New Ideas Pending

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So I have been doing a lot of thinking about what I want this space to look like.  I knew when I first started this blog that I did not want it to be a typical recanting of the difficulties and anxieties felt through recovery from mental illness, nor did I want it to be a preaching of self-help and inspirational mantras.  Since the start of the blog though, I have struggled to find an image, theme, or concept that is individual to my journey, but still is able to touch the experiences of others.

While sitting in class yesterday afternoon, I had a thought that seemed like an exciting and powerful new direction for my blog because previously I have just felt confusion and ambivalence towards it.  I mean, in all actuality not many read this blog and that partially has to do with the fact that it is hard to get people to view your page and partially because it is a messy jumbled in-cohesive collection half the time.

In the spirit of trying to make my blog into something I feel has more direction and meaning, I am going to start using this space to posts stories that depict different mental illnesses as either I have experienced personally, or people close to me have experienced.

Maybe this will be give you a clearer picture of what this will look like: The first of these stories will be on Bulimia and will be called Fluffy Puppies Leak Poisonous Gas and I will post it in the next couple of days.

I am optimistic about this new project and hope that people who stumbled upon this blog will find a way to connect with the coming creative writing pieces.  My wish is simply to give people an outlet in which to connect, share, and externalize their struggles.

To You All

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(Our minds would never place a tree to grow in an underwater river, but the tree isn’t killed in our doubts, but chooses to grow despite them.) 

With that, here’s to all of those searching for joy in a mind/world/life so full of darkness you have lost all hope in its existence:

I get it.  I get opening your eyes in the morning and cringing at thought of another day.  I get the desire to retreat farther into yourself, into your mind, into sleep’s blissful release that the pain of the morning sun steal’s away.  I get hopelessness. I get despair.  I get heartbreak and heaviness and the grieving and heaving leaving no room for any light to penetrate the mind.

When deep in my eating disorder the disease repeated the hopeless monologue of “it will never get better” over and over until I was certain of the disease’s lies.  When in school I was a target for the student’s ridiculing and bullying remarks.  When young and naïve I fell victim to the harsh realities of traumas.  When beginning to find my own health I was slapped in the face with my mother now falling ill. When fighting to support my mother while balancing newfound recovery I was heartbroken by the cruel death of someone near and dear to my heart.

So depression, despair, darkness looming over your head, a backpack of bricks sewed into your spine, I understand all of that because those are the things that I battle every single morning when I open my eyes.

But this is not an account of that pain and suffering, but an acknowledgement to how difficult it is to get up anyway, to fight anyway, to smile anyway.  This is an account of the underappreciated, relentless strength demonstrated in every single person choosing to fight their darkness.  For those who are battling illness and choosing to focus on ways to better your health.  For those who are battling loss and finding time to remember your loved one.  For those who are battling recovery and refocusing your mind every day, multiple times a day on the “next best thing”.  Props to all of you because you deserve to be given gold stars every day for your outstanding efforts and yet very rarely is your strength appreciated.

Just because the darkness and pain and suffering that I am speaking of is not visibly seen, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  A cancer patient doesn’t go around carrying their biopsy results nor does an anorexia patient go blurting out their history in ER’s nor does a grief stricken individual sob to every person on the street while shoving a picture of their loved on in the strangers face.  And why not? Because it isn’t appropriate.  It would be uncalled for and socially unacceptable to go around forcing your pain on everyone.  But why then do these measures seem to be necessary to get anyone’s attention?  Why is it in order for pain to be real it must be seen?  Some of the largest hurts cannot be seen because even a biopsy result or a ER’s record or a photograph is not going to show the heaviness that accompanies these experiences.  No one can show another their broken heart.  You can only feel a broken heart.  You can only carry a broken heart.  You can’t snap a photo of it and share it with your boss so that they believe you when you say you can’t come into work today.  And that right there, is the sad truth.

