Saturday, December 28, 2013

He's Feeling 22: 22 Things I've Learned from My Brother

Today is my brother's 22nd birthday. He graduates college in one more semester and then will start working full-time at Foursquare in New York City.  In my personal opinion, this makes him officially old and means that in one more semester, he will be a real adult.  It's hard to believe.

My brother and I at my high school graduation.
My brother and I, like all siblings, have not always gotten along.  In fact, we got into fights frequently, possibly much more frequently than other siblings, as kids.  We argued over whose turn it was to play the Game Cube, who got to sit in the front seat, and who had to do what chores with the rabbits.  We called each other names and got into physical fights on occasion.  I remember the time when he accidentally nailed me in the head with a saucer sled because he thought it would be a great idea to use it as a frisbee (I have a scar on my eyelid from that). But I also remember the times when we got along great.  The days we would spend playing Mario Kart together, the times we went sledding together in our neighbor's backyard, evenings spent snuggling with the rabbits.  I remember that he was the first person I went to when I slipped on a rock in the ocean and cut my foot open on some broken glass.

Being two years apart, we only spent a year in middle school together--Jacob as an 8th grader and me as a 6th grader. When my mom got sick, I remember all of the disagreements with my brother fading away as he stepped up to take care of me.  He protected me when the ambulance came by making me go out into the backyard and playing with the rabbits with me.  He let me pick the video game we played that night, made sure I got dinner, and didn't let me stay up past 10.  We didn't fight that week and I really gained a lot of respect for my older brother and his strength.

Spring break/Easter my junior year of HS
and his freshman year of college.
When we both got into high school, we were always fighting about what time we were leaving for school and how soon after the final bell we would head for home. We had countless arguments over this, and I always felt anger towards him because I was living in his shadow of brilliance--he is so much smarter than me, and I always felt I was never measuring up to his intellect and the reputation he had made for himself in our high school.  But in the midst of this, my brother was who I went to for advice on what classes to take, thoughts on how to get on a specific teacher's good side, and help with math homework when I just didn't understand it.  I wouldn't say that we were ever really that close, but we definitely grew closer.  When he left for college at the beginning of my junior year of high school, I realized how much I missed him.  Sure, he wasn't around to fight with all the time, but he was gone and that left a hole in my life.

In the four years since then, we have grown a lot closer.  I am now starting be able to talk to him about real things, like my eating disorder, depression, and anxiety problems.  Not a whole lot, but more than I used to be able to do.  And I think we've both started to enjoy spending time with each other, whether it's kayaking and going shopping together at the beach, watching a movie, or talking on the phone when we're both at school.  My memory is the time when we saw The Bourne Legacy together and then went for a walk on the beach that night.

Most recently, when I made the decision to come home and he made the decision to accept his job, we had a very brief text message conversation, during which he reassured me that my anorexia would not make me feel better in the long run and that he had faith in my ability to overcome it.  That's something that I've always found in my brother--a kind of strength that I am unable to find in myself.  Whether it comes from a simple text message, a strong hug when we finally see each other after being apart, him letting me hold onto him when I feel scared and lonely and sad at my grandparents' funerals, his ability to turn something I'm freaking out about into something very manageable... I could go on and on.  The past couple of days we have spent together, although they have been stressful for me, have been made better by his presence in our house.  We spent Christmas Day watching movies together (I saw Batman Begins for the first time!) and yesterday watched The Dark Knight.  He, without knowing it, is slowly helping me get out of my isolation mode and back into the real world.

Today, I celebrate the nearly 20 years that I have gotten to spend with my brother and I look forward to the next 20.  But most importantly, I celebrate a man who has no doubt helped shape me and mold me into who I am today, who gives me strength and courage when I need it, and who is always there for me, even though I sometimes feel like he's not (mainly because he always forgets to actually call me).  We don't have a perfect relationship, but no one does, especially not when you've grown up together.  We're siblings and because of that, we have a bond with each other that we cannot possibly have with anyone else, and for that, I am grateful.

