Successes, Hopes, and Dreams

This past weekend I went through a 2 day training program to become a NAMI Mass (National Alliance on Mental Illness Massachusetts) In Our Own Voice presenter. In Our Own Voice is a program where two people who have lived experience with mental illness present to schools, workplaces, etc and tell their story. The program is broken up into five different sections- dark days, acceptance, recovery, coping skills, and successes, hopes, and dreams. We spent most of the weekend writing out our different sections. I noticed that for myself and for many others, writing the last section was the most difficult. For some reason it is so easy for us to spill our guts out about all of the hard times, but sharing what we are proud of or what we hope to accomplish isn’t quite so easy. Here are my successes, hopes, and dreams:

My biggest successes include keeping a stable healthy weight since January of 2016, eating enough to sustain my body, exercising to appreciate rather than punish my body, being vocal with others when I am struggling, and sharing my story on every platform possible.

My hopes include working in advocacy when I graduate college. I would like to work on breaking down the misconceptions surrounding mental illness and making treatment more accessible, especially to marginalized communities. I believe I went through all of my experiences in order to find my voice and a be a voice for others. My suffering has not been in vain.

I dream of traveling- I’m going to Europe this summer and leaving North America for the first time! I dream of being the first person in my family to obtain a bachelor’s degree (and also the first one to be on the Bachelor?) I dream of giving back to people and organizations who have given so much to me. And finally, I dream of having a family of my own one day, of raising children who love their bodies and themselves, and who know how worthy and important they are.

I encourage you to write down your successes, hopes, and dreams. Reflecting on your successes, no matter how big or small, increases self-respect and confidence and reaffirms how capable you are in times when you’re feeling unsure. Writing down your hopes and dreams helps you realize what exactly you want and begin taking the necessary steps to get there, and also creates a future to look forward to. This exercise was so incredibly therapeutic for me, and I hope it can do the same for you. So tell me, what are your successes, hopes, and dreams?

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External Validation: It’s a Trap

Hi my loves! Happy Valentine’s day! I thought today was the perfect day to write about external validation. Like I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I really am in a good place. Yes, I’m spending this Valentine’s day single. But I truly feel like I’m 1. at a point where I am perfectly fine with that, and 2. at a point where if I wanted to bring someone else into my life, that would be fine too. In the past, having a significant other would not have been beneficial to me or my recovery. Only by getting to this stable of a place mentally, and developing a sense of unconditional self love, have I realized this. I finally understand that you need to love yourself first before you can genuinely love someone else.

So back to external validation. In the past, I used external validation to fill the discontent I had with myself. Instead of looking inward to reflect on how I could get to a place of satisfaction, I looked to others. This took shape in almost every aspect of my life. Most specifically, I remember thinking in high school that everything would be perfect and I would gain the approval of all my peers if I just lost weight. This thought process eventually lead to my eating disorder- a deadly disorder, not a diet- that put both my physical and mental health in danger. However, the compliments from friends, family, teachers, and even doctors for being so committed and looking great made me want to continue on this path. This was the approval I had always hoped for and I was finally getting it.

After treatment, I realized I could no longer seek validation through eating, exercising, or being the thinnest. Therefore the validation switched to boys. I’m not proud of this, but when I first got to college I really based my self worth on how many boys found me attractive or desirable. Looking back I realize how incredibly sad and wrong this is, but at the time it made sense. If boys wanted me, then I would feel validated.

After a lot of trial and error, a lot of time, and a lot of therapy (I’m not kidding), I finally realized that no amount of weight lost or no perfect man would suddenly make my life great. My validation lies within me, and only within me. I wasted so much time putting my energy, resources, and worth into things outside of myself that I couldn’t realize this. Even today, I still struggle at times with my self worth. And it’s so easy to fall back into the trap of external validation. How many instagram likes will this selfie get? Will xyz think I look good at this party? Can I fit into a size 2? But it’s moments like these where it’s crucial to use your rational mind, recognize your vulnerabilities and insecurities, and find comfort and validation within yourself.

This is no easy task. It takes time and different methods work for different people. For me, writing a list of things I like about myself or things I am proud of really helps. This isn’t pompous or narcissistic, but simply a reminder that you have self worth outside of others. I also find it helpful to discuss how I’m feeling with others, because through talking with my roommates, friends, or even my mom (hi mom), I have realized that almost all of us have felt the need for external validation at some point and that I am not alone.

So just a reminder today that if you’re especially cognitive of the fact that you don’t have someone buying you flowers or calling you beautiful (hi you’re beautiful this is me calling you that), that this is ok! Be patient, the right person will come along. But for now, focus on you- your goals, hopes, and dreams. Make sure you are content with who you are as a person. You will never find outer peace if you don’t first have inner peace.