The truth is that you who are in recovery from an eating disorder won’t have cheerleaders sitting at the dinner table cheering you on with each bite.  You who are experiencing loss won’t have people there to peel you off your mattress every morning.  You who are going through chemo or any other illness won’t have someone able to take the IV in your forearm.  These are silent battles, invisible battles, battles won in the monumental acts of opening your eyes and getting up in the morning.  This is why you who are fighting develop into the strongest of warriors because you are able to overcome the darkness without the appreciation of the world, but with only the determination of your mind.

Ceiling

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The truth is this, some days I lay on my bed and stare at the ceiling for hours and don’t even realize that time is still passing because my mind takes me to a space absent of time, a space of dazed and confused and numb and contemplative.  It is strange to think that I am capable of this caliber of incapacitation when I am simultaneously able to build an entire city in one day.  The days when I stare off, counting each particle of dust are equivalent to burn out.  The moment when I hit the wall, the “fake it till you make it” mantra becomes a lot less cute and a lot more about lying to myself in order to find the strength in my legs to crawl out of bed.

Everything comes in waves. Emotions. Busyness. Irritation. Exhaustion. Motivation. Defeat. Our entire existences are built around the metaphor laid out in the oceans.  The surge of the wave comes for me when least expected.  My waters are uncharted and unable to be predicted on a weather map.  I don’t know when a storm of self loathing or grief or shame will hit, or on the flip side of joy or excitement or motivation, but when it does I best be prepared to get out my life vest, lay back, and let the waves take over because in fighting them I am sure to loose.  I have done that too much to know that too keep fighting would be insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Feeling shame, I should stop eating.

Feeling anger, should binge.

Feeling anything, should run.

The cycle was a never-ending race to outrun a tsunami. Because in running and running in order to swim away from each wave that came at me, I suddenly found no more waves came my way.  At first, I thought this was what I wanted.  I didn’t want to feel that is why I devised this beautiful disordered friend to help suck the life out of me, so nothing at first was rather seductive.  But as time passed the truth became this, nothing but dry dirt filled the space around me and here I was standing in a life vest suddenly feeling a pull towards the waves again.  I missed the water. I missed the waves.  I missed the cold sensation of the water on my skin and the tang of the salt on my lips.

The farther I am from my eating disorder the more I vestiges of it I find laying around.  In my back pockets, tangled in my hair, the annoying rock in my shoe.  The eating disorder is still there, smaller and more annoying, but still there.  It is like a mosquito bite I keep itching even though I know to itch it only makes it worse, but I keep reaching for it out of habit. That is the tricky part about eating disorders because they so commonly go unnoticed for many years.  So by the time we do seek help or admit we have a problem we already have years of nooks and crannies that the disorder has taken up residency in.  At first we can take away the obvious life threatening behaviors like severe restriction, binging, purging, etc.  But as recovery unfolds the person fighting must take out a microscope and analyze every part of themselves so as to not overlook a tick that the disorder has left behind.

The ceiling in my apartment only becomes more interesting as the minutes pass by.  Someone would walk by, see me what I was doing, and think I was painfully bored, but, in truth, I was studying the ceiling with such intensity that my analytical lens would happily stay like this for weeks.  I know that to get up means to read for class.  I know that to move means to catch a glimpse of the clock and be hit a wave of guilt over how much time I have wasted.  So I study the ceiling and pretend this task is important and then find that it actually is because each little dot on the ceiling is like each little piece of my eating disorder.  And looking up at those white dots and seeing just how many of them there are, I am struck by the realization of why this recovery process takes so long. It does so, because I am excavating from my mind a million little white ceiling dots that have been lodged inside my authentic self and stolen years of health and freedom.  And that, will and should take a long time if done properly.

