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'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.
In January I was supposed to go to Atlanta for a week to visit my best friend, Jordan. I never made it.
As I've spoken about before, November-January were the sickest months of my relapse and I was in a place where I didn't think recovery was possible, at least not for me. I didn't get to go to Atlanta because my treatment team was adamant that I return to a higher level of care. It came with a heavy heart that I cancelled my trip and spent a miserable month fighting with insurance and treatment centers to get myself admitted.
It's been six months since I've been to the Denver airport to fly anywhere.
Today, I'm finally taking my trip to Atlanta and when I walked up to the gate I realized, this was the same gate I was at 6 months ago as I returned to New York and a higher level of care.
6 months ago I used travel as an excuse to restrict and was happy about the delay in my schedule.
Today I bought and ate breakfast and my backpack is full of snacks to keep myself nourished.
6 months ago I sat and cried at the gate that I wasn't "sick enough" to be admitted to a partial hospitalization or residential treatment, because an eating disorder tells you if you're going to recover, you better be the sickest you can be.
Today I'm happily supported by an outpatient team and am so thankful that I didn't have to go to any of those levels of care.
6 months ago all I could think about was that I had failed. I had failed at recovery and I had failed at having an eating disorder.
Today I realize that by recovering, I'm winning and choosing life. The only way the eating disorder wins is through sickness and today I choose health.
6 months ago I kept silent. My only voice was my eating disorder and I felt that no one cared what I had to say.
Today I've been writing almost non-stop for 6 months, and I truly believe my writing has had an impact. I've been published in a variety of places, and writing has helped me heal.
6 months ago my only way to cope was through using eating disorder behaviors.
Today I've been through DBT an entire time and even have the teaching manual. I know that I am well equipped with the skills I've learned and I can finally cope in a healthy way.
6 months ago I couldn't see life outside my eating disorder or depression. I trusted my team but it felt truly impossible.
Today I'm in recovery once again. It's still a struggle and I have to fight every day, but I'm here. I'm in a place that Charlotte 6 months ago could have only dreamed of. And for that, I am so beyond proud and grateful for the leap I took 6 months ago.
6 months ago I was barely surviving.
Today I am thriving.
All this from an airport gate.
I won't lie, recovery from a mental illness is exhausting. This is especially true this summer, as I've been struggling being away from my friends, boyfriend, and support team in NYC for this long while simultaneously recovering from major shoulder surgery and not being able to do things that I used to be able to.
Recovery is hard as hell, and somedays there is nothing I want to do more than quit--just give up and listen to the voice that screams at me all the time with the hope that if I just listened and relapsed, it'd finally quit talking so loud.
I'm tired of my eating disorder and body image getting in the way of me being able to enjoy much-needed time with my boyfriend when he visited.
I'm tired of the cruel and ridiculous things that come into my mind when I eat something like tortilla chips. They're "not safe" so my brain ridicules me and makes me feel like shit for having them.
I'm tired of the paralyzing anxiety that creeps up on me out of nowhere, making me worry endlessly about things out of my control, telling me that I will be unsuccessful in the future, and physically wrecking my body.
I'm tired of the depression leaving me without energy, keeping me in bed all day, and telling me that I'm worthless and a burden to others.
Let's face it. Mental illness sucks. It's not glamorous, or fun, or "quirky". They're complex diseases that can affect someone's entire life.
And sometimes, like this afternoon where my stomach is in horrible pain due to me having an "unsafe" food, and my brain is running a million miles an hour about how I won't get an internship for the fall, I have to ask:
"Why can't I just be normal?!"
But, as DBT says, fighting against reality and acceptance causes suffering.
The truth, and the facts are, that I have mental illnesses. I may not like them, they may make me miserable a lot of the time, but they're there. And I can't really change them by getting angry, asking "why me?!" and wishing that I had been born with a brain that fired more "normally".