 

5 Sorta Simple Self Love Tips

Hi! This week I wanted to talk about something that is so crucial to both your physical and mental well being: self love. Self love is regard for one’s own well being and happiness. As someone who had little to no regard for my own well being and happiness for many years, I cannot stress enough how crucial self love is to becoming a healthy happy human being. I have found self love to be a topic that is either overlooked or misunderstood (no, self love and narcissism are not the same thing) so why not write about it. Many of these tips or suggestions will be eating disorder and recovery related, because I have found that specifically to be a time when people struggle with either creating or rediscovering love for one’s self, but I hope that other things here can also help a broader audience. I call them sorta simple because they are all extremely basic in theory, but often take many years and a lot of practice to perfect (I sure as hell still haven’t yet).

1.) Self love does not mean you have to love your body at all times. When I first started practicing self love, I believed that I wasn’t allowed to have bad days and felt massive amounts of guilt when I wasn’t body positive. I thought I had to embrace my cellulite and love my stretch marks ALL the time. Obviously this is the goal, but it is not realistic. Everyone has days where they just feel like shit. For me, when I’m on my period I get so bloated that I could pass as a woman who is at least in her 2nd trimester. Since the number of pimples on my face directly correlates with the amount of stress I’m under, I sometimes look like I should be on the before shot for a proactive add. I still love myself, both internally and externally on these days, but I (like most people) am a work in progress. I have learned that even my self-love and body positivity has its limits. Thankfully, bad days are opportunities for growth. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

2.) Going along with the whole bad days theme, please please keep in mind that the majority of what you see on social media is people portraying their best. The posing, lighting, flexing, editing, etc. No one is broadcasting pictures of their stomach rolls or unedited scars and blemishes (except for a growing number of body positive Instagram accounts which has been freaking amazing and inspiring to see). No one looks like they do in their Instagram pictures all the time. Comparison is typically not healthy, but especially comparison to an unattainable social media goal or a 10 times retouched model. This will cause you nothing but harm. Unfollow those fitspos, instafamous models or whoever else you see on your feed that makes you feel less than beautiful. Appreciate you- the real you.

3.) Stop body checking! Something very common in eating disorders and even something I’ve noticed in my friends who don’t have a history of disordered eating is the practice of body checking. Body checking is the obsessive habit of frequently weighing one’s self, looking in the mirror, pinching or drawing attention to what you consider to be “problem areas” or even asking friends for reassurance if you look fat. This may seem like a normal part of growing up in a society so fixated on appearance, but body checking is different in that is very frequent and heavily impacts your quality of life. For me, body checking came in regards to my stomach. After losing over 60 lbs from my eating disorder, I was terrified of gaining it back. So before I ate anything, I’d go to the bathroom and make sure I still had a flat stomach. During treatment, I even went to the bathroom after every meal to insure that I had not automatically gained all that weight back. Body checking was a safety net. It was a way to deal with the anxiety and guilt that came from the possibility of gaining weight.

The good news is that body checking can be overcome! There are many different ways to approach this but here’s what worked for me. First, spend one day simply noting how often you body check. I didn’t really realize that this was consuming so much of my time and my thoughts until my treatment team pointed out to me that no, it is not normal to have to check how your stomach looks in order to put anything into your mouth. After you’re aware of how often you actually check your body each day, you have to challenge that. Cut down. Go from 10 times a day, to 5, to 3, to 1. This will be hard, but before going to body check, ask yourself “is this behavior really beneficial to me?” or “realistically, can anything be drastically different from the last time I body checked?” The answer is always no. The whole idea of body checking probably sounds insane to people who have never experienced these type of body image issues, but for those of you who have, just know that there are so many more productive ways to spend your time and once you free yourself from this behavior it is truly a weight lifted off your shoulders.

4.) Embrace the bloat! Something very common during the beginning of recovery is edema, or massive water retention. It hurts, makes you look pregnant, makes you gain 10 pounds in a week (at least that’s what the scale told me) and makes you not want to keep going with recovery. I genuinely considered leaving treatment after 4 days because I mentally could not deal with how I looked or felt. Thankfully I didn’t, and I realized that the edema goes away, but during that time, it’s hard to keep that in mind. Don’t let this get you stuck. Edema means you are healing. Your body is trying to reverse the damage that’s been done. Step away from the scale, continue on your meal plan, put on a baggy shirt, and rest. Persevering through this is worth it.

Even now, at a healthy weight with a balanced diet, I still bloat. It’s so easy to get discouraged and want to restrict what you’re eating or not go out or not wear your favorite outfit because you feel bloated. But it’s important to remember that everyone bloats- literally everyone. Usually, it means your digesting- a bodily process that every normal person experiences. And remember that it always goes away. I will go to bed with a food baby that appears ready to be delivered and wake up with absolutely no remnants of it. Remind yourself to embrace the bloat.