When I did finally move around midnight and made the effort to turn off the lights, I didn’t feel bad because the hour of staring gave way to a deeper understanding of why I am still struggling.  I still have little parts of the disorder chipping away at me.  Throwing away the last two bites of something because I felt too ashamed by the idea of finishing my plate even though the meal was so good and I wanted those pieces.  Or only being able to stop my run at exactly the time that I said I was going to go for, not a second sooner, not a second later, because God forbid the mayhem my life might fall into if I were to challenge that number as well.  These are smaller things, but still significant and as I trudge forward I find myself more and more weighed down by these vestiges of the disorder.  Not because they will land me back in treatment, but because they are holding me back from complete and total freedom.  And so the ceiling and the white dots parallel the complexity of this process.  Because I laid there for an hour and there is no way I was able to analyze even half of the white dots on my ceiling.

Patience. Persistence. Endurance. All are of necessity if I am to continue the excavation of my mind.

Rooted in Reality

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Once awhile back, a therapist told me that I needed to be more rooted in reality.  The context surrounding this statement consisted of a conversation about my imagination and how I constantly paint my reality to be more elaborate than it actually is.  Part of me found some truth in her words and part of me was crushed by them because that was precisely how I feel time and time again.  That I am not realistic, that the dreams and aspirations I have for myself are unattainable, that recovery isn’t real, that transformations aren’t real, that the most I can do is put a Band-Aid on the parts of me that keep bleeding and move on.

I feel like I am submerged in a tank of water every time I tell someone one of my goals.  My actions become suspended in time and space as my body floats aimlessly through my words, not responding to what my mind tells it to do.  While my mouth speaks words that evaporate into bubbles and whose language I no longer understand.  Needless to say, I get nervous and try my best to disconnect from the conversation because everything within me screams that the person will laugh in my face.  It doesn’t matter who they are.  Could be the core of my support system and still my mind tells me that they will find my proposals humorous.  Which they are half of the time, humorous in the sense of their complexity and hugeness.  Like my trip to Mongolia this summer or to the Cenotes caverns last week or my most recent goal of doing a Dive Master internship after graduation next fall (preferably somewhere in Latin America or Southeast Asia).  I don’t tell a lot of people these plans because I am ashamed of their grandioseness, which is funny because so many seem to find pride in plans such as these.

But the truth of the matter is that these plans are not conventional.  They are not small minded.  They are not simple achievements to come by.  And for that reason, I don’t believe I deserve to own them.  My mind tells me that I am not deserving of such elaborate experiences, that I will fail at them, that everyone will laugh in my face and tell me that they knew I couldn’t do it.  This dialogue upsets me.  My mind upsets me.  The limitations it tries to put on what I can and cannot achieve upsets me.  This is why I fight that much harder to achieve these goals, goals that according to that one therapist from years ago said are “not rooted in reality”.

Frankly, I don’t care what other people think of my reality because it isn’t theirs, it’s mine.  So if someone laughs when I say I want to be a Dive Master I let them because I know that they are laughing because in the context of their reality that is a ridiculous thought.  But then I take a step back and look at my reality, a reality where I have overcome so much and continue to fight invisible battles every single day that no one knows about, and I know that with a little hard work and a completely determined mind becoming a Dive Master is just a drop in the bucket.  Just like going to Mongolia in July is attainable and diving last week was attainable and going to art school was attainable and working in New York.  Just like finding recovery in the midst of the chaos and busyness of college was and will continue to be attainable.  Just like managing to get up every day and get my butt to class or work or EDA or therapy or whatever the hell else even when I feel terrible and just want to curl into a ball and cease to exist is attainable.

Whatever I focus my attention on is my reality and I chose to focus my mind and refocus it and refocus each time is shifts towards negativity and doubt back on attainability.  If I want something for my life, then I am going to have it in my life.  Simple. Clear. Done.  And that is me taking that therapists dumb advice and tossing it out the window because I don’t want her reality.  I don’t want a reality of small minded dreams and baby steps and realistic and mundane and routine.  I want passion and excitement and courage and adventure and according to my mind that can happen and that is my reality.  So to become rooted in it is to dream up these elaborate dreams and then do the hard work to make them attainable.

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand the concepts of one day at a time and the “just for today” mantras.  My recovery is built on them.  Remaining in the present moment in order to navigate the surges of urges and the intense emotions is painfully important for me to combat my eating disorder and other unhelpful behaviors.  But taking things one day at a time is simply the foundation for a life larger and fuller than someone in a tangled seductive relationship with an eating disorder could ever imagine.

