hard for me to "only" be doing school and treatment. I say this a lot in my sessions and I'm quickly reminded that it's absolutely not a case of "only". In fact, I'm doing a LOT right now. Most people take time off from school or work while they're in treatment. My team and I agreed that staying in school would be beneficial to have more structure and to maintain a sense of normalcy. However, I know that school is an addition to the treatment, not the other way around, and it's really important for me to embrace this.
And yet, it's still really hard not to get caught up in a comparison trap. I feel as though I should be "doing more", or that everything I'm currently doing isn't "enough". It's so so easy to get caught up in the really cool research and internships and jobs my friends have. But I know I really need to take it easy while I work on my health and healing.
A couple weeks ago I was telling my friends my fears that I wasn't doing enough. One of them asked me, point blank, "yeah, okay, but do you want to be alive or dead?"
This really put things in perspective to me, and this is something I've carried with me since this conversation. I am very obviously choosing life. This means that I'm slowing down, taking care of myself, healing, and choosing to be alive.
Hi, I'm Charlotte! I'm a 24 year old navigating life in NYC and mental health recovery. I am passionate about public health and eliminating stigma.