(A 12 hour difference.. if you ever want pics of my food babies hmu)

5.) Finally, I just wanted to touch on exercise. It’s commonly thought that being body positive means being anti exercise but that is not true. Self love should come into play during exercise. The amount of times I’ve heard something along the lines of “I need to workout double tomorrow because I had a piece of cake today” or “I’ve been naughty and haven’t gone to the gym in a week,” is alarming. Exercise and food should never be linked with morality. Unless you maybe robbed a gym, the gym should never be associated with guilt. Self love means working out because you love your body. Appreciate your body and all it can do for you. Find what exercises you like. Set intentions for your workouts rather than requirements. Listen to your body. If you’re physically exhausted and you think you need a break, take one. It’s so easy in our go go go society to think that you must get everything out of every workout every single day. But please keep in mind that your body is a gift. It’s smart. It knows what’s best for you. Treat it as such. “Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate.”

Sorry this post was kind of all over the place. These were just the self love strategies/situations that I have found most relevant in my own life but if you have any more you’d like me to touch on, please let me know! Enjoy your snow day (if you live in the Northeast) and remember Love yourself first, because that’s who you’ll be spending the rest of your life with.

Managing the Unmanageable: Anxiety How To’s

I’ve been reluctant to start my second blog post. I’ve realized that I need to decide the direction I want this blog to go in and I honestly don’t know what direction that is. I want to focus on recovery because I have so much to say on that topic and I want to give others hope. But at the same time, recovery is no longer my entire life. I choose daily to continue on with my recovery, but there is more to me than that. I don’t want this to be a health, wellness, or fitness blog either because I’m not a registered dietitian, certified trainer or have any type of background that would qualify me to write about that besides my personal experiences. I don’t want to be an internet fitspo that people look to for workout or meal prep ideas. I eat ice cream. I run sometimes. I don’t follow veganism, HCLF, iifym, or any other meal plan. I want to write about mental illness because it affects so many people and is not discussed nearly enough, however, yet again, I’m no professional and only have my own experiences to base it off. So I guess I will just try to make this a place where I write about topics that have shaped who I am as a person, with the disclaimer that I am in no way, shape or form a professional in really anything besides bad metaphors and creating fire spotify playlists.

This post is going to focus on anxiety. At 5 a.m. this morning a friend texted me asking how to deal with anxiety. If I had told her everything I had to say in response to that question it probably would’ve been a 20 paragraph text, so I decided to bring it here instead. As someone who was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder when I was 15, I have found that not only is the illness itself overwhelming to deal with, but the misconceptions surrounding it are just as difficult. People confuse stress with anxiety. Or believe that if you’re high functioning, hardworking, and “put together” that you can’t have a mental illness such as anxiety. I’ve heard “if you just eat right, exercise, and avoid caffeine, you’re anxiety will go away”. I’ve been criticized for taking medicine and I’ve faced the stigma of going to both individual and group therapy.

So let’s get some things cleared up. WebMD (that website where you go when you have a minor headache and somehow end up convincing yourself you have a rare form of fatal lung cancer) describes general anxiety disorder as excessive, ongoing anxiety and worry that interferes with day to day activities, with both mental and physical symptoms. Anxiety affects more than 3 million Americans per year. Anxiety can happen to anyone. Whether you’re a straight A student with leadership positions in 5 different clubs, whether you’re a 50 year old soccer mom who attends book clubs and wine and cheese nights, whether you only drink green tea, eat a paleo diet, and run marathons weekly, whether you’re young, old, rich, or poor, anxiety does not discriminate.

My anxiety was school related at first. If I got a sub-par grade on any assignment, my thoughts would spiral out of control. I would go from seeing that I got an 80 on a quiz to convincing myself that I’d never get into college, would be working a fast food job for the rest of my life and would never be able to support a family. I put all of my worth into my school work so when I did poorly I took that as a direct threat to my identity. I would get lightheaded, irritable, headaches, restlessness, nausea, and be unable to concentrate on virtually anything other than how anxious I was.

After getting on medication and seeing a therapist who started DBT and CBT with me (I will go into those in another post because they both have been such incredibly helpful strategies to my well being) I got things under control. I was doing really well. However, then the anxiety that you face during recovery came along and it was a whole other battle.