My disorder brainwashed me into thinking that there are only two things that matter in the world: my weight and food.  And still to this day, I struggle with those beliefs and have to redirect the self criticisms around food and my body multiple times a day.  The difference is that after the consistency of redirecting those thoughts I found other thoughts underneath.  I found thoughts about other people.  My friends and my family became more important where my eating disorder has previously cut off and isolated me from anyone emotionally and or physically.  I found thoughts about school, about faith.  I found thoughts about things larger than my little disordered world could conceptualize.  Things like hope and futures and God and dreams.  Layer by layer was peeled off and underneath it all were more layers.  There will continue to be more layers because a mind not subject to the control of an eating disorder is always transforming, always growing, always revealing more of its complexity.  And that right there is a reality that will not align with most people’s in the world.  There are few who know and have experienced the breathtaking strength it takes to overcome your own mind.

Those who do know this experience, don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot achieve because you have already won a war no one knows anything about and that is otherworldly strength.  I have always believed that those in recovery have super powers and each time I witness a testimony to recovery that belief is just reinforced.

So to all the world travelers, imaginative thinkers, big dream chasers, and recovery warriors, do me a favor and create your own reality and anyone who tries to manipulate yours you can simply tell to fuck off.

Diaries of a Misplaced City Diver

Diary of a Misplace City Diver Who Can’t Seem to Get Her Shit Together

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An ambulance passes by at a deafening volume leaving my ears ringing and my heart racing.  I hate the sound of sirens, now even more than before, for their suggestion of trauma and their air of panic and alarm.  I have enough fear swimming through my bones these days.  My bones, because the fear is densely solid like ice or glass and not liquid so it can’t swim through me like in the past.  It is a fear that leaves a cloud looming over my shadowy body.  Not raining, not separating to give a glimpse of the sunlight, just lingering with a taunting presence giving rise to surges of anxious energies in my chest as I am constantly anticipating the sudden downpour of acid rains to burn my sensitive skin.

The sirens shift from a wail to a distressing beeping as I gain conscious awareness into my actual surroundings.  It is 5am and the noise was not an ambulance at all but the feverous calls of another day.  Friday. 5am. The sky is still black and my room stings my exposed feet and hands in its chilling March air.  I don’t like it, I tell myself.  This uncertainty. This cloud.  This cold air. This dreary room. I retreat from the day back into my intrinsically wired mind in search of a wave of belonging. Two days ago humidity held me in the present moment.  The air’s thick cloud offered a warm embrace certain to keep my feet, who tendencies are to float away, tethered firmly to the ground while the dry chill of the city lets me slip like water through loose fingers and spill slowly across the room.

I enter periods of time where I feel like everything is a dream, like I am watching myself on a screen while sitting on a couch sipping black coffee in hopes that its bitterness will somehow transport me back into the scene existing eight feet away and protected by a million pixilated images.  My complex mind needs this space, a time to rest from my reality, recharge, and then attempt to reenter.  But also a time to disembark on a journey of wonder and fantasy, a time to create within myself a world separate from the one greeting me at 5am through a beeping clock on a dark Friday morning.

Somewhere wedged between my left and right brain I have carved out cubby and stashed away my dreams so that whenever my present moment becomes tangled I can escape here and tuck myself safely away.  It is here in my cubby, nestled like a little bird, that I fall deep deep deep into the ocean’s abyss because that is what my cubby is constructed of at the moment, a fascination and obsession with diving beneath the surface, a space where few are privileged enough to experience. That’s the recipe needed on these bleak disconnected days, a vivid imagination able to transport me from my bedroom to the space underneath the waves , carried by the water’s current, and washed clean by the saltwater’s brush.

