Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why I Hate Halloween

I hate Halloween.  Apparently, that makes me a horrible person.

Halloween has become all about the costumes, the pumpkins, and... the candy. 
And for someone who struggles with any type of eating disorder, this is the most terrifying thing.  

Halloween signals the beginning of the holiday season. A time that begins on October 31st and ends on January 1st.  On Halloween, it is expected that a person over-indulges in chocolate and candy corn and cupcakes and cookies and all sorts of sweet treats.  

Replace cookie with any Halloween food.
For people like me, who are just starting to seek out "real recovery," this poses a huge problem.  I literally cannot walk anywhere without being bombarded with sweets.  Last night, my dining hall had its Halloween dinner, which meant that our dining center was filled with candy and caramel apples and cupcakes and sweet treats and so much "junk food." The fact that there was an abundance of "unhealthy" foods, most of which are fear foods of mine, was just overwhelming.  Then there's the idea that there were limited low-calorie options available at dinner for me to eat.  Which "normal eating" should not revolve around calories of the food consumed, but at this point in my recovery, I am having a hard enough time consuming anything at all.  What I am eating, I am calorie counting and right now, I am unhealthily limiting of my caloric intake.  So when there are not low calorie options available, I am less likely to eat anything (remember that anorexics do not simply just not eat--they do eat, just not enough to maintain a healthy energy level).  

Or it can take a completely different form.  

Around so many high calorie comfort foods, I am often tempted, especially since I have been restricting so much, to just eat everything.  This would be diagnostically considered an objective binge, something that is very common with patients with anorexia just because of how the human brain works.  But after the binge episode comes the temptation of purging.  Yeah.  Then the shame and guilt that comes along with that. 

Then there's a completely different aspect of Halloween that a lot of people don't even think about.  The costumes.  As a young female, the costumes have less and less material.  It seems like Halloween is an excuse to show as much skin as possible so that you can be seen as "sexy."  

Well, body image issues accompany eating disorders.  I don't dress up for Halloween anymore, mainly because I don't celebrate it anymore, but also because I don't care about it.  It's a holiday that makes me uncomfortable because of food reasons, so I choose to ignore its existence as much as I can.  

But not celebrating Halloween doesn't remove the stress of seeing all of the other girls in barely any clothes and it doesn't stop me from making comparisons of myself to them.  Usually, these exist in a distorted form of upward social comparisons (distorted because I cannot accurately perceive my own appearance), which result in low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy.  Which then fuel my anorexia.  It's a vicious cycle.  

 Trick or treating junior year.
Trick or treating senior year.
When I was younger, even when I was in high school and even with my eating disorder, I used to love Halloween.  I loved dressing up and going out with my friends to get treats.  I was able to focus so much on the fun aspects of it that I could ignore the uncomfortable-ness caused by my anorexia.  I'm not sure what changed--I think it can be attributed to both internal and external factors, though.  It's not just one or the other.  

So tomorrow?  It's going to be a particularly rough day for me for all of the reasons I listed above.  I'm not particularly looking forward to it, unlike every other person I know and am surrounded by. 

I just hate Halloween.  I didn't used to, and maybe some day I won't.  But for now, I'm just going to be okay with the fact that it invokes so much unpleasantness in me and pull out my distress tolerance skills and hope it all ends soon.

Why recovery is necessary: So I can learn to love Halloween and everything that it encompasses and not just be worried about just getting it over with.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Weddings and Memories

Meg, myself, and Steve after the reception.
I went to a beautiful wedding on Sunday.  My cousin, Meg, married the love of her life in New York. She made the most stunning bride.

I adore Meg.  She has helped me so much just by being a voice of reason and understanding while I've been struggling... mainly because she had been there herself.  And although neither of us are the most vocal people when in person and we don't talk all that much when we're together, she has been a great support from afar.

I cried my eyes out at her wedding when her sister gave the Maid of Honor toast.  Kate spoke about how after she left for college, Meg went through a hard time in her life.  I know, by talking with Meg, that this was when she developed anorexia.