To proceed in recovery, you have to be constantly challenged. If you are not going out of your comfort zone, you are not changing your thoughts and behaviors. You have to challenge what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how much you exercise, and any other food rules that are holding you back from a normal lifestyle. Since someone with an eating disorder typically thrives on control, we hold onto those disordered practices for dear life. The anxiety from doing differently is overwhelming. This is why many people in recovery relapse, because the anxiety from changing your habits is unmanageable and feels never-ending. I have gotten my anxiety under control and learned what strategies work for me. These can be helpful to not just those individuals in recovery, but to anyone who experiences anxiety:

  • First and foremost: breathe. It’s so easy when your heart is racing, your palms are sweaty, and you’re trapped in your thoughts to forget the power a few deep breathes can have. You can do this anywhere, from your desk at work to on a busy t ride. I promise that taking 5 to 10 deep breathes makes you slow down, focus, and can ground you enough to gain a new perspective.
  • Distractions! Say you have a history of a very restrictive diet and just challenged a fear food you haven’t had in years, or maybe social settings make you anxious and you just introduced yourself to a group of new people. This is brave and important, but now the thoughts of guilt and discomfort are high. In these times, distracting yourself can play a key role. Distractions can be anything from coloring, to calling family or friends, to taking a walk, to even sitting down with your laptop and reading blogs or watching Netflix. I know many therapists and treatment programs have people create a distraction tool box, filled with something that can comfort each of the five senses. For example, a stress ball to touch, soothing music to hear, happy pictures to see, tea to taste, and candles to smell. It may sound silly but these strategies really do help take your mind off of the anxiety until it lessens or passes.
  • Make a list of positive affirmations. You may be feeling guilty or overwhelmed right now, but write down how things will get better, how you are worthy, and how this will pass. You can look up words of encouragement on Pinterest and write them down or screenshot them to have on your phone in times of need. Sometimes a cliche quote or a list of things you’re thankful for, makes you realize all the positive aspects of your life.
  • Self Care: Some of these strategies can be similar to distractions. The most important idea here is to just make time for yourself, whether that be painting your nails or reading your favorite book or going to get a massage. No one is too busy to prioritize themselves. This is not selfish, it is essential. If your mental health is not sufficient, everything else in life is affected. Remember: You cannot pour from any empty cup. Take care of yourself.
  • Recognize and acknowledge what you are feeling without judging it. You can even write your emotions down. Sometimes, acknowledging your thoughts, why you have them, and realizing that it is okay to feel this way, helps take power away from the negative voices.
  • Reach out to your support system. No one has to go through any type of mental illness alone. Call up a friend and ask them if they want to go to the park. Call up your mom just to chat about life. Utilize the people who care about you, and don’t be ashamed. Those who love you want you at your best, and will be happy to do whatever they can in times that you’re in need.
  • Reach out to me! To reiterate, I am no expert but I have learned over the past five years how to effectively manage my anxiety. This doesn’t mean I don’t get anxious anymore. Trust me, I do. However, I have put in hard work to develop a sense of self awareness on what strategies work for me. It’s taken time but I can honestly say my anxiety is no longer a black cloud that’s constantly overhead, rather one that makes an appearance from time to time yet doesn’t ruin my day (see- I warned you about the bad metaphors). But really, please feel free to reach out if you’re ever struggling. I’m always here!

Recovery is not linear

I decided to start this blog because I’m in a really good place. My physical and mental health are thriving and I want to spend my life advocating for mental illness- more specifically eating disorders, so now seemed like the right time to start. I’m here to share my thoughts and feelings and hopefully inspire others. If there is anything you would like me to write about in future posts, please let me know!

I wanted my first post to be about recovery, because recovery freakin rocks. But I thought I’d touch on how recovering from an eating disorder (or any mental illlness) is not a straight perfect path. Contrary to social media posts that show #recoverywins or #fearfoodchallenges, recovery is not all green tea and yoga mats. Recovery is hard. Sometimes you take two steps forward just to take three back. A food you ate easily last week may seem like an incredible challenge today. The thoughts of restriction or of engaging in other unhealthy behaviors become louder- almost too loud to ignore. It can get discouraging.

Recovery doesn’t happen overnight, hell it may not even happen over a year. I started taking my recovery seriously in June of 2015. Here I am, over a year and a half later. And I am still in recovery. I still struggle with certain foods, still have thoughts of restricting during times of stress, and still struggle with being more flexible with meal times and exercise. However looking back at where I was when I was stuck in the depths of my eating disorder, I realize that I have truly come so far. Recovery is a daily choice, or rather many ongoing daily choices, that all add up to getting you closer to where you need to be.

Recovery is both a physical and a mental process. I have gained over 10 pounds and with that, the ability to have children again, the ability to regulate my body temperature, and no longer experience hypoglycemia, muscle atrophy, electrolyte imbalances or bradycardia. I can focus on things other than food or exercise.  I can focus on things that actually matter, like school and work and friends and family. I have time for self care, self reflection, and self love. 

I don’t want to discourage anyone from pursuing recovery. It has been the best thing to ever happen to me. I wouldn’t be here- having a full time job, living a healthy manageable exciting life, without it. Take that first step if that is where you are in your journey, or keep pushing forward if you have already begun. But it is essential to realize that recovery is not linear. And in those difficult times, it is necessary to persevere. Look back on how far you have come. Celebrate the small victories. And remember, your worst days in recovery are better than your best days trapped in an eating disorder.