Hello everyone, I still have a blog, and I'm back!
Wow, it's been quite a while since I posted.
And the truth is, I was just not in a place for most of the fall where I felt that I could be talking about my recovery.
Because I was struggling. A lot.
I was on shaky ground for most of the fall, thinking that I "had it under control" or that my seemingly inevitable relapse into my eating disorder "wasn't that bad."
After about Thanksgiving I started to slide in a way that I hadn't seen before. My disordered behaviors got much more frequent and severe than they had ever been.
At the insistence of my team, I once again called a treatment center for an assessment. I figured it was best that I pursue treatment in Denver as I'd be around family and able to lean on them for support.
And so I started treatment again at Eating Recovery Center on January 2nd. This time I was admitted into PHP (Partial hospitalization program), which met 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Looking back, it's truly incredible the amount of work I was able to accomplish in the 3 weeks that I was there. My insurance cut me after 2 weeks, because in their minds, severe eating disorders can be stabilized in 2 weeks?! That's a story for another post...
I struggled a lot this time in treatment to really find my WHY for recovery, and to become motivated to do it for myself. Every other time I've been in treatment I've done it, at least in part, for someone else, whether that was a significant other, my family, or my team.
I struggled with the invalidation that came up time and time again as I fought back against the voices and messages that told me I was less valid, less worthy, in my experiences. That because of my body and relative medical stability, I didn't deserve my current level of care.
I struggled with believing that I was in the right place, and that I deserved treatment, good treatment, too. I struggled to believe that I also deserve a life full of recovery, without my eating disorder.
That I deserve life, too.
The community at ERC was nothing short of spectacular, and I feel extremely blessed for the time that I did have there. They helped me through the really bad and hard days (which there were plenty of), and gave me the space to do the work.
They reminded me time and time again that I was worth recovery, treatment, and life.
The word "worthy" continued to come up throughout my stay here. My community continually reminded me of this. My treatment team and the amazing staff were regularly challenging me to believe it.
And eventually, amazingly, I started to think that maybe, just maybe, I too was worthy of all of this.
There was a poignant moment in our psychodrama group where this became overwhelmingly clear. One of my friends was picked to play my infuriating case manager from my insurance company, while I switched between acting as myself, and playing her.
We went back and forth for a while, until the therapist eventually had one person come over and pull my arm, telling me that I was right, I wasn't actually worth it, and the insurance company was right too... that I didn't deserve this, and I would never recover.
I stood up and (with some profane language) told her that actually, I DID deserve recovery, regardless of what they said. That I would choose recovery, even when it felt impossible, because I was worthy of it. And that I was going to go finish my degree so that I could help others recognize they deserve it, too, even in the face of the bullshit that insurance companies constantly put us through.
The entire atmosphere in the room changed when I said that, as I stood, triumphant, tears streaming down my face.
Our therapist then had everyone come and pull the other arm, if they agreed that I deserved recovery, and could find that, regardless of the lies I was being told.
Every single person grabbed the other arm--an amazing reminder that I had my community behind me, backing me up, even when I found it hard to believe myself.
It was one of the most powerful moments that I had there.
As I eventually discharged and made my way back to NYC, I started thinking about getting another tattoo, with the word "worthy" ringing so loud in my mind that I knew I had to get it.
Two days after my return to the city I was with one of my close friends, catching up with her over beers at a German Biergarten. I confessed to her that I NEEDED to get this word tattooed on myself, as soon as possible. She instantly found a tattoo shop with good ratings that took walk-ins, which was located just a block away. Less than an hour later, there we were.
I chose my wrist so that it's a constant reminder that I AM WORTHY of treatment, recovery, and life outside this disease.
As I pondered what font to get my new tattoo in, a thought occurred to both myself and my friend at the same time.
"What if I did it in my handwriting?"
And so, this is the result. A love letter to myself, so to speak. A tattoo of a powerful word and reminder, in my own handwriting, to remind me just that:
I am worthy.
Worthy of life.
Worthy of love.
Worthy of everything that I believe the people around me are worthy of.
And worthy of a life without my eating disorder.
And that's the best reminder (and Valentine's Day love letter) I could think of.
Wow, what a month.
I realize it's been just over a month since I wrote about my experience as an inpatient in the hospital.
To be frank, September was the hardest month of my life.
I got through it.