And really this wedding was wonderful and I loved being able to attend and celebrate these two wonderful young adults.  However, it was a rough night for me.

Even if I had not been struggling with my anorexia for the past few weeks, I would have felt entirely way too insecure at that wedding.  I'm a young, single woman.  I go to see family and I get asked if I've met any boys at college.  I go to weddings and am the person who has to awkwardly wait for her dad to ask her to dance or for her brother to leave his girlfriend and dance with her.  I'm the third wheel all the time.

My fear is that I am never going to get married or even have a boyfriend, for that matter.  That I'll never find someone who will love me despite all of my insecurities and imperfections.  That no one will find me beautiful.

I guess that brings me to one of my most insecure points about that wedding.  I felt so self-conscious and judged and like everyone was judging me.  Cocktail hour was awful for the fact that it only revolves around food.  Dinner was hard.  Dessert was hardest.

It was so hard to enjoy that beautiful and amazing day when I was completely consumed with how I looked and what I was eating and how many calories were in every bite that I took.  I didn't enjoy the wedding because I was too busy feeling uncomfortable because I had food in my stomach, because I couldn't get rid of the food, and because I felt like the most hideous person there.

What I did to calm all of these feelings shocked even me.  I decided to drink.  Champagne, gin and tonic, wine, spiked cider--any of it that was available to me and that my brother would give me.  The alcohol definitely had depressant effects on my nervous system, as well as my emotions.

It was a bad night.  A bad night that should have been great.  A bad night that could have easily been avoided.

Eating disorders ruin nights.  They ruin moments.  They ruin memories.

I don't remember most of my high school years because of my eating disorder.
I don't remember that trip to Disney World with the band or the time we went to the OSU Skull Session or any of the vacations to the beach.
I don't remember laughing and having fun with my friends.

All I remember is trying to avoid the food.

I remember how one year, I wouldn't let anyone else make lunch when we were at the beach so that I could make my own food in the least caloric way possible.  I remember only eating sandwiches of lettuce and mustard.  Which are disgusting, by the way.
I remember getting into literal fights with my band directors and friends because I refused to eat lunch and they wanted to make me.
I remember one person opening a Snickers bar and handing it to me, saying "There.  I opened it for you.  Now you have to eat it."
I remember sitting on the floor on the band room after a late night football game and China hand-feeding me Cheese-Its, one-by-one.
I remember the taste of Wendy's chili the second time around.
I remember going to the park and throwing up in a soft drink cup because I didn't want anyone to know that I wasn't getting better.
I remember crying and not wanting to get out of my bed.

I remember so much more... but only about my eating disorder.

And what about memories from this wedding?  I'm only going to remember the bad.  I'll only remember how I was miserable because there was so much food.  Or how I couldn't smile and be happy because I was so depressed.  How I wouldn't go out and dance because I felt so self-conscious.  How triggered I was by the simple fact that my dress was too big.

The wedding only confirmed the idea that I'm not okay.  That I need help.  And thanks to my wonderful, gorgeous cousin, that healing and recovery are very real things.   

I wish that I could go back six years and make it all better.  That I could stop myself before any of this even started and say, "Sarah, you want to remember your band bonfires and your trips and lunch time with friends at school.  You want to remember weddings and conferences and movie nights.  You want to remember how Maddy's brownies taste or how it feels to drink hot chocolate after a long Friday night game.  Don't go down this path."

Why recovery is necessary: So that I can remember all of the good times and not just my eating disorder.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


"You're being really resistant to this." 

I'm a psychology major.  I know the dangers of anorexia.  I know what can happen if I don't seek help.  I know that if I keep going down this path, I am at risk for all of these things:

  • Anemia
  • Amenorrhea and the inability to have children
  • Osteopenia/osteoporosis
  • Heart rhythm abnormalities
  • Heart attacks 
  • Brain shrinkage
  • Kidney complications including kidney stones and kidney failure
  • Depressed immune system
  • Fluid and mineral abnormalities
  • Constipation due to low calories and fiber intake
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Death
  • Abnormal blood counts
  • Elevated liver enzymes
  • Seizure
  • Lanugo
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Shutdown of major body systems
  • Increased risk for bone breakage
As well as worsening of what I am experiencing right now: 
  • Slowness of thought and impaired concentration
  • Feeling cold
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss
  • Mood swings 
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Brittle nails
I know how bad all of these things are for me.  I know the importance of early intervention for eating disorders.  I know that it's only going to get worse from here on out.  And I'm still going to be resistant to any form of treatment.

