anxiety and my eating disorder

Again I scrutinize the mirror, willing it to answer.

My reflection stares back, frustrated and expectant.

Do I even know the question anymore?

I don’t like talking about my eating disorder. Or perhaps, let’s personify “my eating disorder does not like being talked about.” I am not one of the teenagers who had a bout of anorexia, went to treatment and was able to move on. Atypical anorexia has burdened me for over half my life. I don’t think it is cured for all of us. Rather, in some, it becomes an illness like substance abuse that one must work at to avoid relapse.

This is where I find myself. The question used to be “am I fat?” or some variation of that, but aging and some measure of recovery and wisdom now points to the question being something more ambiguous like “am I good enough?” which will never be answered in a mirror nor will be changed by any measure of activity, body weight, or food intake.

I’ve never known good enough, but that’s beside the point. The point is my anxiety wants me to believe that if I just [insert eating disorder behavior here] I will be good enough [not fat]. When I successfully laugh at my eating disorder’s irrational process I am still left with tummy-swirling, chest stomping anxiety. 11 years of therapy, a few medications, various self help tricks, advice, and the single most helpful technique aside from exercise (which can bring with it potential problems particularly if you’re in recovery from an eating disorder.. moderation) is distress tolerance.

Sitting with the distress. Tolerating the feelings and knowing they will in fact pass. It’s terrible, I know. I wish I had a cooler answer. There are lots of techniques to tolerate the distress and YMMV on which one(s) work the best for you, so try many, but yep, good job Marsha Linehan.

Get Out of Your Own Way

I wish I could say I have writer’s block. It wouldn’t be a total lie. However, perhaps conversely to much of the internet I don’t feel anonymous behind the keyboard. Rather, I feel exposed and vulnerable. I like to hide from things that are hard and scary. So I avoid writing.

The other day in group we were talking about long term goals. Mine was writing my memoir. Inwardly, I grimaced at myself How’s that going for you? Cue negative self talk. I can’t even maintain my blog.

I’m in my own way because my fear literally clouds my brain. We cannot access our prefrontal cortex (where all the high end human function happens) when we are stuck in fight or flight mode which is the instinctive lower end reptilian part of the brain. I’m effectively shut off to what makes me smart and creative when my anxiety is so high.

Though I do get in my own way, perhaps it is a good time for me to take a lesson from things I say to my clients and people I care for and that is “give yourself a little grace.” I’ve just come from 4 months of intensive therapy. No one would say the last year and a half hasn’t been hard, to say the least – even without knowing any of my personal details.

I’m looking forward to rolling out some more amateur poetry and other ramblings and meanderings.

Ramblings of Woe

I think I’ve had a reasonable head through the pandemic. I’m mindful, socially distanced, and I keep an eye on the news. I remember when the pandemic first started and everyone around me was freaking out and all I could think is the panic you people are experiencing right now is how I live my everyday life – thank you anxiety disorder.

So I managed to never get too terribly anxious about the illness itself. But the changes I saw in people broke my heart. Over the summer I found myself wishing for the rapture – I saw no hope in society and wondered why the hell we were still on earth.

Eventually that did pass but winter arrived and the warm sun faded into the chilly air and my senses returned to a dullish state and dysthymia crept in, as it always does. Yet I trudged on.

I realized yesterday I had been carrying some kind of hope that January 1st would wave its magic wand and the pandemic would be but a memory. As the evening wore on, my childlike hope faded and today I’m full on Eeyore. I have clients who have lost loved ones recently to COVID. My heart cries when I see the death numbers tick.

Remember in the beginning when we were all there for each other? When people were donating salaries? When it was the world fighting together to stop COVID? People are still dying but now we’re fighting each other. I fear for the early months of 2021 as my country transitions presidential administrations when so much is already bubbling.

The pandemic is a trauma. We are going through a collective traumatic experience to varying degrees. Take care of each other.

I’m not watching the ball tonight

I am very tired and I have a few clients tomorrow.

But that’s not why

It is the anniversary of my dads suicide.

But that’s not why.

2020 has changed all our winter holidays

But even that’s not why.

There is no closure tonight. People are still dying. America is still divided. This nightmare is not yet over.

Rather morose, I know. But I just don’t feel like celebrating. I’m not without hope; I am guarded as to what could be next.

Have You Forgotten Me?

No I have not forgotten. To the contrary, I’ve been actively avoiding writing.

Why?

Oh, you know. I just haven’t really had much to say—

That’s a lie.

Well, I’ve been quite busy with—

Stretching it…

Truly I’m not all that interesting, I was just—

Scared.

Yes.

And wasn’t transparency the purpose of this blog?

Yes.

What’s wrong with your humanness?

Nothing.

Speak truth.

I felt mundane. The creativity slowed. I got busy with boring.

Why are you here now?

Because I said I wouldn’t stop dancing.

Intuition

Today was rough. Anxiety was an 11 most of the day and I found myself overstimulated and overwhelmed to a significant degree. My sympathetic nervous system really had me believing a saber toothed tiger was at my heels all day.