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Recipe for functionality of a misplaced and borderline dissociated city scuba diver:

-Begin by first separating the mind from current circumstance

-Take the circumstance, open the trash, toss it inside, and leave it be

-Take the mind, run it under cool water until all the dirt is washed away, dab it dry, and leave on the counter for 10 minutes

-After ten minutes take the mind and inject inside of it three drops of blue food coloring

-Massage the food coloring into the mind while humming

-Let the mind sit for 10 minutes

-While the mind is sitting bring three cups of water to boil

-Add a jar of fish oil and salt to the boiling water

-Take the mind and place it near the pot on the stove

-Let the smell fester into the mind for 10 minutes

-Turn of the stove, let the pot simmer

-Take the mind and submerge it into the water and fish oil and salt

-Place a lid on the pot and let the it sit until the mind melts into the substance

-Take the circumstance out of the trash and place it on the counter

-Pour the liquid mind over the circumstance

-Watch as the mind eats away the circumstance and expands in size

-Let cool, serve with whipped cream and shattered mussel shells

 Diary to Recount the Magic of Cancun and Lament the Death of My Mundanity  

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Tears form glass sculptures in the corners of my eyes not out of sadness or defeat but because I feel, for a moment, the sheer complexity of this world. There are so many layers that I am unable to navigate and excavate every crevice of this existence, but somehow as I sway to the rhythm of the city’s train, I am at peace in the knowledge of my minuscule presence.

Passing a row of street lights with the smell of dope evaporating from the gentleman next to me, the moment where I surface from a drift dive, completely overwhelmed by the vastness of the endless waters extending in each direction, appears in my mind. As it does, I exhale an air of acceptance in the fact that the world is so large and therefore to expend my energies around the maddening unexplainable darkness of this life does me no good except to distract me from all the light. To focus on sickness and loss and disease and compulsion is to flood my mind with murky sewage water when God is standing across the room offering to lead me into the crystal waters of the ocean. What do I choose, the waters that are already rising around my ankles or the ocean a mile down the path?

Positivity leaks from a journey towards greatness because each step, though painful and hard wearing, is a foreshadowing into the release you are to receive on the other side. Good can only be understood within the context of bad in the same way understanding can only transform into knowledge among an admitted confusion. So may I rest easy tonight in the understanding of not understanding and in the heaviness of the darkness because I know that peace comes from my powerlessness, from my surrendering, from my ability to look out at the train tracks and city lights and say “there is just so much”.

“There is just so much”… wonder in the magic of the water.  Last Saturday as I dove into the caverns in Cenotes, the magnitude of this statement nearly plastered me permanently to the ground of the cavern’s floor.  We dove at a 45-degree angle downward, deep deep down, leaving the sunlight to fade behind our backs.  A single file line because the walls around us were to narrow to share the space.  Our lights offered the way, guiding where we were to move and where we were to swim, but it wasn’t the guidance that was necessary.  It was not the onward and upward that was relevant, but the experience.  The fact that we were suspended in waters so clear that we all looked like we were floating.  There was no reference point offering knowledge that we were underwater, no particle, no murkiness, nothing but the air bubbles expanding from our regulators to tell us that we were diving.  The stalagmites and stalactites narrowed the space.  We must be careful in our navigation, aware of our every move so as to not damage the hundreds upon thousands of years of growth surrounding our bodies.  It wasn’t the artificial light coming from the flashlight in my hand that mattered.  It was the fact that a stalagmite only grows .37 inches in a year and the one’s surrounding us were several feet long.  Growth in stability.  Growth in undisrupted spaces.

We descend at a 45-degree angle and ascended all the same into an air pocket found deep inside this underwater river system.  So we were in an underwater river, 50 plus feet underground, and we could breath?  And there in the center of this circular cavernous space with stalagmites lining the ceiling was a tree.  A tree was growing right there in the middle of this underwater river because there was an air pocket, an air pocket?  Can you imagine?  The dive master asked us as we took out our regulators and rested in the wonderment of how a tree came to grow down here, to turn off all of our lights.  Complete and utter darkness fell over everything.  But only for a moment because the natural sunlight that we had left hundreds of feet away, leaked through the water.  As it did so, the sun created a white glowing film on top the water that as we brushed our hands across the water’s surface little white lights danced across the cavern.