I was struggling a lot after I discharged from the hospital, as I was in the midst of several medication changes that left my body scrambling to keep up and my brain was pretty much fried. It felt like a chemical crash with my brain and body trying to go different ways and struggling to find equilibrium again.
I was also having a really hard time coping with some personal events that left me feeling rather hopeless and just completely deflated.
In short, I was extremely depressed, exhausted all the time, my anxiety was out of control, and I felt pretty defeated.
I got through it.
I started working with a new psychiatrist who did genetic testing with me, which revealed that the medications I had been on for the previous 3 years (SSRIs) were not compatible with my genes, and that I should hypothetically never have been on them. I started taking a new class of medicine (SNRIs), and it's been just under a month that I've been on them, and I can actually see the difference.
For the first time since I've started psychiatric medications, I'm actually seeing them work. That's huge! I've never, ever, had any positive outcomes from being on medicines and I am finally starting to feel a difference. Within the next few weeks, I will see my psychiatrist again and we will see if I need to go up on the dosage to find the sweet spot for symptom relief.
I'm getting through it.
After I discharged from the hospital, my eating was out of control. I was actively restricting again, skipping meals, and engaging in eating disorder behaviors that I hadn't used in over 6 months prior to this. I was extremely frustrated, and felt pretty pissed off at myself and like a relapse was inevitable at that point.
And yet, my team worked with me to make sure I was accountable, and getting in as many meals as I could. They encouraged me to check in with them often, and to be as gentle on myself as I could be, because they were difficult circumstances that made my recovery significantly harder.
Even though everything in my mind was screaming at me to just quit recovery and give into the eating disorder, I didn't.
I didn't relapse, and I got through it.
And so, here I am. Over a month since I discharged from the hospital, and I'm doing okay. I'm surviving. I'm starting to feel the depression lifting day by day, and I'm having more good days than bad at this point. I truly didn't believe that I could survive September, but I did.
I think that's a huge takeaway from this past month. When the odds were all against me, and I felt like there was absolutely no way I could make it through the hour, the day, the week, I did.
My recovery has absolutely not been linear. If you asked me in January or even May if this would happen, I wold have laughed and said that I would be so far in my recovery that nothing could touch me.
And yet, life happens. Things change, and things get really fucking hard.
And yet, I made it through it. I survived it.
And if that's not a testament to my recovery (both from an eating disorder and depression), I don't know what is.
This is the way that E, a kind writer with a knack for dark humor, described the inpatient psychiatric unit I was in for a week.
So yeah, that happened.
I last wrote about how I was really struggling and overwhelmed with coming back to NYC. What I didn't really mention was that for the past three months, I've been in a huge depressive episode. This got especially bad after I got back from Italy, with my mood dropping and my desire to "do" recovery very, very low.
When I returned, I was struggling even more than I had before I left Denver. I had a couple of events really break me down even more, and by Friday, I hit the lowest low that I've ever experienced.
I want to recognize how truly amazing my treatment team is. I went to therapy on Friday, feeling completely helpless and the idea of seeing Saturday was next to impossible. I just didn't care. I had been struggling from this depressive episode for so long that I no longer cared about my recovery at all, I didn't want to be around anyone, and I truly felt like there was no point.
My therapist is a God-send. I've raved about her before, and I will continue to do so for years to come. She sat with me, and after about 20 minutes, recognized that the state I was in was one that couldn't be managed as an outpatient, at least not for the crisis period I was in. She quickly canceled the rest of her appointments, got me into a cab, and took me directly to the emergency room. She stayed with me there, helped me endure the painful and uncomfortable first hour in the ER and helped me talk with my family, and feel less alone.
I am SO thankful I got myself to therapy, and was honest with how I was feeling. I am so thankful for my therapist and her wonderful soul and the way she always looks out for my wellbeing.
I am thankful that I kept myself safe, even though that meant admitting to the inpatient psychiatric unit for a week.
Being inpatient was different than I expected. I was pretty numb the first two days I was there, crying non-stop and terrified to be there. But, everyone that I met completely changed that, almost immediately. I connected with these other amazing people who helped me feel less alone when I first got there, empathized with how brutal the every-4-hour vital checks for the first 48 hours were, and gave me hope that recovery was possible.
I stayed long enough to safely wean off of several of the meds that have long ago stopped working, and to get a treatment plan into place when for I discharged. I stayed long enough to have 7 of my most incredible friends come to visit me, which warmed my heart and gave me the strength and courage to keep fighting. I stayed long enough to get back to my "baseline"--which is still depressed, but to a point where I can use my skills again.