If I was one of my friends, I would argue and fight for them to go get help.  I wouldn't give up on them until they were seeing a therapist and a nutritionist and a medical doctor.  But it's not a friend in this situation.  It's me.

I am against the idea of going to the counseling center here at school because they don't know what they're doing most of the time.  And I don't want to end up with another Alanna situation, where I'm only getting worse because the therapist isn't trained well enough to help me.  So I was told that I have to talk to someone from my old team at home to figure out what to do here.  And initially, I was on board with this.  I emailed Katie, tried to set up a time to talk with her, but she never called me.  My professor is pushing me to make a phone call to her myself, but I won't.

It's not that I can't.
I just won't.

And I think that this is the most frustrating thing of all for me... I know what I need to do.  I know the steps that I need to take.  I know how to find professionals in this area outside of the college counseling center.  And you know what?  I'm fighting it all the way.

I know what I'm doing isn't healthy.  I know the steps I have to take in order to get better.  But for whatever reason--whatever psychological/physiological reason--I won't do it because I am not willing to give up the control I have right now.  I'm not willing to admit to poor self-image and poor opinions of myself.  And I'm not willing to give up what has become so comforting to me.

That's why I'm resisting.  And honestly, I'm not quite sure how I'm going to get past it.  Last time I had parents forcing me, but this time... this time I have to want it.

And right now, I'm not sure that I do.

Shame and Secrets.

It's been a long time since I've sat down to chronicle my journey of healing from my life-threatening battle with anorexia.  It's been a long time since I've really checked in on myself and looked at how I was doing and what I should be doing better.   It's been a long time since I've taken time for myself.

Brief catch up:
I'm midway through my first semester of sophomore year and enjoying [almost] every single minute of it.  I attended the NEDA Conference 2013 [more about that to come!] and I made the decision pre-sophomore year that I wasn't going to seek out professional help this year because, well, things weren't going to get bad enough to need that.

Well.  It's almost the end of October and five days ago, I sat down with one of my favorite professors of all time and told her that I was relapsing.  Not something that I wanted to do.  I mean, she's an amazing woman and I am such a fan of her and how she lives her life.  I'm trying to get a job as her research assistant [which I've decided just probably isn't going to happen and I'm okay with that] and I'm trying to manage her impressions of me.

I confessed to my greatest flaw.  And immediately regretted it.

That's the thing that sucks about eating disorders: the shame, the secrecy, the judgement.  And even though she has assured me that she doesn't judge or see me any differently than she did when she didn't know this information.  We talked about eating with people and she told me that other people really aren't paying attention to what you are eating or how you are eating or when or anything like that... But it's still so uncomfortable for me.

Regardless of how much she tries to tell me that seeking out help is strong, that it's okay, that it doesn't have any impact on her perception of me, I am not believing it.  It's so hard for me to look at her or talk to her and not think that she's judging me or that all she can see when she looks at me is an eating disorder or a failure at food or someone who is weak.

And as hard as it is to look at her and talk, it's what I need.  I immediately hated that I had told her this secret.  But I also know the nature of eating disorders--they live on secrecy.  They feed on it.  It's how they win.

So if I have to live through the awkwardness of feeling shame and judged and all of the negative emotions associated with being real in order to be free of the clutches of this [something that I'm not even sure is possible at this point], I guess it's what I have to do.  And I have to trust my professor when she says that she does not judge me for having an eating disorder and that she believes that I can do this.

Because I need someone to believe that I'll be okay, especially when I can't.
And I need someone to push me toward healing when I don't have the strength to do it for myself.
And more than that, I need someone to remind me that I am not alone.