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So I am in an underwater river, yet I can breathe, and there is a tree growing, and the waters dance with white lights.  The experience was unreal and left me, without a doubt, certain of the existence of a creator.  How could such a magical space, a magical experience, an otherworldly existence transpires without a God resting his hands on my shoulders and allowing me to truly see these things.

The alarm is still beeping.  I haven’t even moved for the day yet and already I have recounted the spiritual highs and mundane lows of my reality right now, today, on this chilly Friday morning in March.  Madness is compelling when you are zoomed out and able to accept its thought patterns at face value.

And, with that, I get out of bed.

Scuba Diving and I

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Here is the story of how I came to know the magic of scuba diving.

A year and a half ago, so August of 2014 I was just returning home from a summer in New York City. I had been interning for the past 11 weeks at Nanette Lepore’s design studio, playing Anne Hathaway’s part in Devil Wears Prada.  When I say that, I am not exaggerating.  I was running around the city, delivering sample garments, creating mood boards, grabbing coffees, dying fabric.  It was a summer of insanity.  14 hour days.  A plethora of demands and tasks that I was not, by any means, equipped to be taking care of.  I had only completed my freshman year at art school, I hadn’t even entered the fashion department yet and somehow Nanette’s HR person decided by glancing at my portfolio that I was cut out for the job.  When, to be honest, I knew nothing. I repeat, nothing. I was clueless about pattern making or fabric dying or the proper hand stitching techniques to fix garments.  Everything I knew I learned from YouTube.  The dresses and gowns in my portfolio were the results of hundreds of mistakes and redo’s.  And yet, here I was in New York City being asked to dye fabric for a fashion week preview or hand sew a celebrity client’s zipper or draw up a mock pattern for the new knitwear collection.  If I took away one thing from my 11 weeks there, it was how to bullshit on a professional level.  I used tea bags to dye fabric, traced my own sweater on paper for the knitwear pattern, and YouTubed in the bathroom “how to” tutorials on hand sewing techniques.  I was a mess and no one even noticed.  Because, in New York no one has time to notice.  Every man for themselves and that certainly served me in one way or another.  Anyways, I returned home in early August, unable to complete the last two weeks or so of my internship because the mayhem and chaos was a breeding ground for my eating disorder.  I didn’t have time to take care of myself/never made time/never thought to make time.  So, naturally I crashed and burned and landed myself in the next couple of weeks behind the locked doors of a treatment facility.

I was in residential treatment, my world was forcibly paused. I was transported from a life of running around and go, go, go, and do, do, do, and the crazy competiveness of the fashion industry to a suspended space in time that ran on patient’s tears and traumatic pasts. It was a culture shock to say the least.  My eating disorder has always been with me and yes it had taken relationships and taken my health and taken my grades and so on and so forth, but never had it interfered so strongly with my life that I had to put my schedule and care and health into the hands of professionals.  We all have our bottoms in life and I say bottoms purposely because I am a firm believer that no one has just one.  Life is a series of bottoms.  And, one of my larger bottoms was the day I hugged my mom and brother goodbye and was escorted back into a cold nurse’s room to be stripped naked and examined and poked and prodded and, worst of all, weighed.  I became the day I was checked into that treatment facility, a patient on a level I had never believed I would understand. I had always seen and heard about people having to enter inpatient centers and, admittedly, I would get kind of envious.  Thinking that my IOP or PHP recommended level of care meant I didn’t have a true eating disorder, I wasn’t as sick as those girls/guys, I wasn’t sick enough, blah, blah, blah.  It was on that day shivering and silently nodding in agreement to whatever that damn nurse asked of me that I realized the bullshit of those thoughts.  I was never without this disease, but I had chosen to continually humor it despite previous help and treatment because I never owned it.  I never could look myself in the face and say you have an eating disorder because I always thought I was too fat. As if that was the deciding factor and not my health or my relationships or my overall mindset.  The nurse escorted me from the examine room to the lodge so that the counselors could assign me a bed.  And as I walked, all I could think about was how fat I thought my thighs were and it was then that I knew this was not a game about weight.  Because here I was in the very place I thought I had to get to in order to truly have an eating disorder and still my mind was racing about ways to get sicker, thinner, to become invisible. This was a battle against the mind.