The first thing I said when I saw my therapist again on Thursday was, "I'm so grateful that I'm here."
And it's the truth. When you are that down, that depressed, that hopeless, there are times where the only hope you have to stop feeling the pain is to stop being here. And even though it's never something I would have expected for myself, I am truly, truly, grateful that I voluntarily signed myself into the hospital to keep myself safe.
Because I am here. I am fighting. It's been the weirdest/toughest/most unexpected week back in NYC, but I'm still here to talk about it.
And there's a part of me that feels ashamed, writing about this, and sharing such a vulnerable part of my life. But if this can help one person for one single moment of their life, it's worth it. From someone who couldn't stand the thought of another hour, let alone another day, I am endlessly thankful that I didn't stop fighting.
I want to share this story because it's scary, and it's tough, but there is absolutely NO shame about asking for more help. I know that in the moment and for the week following, the right level of care was for me to stay in that hospital and put up with the socks and the red tape over the cameras on my phone, and the surprisingly good hospital food?! Because now I'm here.
Please, please, please, if you are struggling, know that asking for help is the BRAVEST THING YOU CAN DO when you feel like this. It sure as fuck won't feel like it at the time, but it is the most courageous act, to take care of yourself by letting others take care of you.
September is the start of Suicide Awareness Month, and I'm glad that I am still here, able to share my story, and that I can #BeThe1To tell you that it's okay to reach out when you're in the darkest of the dark. You will get through it. I'm always here if/when you need someone in your corner. Keep fighting.
If you are struggling, you can text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. You can reach the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
After 3 months in Denver, I am returning to New York on Tuesday.
To say I'm feeling conflicted about it would be an understatement. The majority of me is SO excited to be back with my team, my friends, boyfriend, and Tubs. I'm excited to return to a routine, with appointments, classes, and my internship. I also miss NYC like crazy.
I was reflecting today on how insane the past year was. I graduated from college last May, had a whirlwind summer, then moved to NYC and started graduate school right away. If I mapped it out, I was in a full blown relapse in my eating disorder from about October-January. And it got really bad.
I spent my entire first semester of grad school sick and engaging in my eating disorder. I didn't have a lot of hope and it felt like the only constant and sure thing in my life.
I spent my entire second semester of grad school in an intensive level of care, working to return my mind and body to stability and health. I had such an amazing level of support, both with meals, and my emotional wellbeing, that I felt like I could conquer everything and relapse was not an option.
I spent my entire summer at home, recovering from major shoulder surgery. I've been out of my element, so to speak, but also surrounded by family who have helped me so much with a difficult recovery. Being around my family has made it easier to abstain from my eating disorder behaviors; when they make breakfast, I eat it. When everyone sits down together for dinner, I join them. The decision making process isn't there for me. So a lot of the anxiety is removed.
So I'm conflicted. I've spent the last year either very sick, in treatment, or surrounded by people who have helped take away a lot of the power of the ED voice by making decisions for me.
Once I go back to New York, I'm starting over again. I'm going to be in a similar situation that I was in last fall, receiving outpatient treatment, and having to work really hard to shut the ED voice down and not relapse again.
I know that I have a much stronger level of recovery now than I did last year at this time. I have a solid support team who communicates with each other regularly, and who work tirelessly to ensure that I stay in recovery.
And yet, I'm terrified.
My eating disorder thrives off of "excuses" and change and freedom are two big triggers for this. It loves to lie to me and tell me that once I'm the one making decisions for my meals again, ED will be back in charge. It loves to give me false excuses of why I can't do the right thing: "You don't have enough time to eat", "You can't eat in class," "It's too expensive to eat out, you'll eat when you get home." All of these excuses trigger restriction and eventual relapse for me. Every single time.
So I'm scared. I'm worried about being back to being more independent and having to tell ED to shut the fuck up whenever he tells me to skip breakfast or forgo buying a snack when I'm out and about. I know that I'm strong enough to make it through the rocky parts of recovery, but I can't help but listen when ED tells me that I wasn't strong enough then, what's the difference now? He likes to remind me that I relapsed once, and therefore it can happen again.
It's going to be a power struggle, that's for sure. And some days it will be easier. I will eat all my meals and feel little guilt, and I'll be okay. And some days it'll be harder and I have to learn to be easy on myself. Struggle is part of the recovery process. No one ever made a full recovery from an eating disorder and said it was easy.