So, even though it's tough, and frustrating, I have to keep going. I have to keep fighting, taking my meds, engaging in self care, working on the tough stuff in therapy, and knowing that the best course of action for myself is one where I'm living in recovery.
I think it's kind of a misconception that recovery means everything will just be better all the time. That's not what it is, though.
Recovery means a life that's worth living. A life that doesn't get rid of the mental illnesses, but makes them more manageable and easier to cope with. It means that you don't let these completely control you, but they simply become something that's part of your life.
So while it's frustrating and I wish I could say that the bad days ended once I went through treatment, that's just not true. That's not how life works.
Life is messy, and hard, and wonderful and amazing. And so is recovery.
It's times like these where I remind myself of where I've been and where I want to go. I know that if I had not accepted these illnesses for what they are and committed myself to recovery I could NEVER be doing the things that I do. I would not be steps closer to living the life I want, and more than anything, I would be unhealthy, and unhappy.
So when I ask, "Why can't I be normal?!" I recognize that there would not have been the growth and change that I've had from being the way I am. I guess I have to choose the messy and hard and amazing and wonderful that is recovery and deciding not to fight against the fact that I have these illnesses, but fighting for the life I want.
It's been a crazy week+ here since I got out of the sling. My pain is reducing everyday, but I still find sleep really challenging, and my physical therapy has increased ten-fold. We're working on really increasing my mobility before we get to strengthening, and I've found I'm making huge strides in mobility every day. I can get my arm past my shoulder, which is a huge milestone!
I've also been missing swimming SO much lately. Swimming has always been an activity that makes me so peaceful and has been the one exercise that was least affected by my eating disorder and compulsive exercise. I haven't swam since last summer, and besides the huge amounts of pain in my shoulder, I wasn't in the right headspace and found myself getting obsessive about numbers the last couple of times I was in the pool.
When I started physical therapy in June, the first thing we did was establish my goals moving forward. There were the obvious ones: being able to carry groceries, wash my hair, not be in pain for 9 years... and then there was my big, ultimate goal: Get back in the pool.
With the extent of my injury and the time it takes for the tissues to heal, my physical therapist told me that in order for this to happen, I'll have to do an additional ~2 months of supervised physical therapy when I get back to NYC in August. As each day of PT is a real struggle, at first, I was a little bummed. But then this got me thinking.
I haven't been cleared yet by my ED treatment team to begin formal exercise again, but I really, really, want to get back to the pool. And I haven't been cleared yet to do any overhead motion by my doctor or physical therapist, but I really, really, want to get back to the pool.
Today I've been in a little bit of a weird headspace where food doesn't seem so important or appealing, and PT seems like a pain in the ass.
Strong eating disorder recovery has to happen first before I can get back to what I love and want to do. In order to get back swimming, I HAVE to eat, nourish my body, and work on the hard stuff that makes exercise so compulsive for me.
Full healing of my shoulder has to happen first before I can get back in the water. This means I'm doing my exercises twice a day, even though I'm only required to do them once, and that I have to be patient in order to get my full range of motion back to where it needs to be. It means that this is by no means a quick fix, which I knew going into it, and that I have to keep working my ass off to get my shoulder back to where it is.
And looking at these two sentences, I could be totally overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done before I dive back in to doing what I love.
This can totally motivate me and be a goal to move closer to each and every day. It means that when food is hard and I'm not feeling my best, I still have to eat because that's what's necessary to get back in the pool. It means even when I'm tired and sore, I do my physical therapy, above and beyond what I need to do, because that's what will get me closer to my goal of being in the water.
As I've been at home this summer, I've felt a little disconnected from my life worth living goals. Since so many of them are in New York, it's been hard for me to feel motivated and like I'm making any progress towards them. However, I think that now having these goals solidified into place gives me something tangible that I can make little steps towards. I believe that having this will keep me focused on the bigger picture and working towards full recovery which is ultimately what I want anyway.
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.