IMG_4394Now like I said, during my time in residential treatment my life stopped while everyone else’s kept going. At the time, I thought this was the worst thing ever, that I was falling so far behind, that would never be successful ever ever again.  But as the weeks passed, I slowly became aware of the power this little treatment bubble gave me.  For the first time in my life, I was presented with the ability to untangle everything.  All aspects of my life were paused, so I could walk around the mess of yarn my existence had become and one by one start pulling out the loose strings.  During this process of untangling and reevaluating, I learned several things about myself.

  1. I hate fashion. I hate the industry. I hate the culture. I hate making patterns. I hate the idea of fashion week. I could go on and on.
  2. I hate makeup. My makeup was all taken away at the treatment center which at first I thought was torture, but then came to realize the blessing it offered. My skin started the air out and clear up. My time in the morning was so much more relaxed. And, most importantly, my freckles were finally visible for the world to appreciate and see. Marks that I previously had come to loathe.
  3. I hate nice clothes. I enjoy quirky harem pants and long flowing sweaters and wide headbands. I found myself to actually be kind of a hippie and guess what no one in treatment-where the majority of women are wearing bathrobes and sweatpants-cared if I wanted to weave a crown of flowers during dance movement therapy and wear it for three days. So my world of loose clothing and owning a hippy persona began.

IMG_4099But the next discovery I came upon makes the past three miniscule in comparison because the fourth thing I came to realize has flipped my world upside down. While in treatment, removed from the city and the noise and the suffocation of the dark and artificially conditioned rooms, I admitted to my love of the outdoors. Somewhere throughout my teenage years, I had convinced myself of my deep hatred for nature and dirt and mud and sand and heat and through this convincing came to believe I loved the city and fashion and makeup and looking pretty and going to fancy restaurants and being glamourous all the time with my red lipstick and fake blonde highlighted hair.  It was all a lie, but one I had convinced myself so firmly of that it had become my truth.  But it was here in the safety behind the locked doors and sea of therapists that I felt able to challenge those beliefs

Now comes the part about how my newly rooted obsession for diving came to fruition while the rest is merely the back story necessary to understand.

I left my internship early and found myself home for a week or two before being checked into treatment. I had nothing to do, but that week did happen to be Shark Week on the discovery channel.  So what better way to spend my time than sitting on the couch watching hours and hours of testimonies of those who “survived the mouths of jaws”.  I had always had a connection with the ocean.  I was the child that when we went to the beach never came out of the water.  But, somewhere in the past years of mental illness and disease I had lost touch with that childlike wonder that the water brought me. I am not sure what it says about my character that my reconnection with the water came through watching people nearly get eaten, but never the less, Shark Week 2014 was when I decided I wanted to get my diving certification.  I wanted to experience the ocean as a submerged entity of the waters. I wanted to be outdoors where my mind previously had told me that space was hated.

While in treatment, it is hard to request access to a computer. It is hard to find time to yourself to study for an online dive course. It is hard to rebuke your treatment team’s recommendation that you don’t leave treatment early and go diving over Christmas.  But I did.  I did so, not because I wasn’t committed to my recovery.  I did so because I was committed.  Getting my dive certification, the minute I left treatment was my largest motivator to get healthy.

  1. I was in treatment until nearly Christmas.
  2. While in treatment I took an online diving course.
  3. The day I got home I headed to the pool for my first underwater dive.
  4. The day after Christmas I flew to the Bahamas to complete my open water certification.
  5. On New Year’s Eve I dove with 40+ black tip sharks without a cage.
  6. On January 2nd, I returned to Chicago and went back to complete my treatment I had left early for my trip and despite the therapists continual disapproval of my leaving, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Diving has become a huge part of my life and my recovery journey. It makes me feel capable, strong, and completely at ease with my body. Since then I have on dived wrecks, with sea turtles, with sting rays, in caves, in freezing water, in fresh and salt and each time I dive I become more obsessed with the ocean.