Enter movement. I’m a dancer, yogi, Pilates enthusiast and have been for many years as well as dabbled with other fitness styles and even a Brazilian martial arts called Capoeira. My body has a lot in its repertoire to move from. For my strength training today, I offered myself only one prompt, “feel every muscle work intentionally.” A wonderful idea I shall return to again. The day did not improve but I had 32 glorious minutes of improving functional strength with only my own guidance.

My plan was to do yoga before bed. Settle down after the day, maybe choose a nice grounding soothing practice. But when I descended upon the mat, I decided to continue my exploration of intuitive movement from earlier with a new prompt of “follow where the energy goes and breathe through every sensation intentionally.”

I found myself returning to improvisation cues from dance class and integrating yogic breath work seamlessly into my movement exploration. The air coming into my lungs started to feel more nourishing and expansive. It was a bit of a Yin Yoga, restorative, pranayama, Bartenneiff, improvisation mix and it was exactly what my nervous system needed to slough off the day. Truly I feel my nervous system has just been exfoliated. I am ready for sleep and grateful for the reminder of how nourishing and nurturing intuitive movement can be.

Chasing the Next One?

I tend to develop an interest in something, learn as much as possible about it, how to be good at it, doggedly pursue it for a month or two and then fizzle. Currently it’s makeup and beauty. Over the summer it was Tik Tok. Previous years have included container gardening, essential oils, and bullet journaling. Within these hobbies always cycle Minecraft, the Sims, and Stardew Valley. It’s as if I’m addicted to new hobbies.

I just rid myself of about 25 bottles of essential oils that I never used (but were ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for me to purchase at the time). Now I do have a few that I keep and do use and I do attempt gardening every summer and have managed to continue a very minimalist style of bullet journaling but like why do I go all in with a new hobby? I often wonder if it’s a low hum of hypomania. I’m always a gamer – that never leaves – but I get on these new hobbies and they become the most incredible thing I’ve ever done.

It’s gotta be hypomania because it does meet the criteria of goal directed activities, does often come with a slight uptick in spending (albeit very thrifty – I’m a bargain gal), definitely involves flight of creativity and energy and confidence in my newfound skill (perhaps unfounded confidence?) but it doesn’t disrupt my functioning. Yep that is textbook hypomania.

The existentialist in me finds this fascinating as that means there are facets to me that are not always present or even accessible and I apparently have no choice in the matter. The anxious self worries every time a new hobby starts that it’ll end up just another collection in the corner. To both, the pragmatist will declare “at least you are continuing to learn new skills.”

The Funhouse Mirror

I referenced the mirror in a previous poem and it is with regret I admit I continue to be harassed by it. Certainly progress has been made, but I still suffer the endless committee meeting in my head discussing all the things wrong with my body.

Strangely (or perhaps not) aging while bringing its own difficulties has lessened the battle somewhat. I am nearing 40 and I have 2 teenagers. I workout 5 days a week and walk my 10000 steps everyday. I eat generally whole, clean foods with mostly balanced macros for my activity level. There’s really nothing more I can do that does not fall into eating disorder land. It is easier to accept my imperfections as I’m not supposed to look 20 anymore – not without plastic surgery anyway. So, acceptance is the answer to my problems today. Courage to accept what I cannot change.

The mental battle is fatiguing though, I will admit. I do slip into old patterns particularly when I’m very stressed but very quickly my cognitive functioning is impacted and it makes working difficult. As a therapist, I cannot be mentally tuned out during session. It’s very interesting indeed how important nutrition is to cognitive functioning. Consider that the next time you skip breakfast ☺️

For some reason it’s been easier to write poetry here than anything else. Which is quite odd because before this blog, I hadn’t written poetry in 20+ years. Amateur hour right here.

Writing painful and complex experiences through poetry is a way to distance myself from the raw vulnerability to an audience. Oh the vulnerability is there – plain to see. But the vulnerability exists as a work of art rather than I am standing naked in front of you, sharing my heart. Although both are true. Maybe it’s an illusion.

I return to work tomorrow as the therapist. What started as a vacation ended in bereavement so I don’t feel refreshed going back. Indeed, I feel weary. It can be quite helpful, however, to “get out of your own head.” Many people use this as their number one coping skill. That friend who never talks about her life, but is always by your side while you cry – she might be avoiding her own feelings. I’m not that person. I avoid my feelings in other ways 😏 but when I am faced with the raw emotion of another, it does trigger my own particularly if my self care game is not on point. (Which was the reason for the vacation in the first place).

I am confident I will be present for my clients as the warm therapist they are used to. My confidence wanes, however when I imagine how I will feel emotionally at the end of the day. I worry I will feel depleted. It is already a rough time of year for me, now compounded by fresh grief.

Mindfulness is a good tool here and the old adage of not getting ahead of oneself. We’re going to put one foot in front of the other, moment by moment, holding steadfast to years of experience telling me everything is always eventually ok. The world will not collapse. I will be successful as a clinician and I will take extra care of me in the moments I’m not actively a therapist.

Psst. You don’t have to be a therapist to use the above tools to cope during your workday. Or your family gathering. Or your doctor’s appointment. Or your long commute. Take good care of yourself, one moment at a time. Don’t know how? Ask a friend, a mentor, or ya know.. find a therapist. ☺️