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.
Somehow, it's been 6 weeks since I had my shoulder surgery. This completely blows my mind because this was an event that was looming so completely over my head for almost a year and now we're here.
It's been a big week. I had my second post-op doctor's visit and my surgeon is very pleased with my progress and range of motion. The most exciting news is that I'm officially cleared to be out of my sling, and I was able to leave the hospital on Thursday slingless!
It's been a strange adjustment being out of the sling. On one hand, I'm not quite sure how I survived 6 weeks of hot Denver summer in it, and at the same time time, it feels like I just had my surgery a couple of days ago. I still have a number of restrictions on what I can and can't do with my arm, can't lift more than 5 pounds, and my arm can't go past shoulder height (cue the short, easy to style haircut).
I think the most interesting thing I've noticed is how symbolic the sling was for me.
When I go into a store now, people don't know that I've recently had surgery and that I'm still very stiff and sore. They can see my scars, sure, but they aren't quite as careful around me, and no one is asking what happened and wishing me a speedy recovery. And while it's never been about that, though it's been nice, it is really a powerful reminder that the majority of my pain (both physical and emotional) has been invisible for all my life.
I suffered for 9 years from a shoulder pain that we couldn't really figure out what the cause was. Multiple doctors, multiple opinions, and really no solid answers, until I met my current doctor. After a while, I started to really doubt myself, like if something was wrong with my shoulder, wouldn't it have been discovered already?
As I've mentioned before, I am SO thrilled that I listened to my gut and continued to advocate that something was wrong with my body. And yet, it was invisible for so long. People close to me believed me, but it was hard to express to others that I was in pain all the time, or that simple things were nearly impossible for me (carrying groceries, holding the poles on the subway...). And for the 6 weeks that I was in a sling, people noticed. They saw my shoulder pain. They acknowledged it. My sling made me injury visible.
I can't help but draw the parallels to my struggles with mental illness. When I was in treatment, my illnesses were more visible. Treatment acted as my sling, where people would check on me more and make sure I was doing okay. It was a little more apparent that I was struggling then, than other times where I was appearing "totally fine". It's really tough to live with chronic pain, mental illness, and any other kind of invisible struggle. It made me so aware of this through the last 6 weeks and makes me recognize just how important it is that we acknowledge the illnesses and injuries and pains that we can't see.
Just because you can't see it doesn't mean someone isn't in pain.
In honor of my 23rd birthday, I wanted to reflect on just how far I've come in the past year. At this time last year, I was in "recovery" but quickly heading into a relapse. While I'm still having to work hard on recovery, the changes are hard to deny and have been life-changing.
I've decided to create a list of 23 gifts (shoutout @leenahlovesherself for the idea!) that recovery has given me, for my birthday.
I am so proud of how far I've come in the past year, and I am so hopeful that 23 will be the best year yet. I think reflecting on your birthdays can prove to be so hopeful to see where you are are and where you want to be. I have a ways to go, but I know that choosing and maintaining recovery will make this year the best one yet. Thank you, recovery, for the greatest gifts I could have ever been given.
Today was my first post-op appointment, 2 weeks out from my surgery. I got to see my pictures from the procedure (shown below) and get my stitches out. I get to start physical therapy tomorrow, and I learned that I only have to stay in a sling for 6 weeks (4 to go!!!). Today's visit made me really think about a couple of things, and how important it is to listen to your body.
Like I've said before, my shoulder bothered me for 9 years. I spent so much time going from doctor to doctor to try to get a proper diagnosis; I had 3 MRIs with two coming back inconclusive results, and multiple rounds of physical therapy that often felt like last-ditch efforts because no one knew what to do.
I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something really wrong with my shoulder that probably wouldn't be fixed without surgery. As the years went on, I thought maybe I would have to live with this chronic pain forever. Until this past summer when I decided to listen to my body and go for yet another consultation.
My surgeon told me going into it that he wasn't entirely sure what my shoulder would look like, but that he recommended surgery. He warned me it wouldn't be a home run, but that moving forward he thought it was my best option. I had to think long and hard about doing this anyway, and decided ultimately to listen to my gut and go for it.
Today's appointment was a HUGE validation for me in terms of going through with having the surgery. My doctor told me that the findings were super impressive--he was able to completely dislocate my shoulder easily when I was under, and he found that my labrum (the cartilage buffer) in the back was super far away from the joint, and that my shoulder had been dislocating to the back regularly. He put in 4 anchors in the bone to bring it back to the joint (so I may be setting off airport metal detectors for the future!), and from my understanding, anchors are typically reserved for the crazier tears.
Basically, today showed me how serious my injury was, and that there was no way in hell that it would've healed itself on its own. It was certainly not easy to decide on a surgery that wasn't a "home run", but I am so glad that I followed my gut and listened to my body and how it was feeling. I realized today just how serious my injury was, and I am so thankful that I took this leap of faith in moving forward with surgery. I am optimistic about the progress I will make and the reduction in pain I will have.
It is so important to listen to your body, and if something feels like it's off, it probably is. Never stop advocating for yourself.
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.