I guess what I'm trying to figure out is what my new "normal" will be. I don't even know what that word means anymore. And I know it can take a while to establish a new routine, a new sense of being in recovery and actually doing it.
I don't know what the next couple of months are going to look like, but one thing is for sure, I'm not letting ED win. I'm going to keep fighting.
I'm SO thrilled to be able to introduce my amazing friend, Etta Eckerstorm as a guest contributor to LivingFreeC. She's an incredible voice and advocate and I am honored to be able to contribute with her in our respective blogs. Her piece is shared below.
You can check out her blog here: https://fearlesslyafraidblog.com/
Just as there should be no black and white thinking when it comes to food (i.e- a food is entirely good or entirely bad), there is certainly no black and white in recovery. One day you are sick and the next you are better. One day you struggle and the next you are fine. Recovery is a marathon, full of hills and valleys and times when you feel like your legs might give out from under you entirely. I am one who believes that full recovery is possible: a life where the rules, rituals, and fears surrounding food seem to be part of a different life entirely.
But if I am being honest with myself, painfully honest, I am not in that spot yet.
But oh, have I liked to pretend that I am.
Now that I look healthy and can go out to eat with friends and actually take days off from exercise, I let myself think that I am cured, free from the control of disordered thoughts and behaviors.
But I am stuck in the gray zone. The quasi recovered zone, if you will. The place where you are no longer at your sickest, so therefore your eating disorder tells you that you are fine. Good enough. No need to hit the next mile marker in recovery. Hold on to just enough of the rules to feel like I am still “in control,” can still micromanage my body, when the hard truth is, my eating disorder still hasn’t left me entirely.
It’s a dangerous place, this gray zone. It’s easy to pretend as though everything is fine. When you suddenly look healthier or no longer order the salad without dressing at every meal, it can seem like you have made enough progress. But what others don’t see is the internal battle that is alive and well.
The way you will stand in front of the mirror each morning, pinching the extra curves, and then deciding not to pack that extra snack in your bag.
The way you still seek out the healthier options on the menu, when all you really want is to order the burger and fries and eat the whole thing without a second thought.
The way you only take “rest days” when you know you will be active in others ways, so that it turns into only a less intense day of exercise.
The way you still try and avoid eating super late at night or ignore the hunger pains an hour before eating dinner, because you feel like you don’t deserve to listen to your body, now that it is “larger.”
The way you let the fact that your friends decided to skip a meal, or the fact that you woke up late, become an excuse to also skip a meal.
You eat all your meals, but on hard days, maybe eat just a little less. You have reached a healthier weight, but still want it to be just a bit lower. Not the lowest. Maybe just a few more pounds. But that’s how it started in the first place, right?
It can be harder to ask for help in this stage than when you were at your sickest. It’s easy to be in denial. These subtle rules aren’t that harmful, noticeable, or that big of a deal. They give you the illusion of control that so many of us desperately crave. And when you think about letting those last few pieces go, you realize that you’re too scared of how your body will change, of how you will cope. And so you place yourself in quasi recovery and cling to these remnants like a child clings to their safety blanket. You are not sick. But not really fine either.
I have let myself stay here for a while now. It has felt safe and comfortable and also so wrong all at once. As I have cheered on others, sent messages of hope and healing, and proclaimed that I have changed completely, I have also been lying to myself. I have certainly come a long way from when I started. And I have changed and grown in numerous ways. But settling for “fine” and “just recovered enough” doesn’t do justice to my journey and my future.
I deserve complete recovery and full healing. Which means I have to keep fighting. Keep pushing to those final mile markers. Until the fear and rules and voices in my head that tell me I have done enough already are gone. I have to be honest with myself, my team, my friends and family who have perhaps forgotten that I ever struggled in the first place. To continue pretending that I am healed is to continue living a lie. To be vulnerable, honest in the cracks and bruises that have yet to heal, that is hard and scary and also what I need now above all.
If you are like me, in this quasi recovered state, I encourage you to walk with me. Be honest- with yourself and those who care. We don’t have to live a life of good enough or fine. We can live a life of complete freedom.
We just have to be brave enough to try.
Hi, I'm Charlotte! I'm a 23 year old grad student living in NYC. I'm passionate about mental health, reality tv, and making my cat an Instagram star.