I have learned so much from our relationship over the years. So today, because Jacob is turning 22, I would like to share 22 things, in no particular order, that I've learned from my brother:

1. To relax and calm down. 
2. That no one is perfect.
3. That being late is not the end of the world.
4. That I hate aquariums but should still go to them. 
5. How to kayak.
6. That Google is the best IT person.
7. To explore the world.
8. To go after what you want.
9. How to build a fire. 
10. That the world does not, in fact, revolve around me.
11. How to argue. 
12. How to stand up for myself. 
13. Humility. 
14. That a relationship will come when the time is right.
15. How to be strong.
16. To play video games. 
17. That family is important. 
18. That asking for help is okay. 
19. There's always someone who knows more than you. 
20. What not to do to avoid being in trouble with our parents. 
21. How a woman should be treated by a man. 
22. That one person can make a huge difference in your life. 

Happy 22nd Birthday, Jacob! Thanks for being the best older brother that I could ever ask for! I love you very much.

The most recent picture of my brother and I.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve.

I keep thinking back to last year, after the candlelight service at church, I was sitting downstairs watching some Christmas special with my family, writing a post reflecting on all of the growth that had taken place in my life that year.  I wrote about being recovered, feeling valued and beautiful and loved and worthy.  I wrote about being more than my past, about never being alone, about hope and healing.  I wrote about my complete faith in an all-powerful, healing, restoring God.

Christmas 2012 I was in a very different place than I was Christmas 2011.

And Christmas 2013 is no different. 

Tonight, I sit alone in my room, thinking.

Thinking about how my life has changed in the past year and has put me in a position that I never once thought that I would be in.  I dropped out of my first semester of my second year at college because I had a major relapse with my eating disorder, depression, and anxiety.  I took medical withdrawals from all but one course, in which I’m taking an incomplete and hope to finish up soon.  I’m taking the entire spring semester off from school.  I’m spending at least four hours a day in different kinds of therapy groups, with different psychologists and psychiatrists and doctors and nutritionists, trying to learn how to completely accept and manage life with an eating disorder, with depression, and with anxiety, trying to learn how to manage my life with this illness.

I never once thought that my life would go back to this, not even all those days I spent in treatment in high school, when I was so excited to go to college so that I could fully engage in my disorder and no one would notice.  I never once thought that things could get this bad again. I never once thought I would be in very intensive treatment again.

I never once thought that my life would do a complete 180 on me. But it has and that’s something that I’m just going to have to accept because even though I think that I've convinced myself that I've accepted this situation, I reach a moment where I get really pissed off about having been given these genes with this temperament and these personality traits and having been dealt this environment.  And then I’m back at square one, trying to accept it all just one more time.

But it’s never just one more time.

Looking back on my post from last Christmas, I can’t help but be a bit judgmental about where I am now and thinking that I’m in a worse place now than I was then.

This Christmas Eve, I’m not thankful. I’m not filled with joy and hope and strength.  I’m not feeling encouraged or blessed.  This Christmas Eve, I am filled with anger and bitterness and resentment.  I’m filled with depression and loneliness and insecurity. I’m filled with anxiety and distress and worry.  I’m filled with shame and guilt and regret.  

I’m filled with questions like “Why me?” and “Will this ever be over?” and “Will I ever feel and live a ‘normal’ life?” I’m questioning what my next steps are, where I stand with my relationships with everyone in my life, and how my faith fits into this.  I’m filled with questions about what my life will look like next Christmas and the one after that.

And something that I've learned in the past five weeks of treatment is that all of this is okay. Having questions and doubts and emotions—it’s all okay. Even during Christmas, when the expectation is joy and peace and contentment. My emotions are real and I am allowed to feel them, even now. Even at Christmas.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that things change. People change. Lives change. And things don’t always go how you expect them to go. You don’t always end up where you want to in life. Sometimes the unexpected is exactly what happens and sometimes you take a giant leap backwards.

All of that is okay.
It’s life. And life doesn't stop for anyone.

Not even at Christmas. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reasons to Recover

I haven't written for a while, and frankly, I've just been so completely exhausted at the end of the day to even process what happened and very emotionally disregulated.  Things have changed rapidly for me in the past few days--my insurance company decided that since I have behaviorally stabilized (meaning, since I followed my meal plan for an entire week) and that since I'm mostly medically stable, that I needed to be stepped down to IOP (intensive outpatient), which is essentially the same thing as DTP, except it is only three and a half hours and not six. But initially, I was overcome with a lot of fear and anxiety that this is making me rush treatment, which will just put me back at CCED in another year or so. The other thing that this drop did was to completely invalidate how I felt about recovering from my eating disorder. Insurance companies are really good at doing that. They see a person simply as money, especially when it comes to mental health problems (but seriously, if I had cancer, this would not be how they would be treating me), and don't go by the guidelines for real healing. They just want to have to pay for as little treatment as possible and if the results are just barely in their checklist, then you are magically better and they will not pay for treatment any more.

Luckily for me, instead of dropping me completely, they allowed me to just step down into IOP, but even still, I don't feel okay with it. I feel fake because my actions and medical charts are improving, but my mental state is actually getting worse. Which is normal in eating disorder recovery world. But it makes me feel crazy because to normal people, I am getting better externally while internally I am feeling worse. It's a very frustrating process.

On the bright side, dropping to IOP, it means no more rush hour traffic, no more waking up at 6am, no more driving in the dark. It means no more exposure to one girl's defiance and protest to being in programming and no more exposure to another's hopelessness and desire to be the most pitied girl in the room. So I'm just trying to breathe through it and see how I feel at the end of the week.

One thing that has been the most helpful in getting me to this point where externally things are looking better is to remind myself continually why I am recovering. Why I want to get better. Why I need to get better. And at the beginning, I could not discern any of it for myself. So my favorite professor gave me a little help with why I need to get better, which got me following my meal plan all the time. And now in this time of change when I feel like my illness is being trivialized by my insurance company and I feel invalidated and like I need to get sicker to "prove" that I need the help, reminding myself of my reasons to recover helps me turn my mind from the distorted eating disorder thoughts to wise mind thoughts that allow me to continue following my meal plan. Here are the original 20 reasons to recover that my professor sent to me, which I keep coming back to as my base:

Reasons why you need to get better (which  means following your meal plan): so you can...

1. be HAPPY!

2. live normal again (whatever normal is) =)
3. come back to school and attend awesome classes
4. hang out with your Gettysburg friends
5. chat during my office hours
6. let your body recover
7. finish school and get a great job
8. get that job to help others
9. NOT let the disorder win

10. be that awesome success story that motivates others to get better

11. play with Eric and other little ones (because that is fun)
12. have your own kiddos someday (if that is of interest to you)
13. enjoy meeting up with friends
14. eat out in social situations and actually enjoy delicious food
15. go to church without anxiety
16. truly enjoy family gatherings
17. take back control of your emotional state
18. continue to help all of those friends that need you
19. use all of the potential that is waiting inside of you
20. simply live!

And as treatment has progressed, I've been able to add some more reasons to this list. I need to recover so I can... 

21. enjoy the holidays and not fear or dread them
22. travel and visit new places and far away friends 
23. have an identity outside of my disorder
24. go grocery shopping on my own 
25. fully experience everything around me
26. not have my life ruled by food, calories, and weight

27. stop hurting myself 
28. care for myself in ways that are not self-destructive
29. live freely and be able to have spontaneously with food
30. tell others that recovery from an eating disorder IS possible and actually mean it

Last night, I was asked, "What are the things you DO want? The healthy things? To come back to school, right?" And I responded with, 

"Yes. And to play with kids and smile and laugh and not be self conscious while I'm doing it. I want to be fully alive and able to experience EVERYTHING--to travel. To not be afraid of the unknown. I want to have kids and a rewarding career where I get to help others. I want to love and be loved. I want to live."


Sunday, December 1, 2013

I Feel Alone.

A few days ago, I watched a video about how even though we are the most connected to others than we have ever been--thanks to social media like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, YouTube, Tumblr, Pintrest, etc and things like smartphones and texting that make anyone easily accessible--we are more lonely than we have ever been. I've linked the video here: 

After watching it a third time, it still makes my head spin when I watch it, but it also makes so much sense if you really think about the message it contains. 

Today, I was sitting in church next to my dad and he had his arm around me, like he usually does every Sunday we're in church together.  I was surrounded by a sea of people, most of whom had watched me grow from a first grader into a college sophomore.  I was surrounded, essentially, entirely by my family. 

And I felt completely alone. 

Right before the service began, I had a conversation with a lifelong friend about all that has been happening in my life, if being home was being helpful, how I was feeling, and it ended, like all of these conversations do, with her saying something to the effect of 'Let me know if you ever need anything. I'm here for you, and I love you.' 

So many people have told me that recently. And I very well know that I am not, in fact, alone. I have friends here who have tried to get together with me, but I've just been too tired or just not wanted to be social. I've received letters and care packages from school friends. I've gotten daily texts from some of my closest friends. And on the rare occasions that I have ventured out into the real world, one that is not my house or treatment, I've spent a couple quality hours with people who have been in similar situations. 

But I still feel alone. 

I don't know if I would say that I feel 'lonely,' because I don't think that's what I'm feeling. Lonely to me means missing people you care about, and although I do miss Gettysburg friends and home friends and extended family, that's not what is consuming me. It's the feeling of isolation, of not being understood, of not being fully known or heard, of people just not 'getting' me. The feeling of being alone. 

I know this has to do with my depression and my eating disorder. The two of them are not mutually exclusive from each other--experts still cannot determine a causal relationship between the two things, just that they tend to be highly correlated. But both add to this feeling of alone-ness, or isolation if you will. 

So even in those moments where I am not physically isolating myself, in the moments where I am not letting my social anxiety win, in the moments where I am not actually alone, the feeling of isolation and alone-ness is still there and it feels more present than it does when I am physically alone. 

Maybe this feeling of isolation and alone-ness has to do with my lack of vulnerability in these social situations.  All morning I was answering questions of 'How's school?' 'Are you glad to have had some time off?' 'Are you looking forward to winter break?' as if nothing were wrong. As if, in fact, I was making the five hour trek back to Gettysburg to have one more week of classes, a week of finals, and then over a month off for winter break. Maybe I need to be more vulnerable. 

Or maybe it has to do with the idea that I'm not constantly surrounded by my friends or that I can walk to class and pass four of my closest friends along the way. Maybe it is actual loneliness because some of those who know me best are not present, here, with me. 

Maybe it has to do with my being an introvert and not feeling fulfilled and cared for in large group settings, like church or like family Thanksgiving. But even in the one-on-one contact that I've had with people where I've been vulnerable and open, I have still felt alone. 

But mostly, my feeling alone has to do with the illness. The fact that I suffer from anorexia and depression and anxiety and that person sitting next to me does not. Or that person sitting across the room, although he or she may also suffer from depression, he or she does not also have an eating disorder and anxiety. The fact that I, alone, am being attacked by this specific illness and this specific combination of comorbid conditions makes me feel alone. 

Our culture puts such an emphasis on individuality, and I've been reading about it all semester in social psychology and how different psychological phenomena are experienced differently in collectivist cultures. If I lived in such a culture, would I feel any less alone right now? Probably not. 

Eating disorders are very individualized. Every person who suffers from any type of eating disorder suffers differently. That's why treatment must be individualized to the person in order for it to be effective. My eating disorder is not the same as any of the other people sitting in DTP with me or anyone else who has gone through CCED or suffered with an ED. 

I feel alone because psychologically, I am alone right now. 

This is one of those posts that isn't going to be wrapped up all nice and pretty and topped with a bow. This feeling of alone-ness is not going to go away just by placing myself in a room full of people, or a small group of people that know me well, or even in a room full of people who 'get it.' Because I will still feel alone. No matter how many letters I receive, texts and emails I get, words of encouragement I am told--the feeling of being alone remains.

And in this moment, sitting with this alone-ness and the discomfort it brings is just going to be something that I have to do. 
And maybe, one day, it won't be here anymore.