IMG_4069Her beauty and grace and overwhelming presence are the nourishment my body has been craving all along.

Scuba diving and I…the rest is history.

Suffering

A poem I wrote in response to the sculpture called “Suffering” by Constantin Brancusi. 

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Two hollow caverns

Resulting in absent slimy white spheres

That cause the evolution of unnatural movement.

Disjointed. Harsh.

Forced to draw a right angle whose

Direction becomes a guide from blindness

And when oriented the nostril glacier’s

Icicles melt into an overflowing jar.

Where the liquid spills, forming a

Puddle of organs:

The flesh of thoughts,

And the blood hearts of ideas,

Which drip through the cracked floor

Burning away the strings bound to the blind.

Ropes of smoke equating to

The evaporation of bondage.

Real.

Not an illusion,

But an illusion of perception.

Slowly falling away into

Showers of blood hearts

Raining through the kitchen tiles.

A million particles.

A million droplets.

The blind has severed physical relations

Forcing a painful disintegration

Of breaking down to a microscopic felt space.

A Transformation into an existence which is no longer solid.

Collaboration

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As I have mentioned before, I am interning at the Arts of Life this semester, which means I help adult artists with a range of mental disabilities in their art practices. The past two months or so I have been collaborating with an artist at the Arts of Life named Carrie who is amazing, caring, talented, and above all complex.  Some days Carrie is completely lucid.  She is present in the studio. She is talkative, responsive, and makes a ton of art.  Other days Carrie is dissociated.  She sits rigid with her eyes straight forward, shoulders stiff, not talking, not responding.  Today, Carrie was having a dissociated day, or as I like to call it, a gone day.  But despite this fact, I still fought to try and get her to work with me.

“Carrie do you want to use watercolors with me?”

No response.

“Hey, Carrie I got you a brush and some paint.”

A furrowed brow and pursed lips.

“Hey Carrie, how about we make some art?”

A plain, flat “no” and an aggressive turn away.

I was frustrating Carrie with my pestering. I could see that, but, in all fairness, she was frustrating me too.  Not because I couldn’t empathize with her experience. No, it was because I was involved in her experience that I was getting angry.  I have gotten close with Carrie over the past months and have come to understand her cycle quite well. I know certain cues that tell me she doesn’t want to be touched or talked to.  I know certain facial expressions that tell me she is willing to sit with me and collaborate.  I know that sometimes she bolts out of her chair and races across the studio out of excitement.  I know that sometimes she yells and closed herself in the “calm down room” because she is overwhelmed.  I have worked with her when she is both lucid and dissociated.  That is why it makes me sad when I come to the studio and know that Carrie is gone because I have come to really enjoy my time spent with her and I want every day to be a good day for Carrie.

I feel so strongly about Carrie because I get it.  I get good days and bad days.  Throughout recovery I have a wide range of up and downs.  I have days where I am riding on cloud 9 and everything is going my way.  Where I could have dessert and not care.  Where I could go to class and talk and not get overly anxious.  Where I could sleep without a single nightmare. Where I could go to school and work without breaking down about god knows what.  Then there are the days where I am certain that my backpack is full of bricks.  Where my eyelids feel like glass and each time I blink my cheeks are being cut open.  Where each calorie that meets my tongue becomes poison that my stomach rejects.  Where everything feels wrong and dark and blank.

Watching Carrie struggle with her extremes and being a third party to that experience has been interesting.  It gives me a removed perspective of what it is like to have someone you care about struggle.  What it is like to watch and not be able to change their experience.  In doing so, I have learned the power of presence.  The power of sitting with Carrie on her gone days and simply talking with her.  Not expecting a response.  Not being offended when she roles her eyes at me or yells or turns away.  Just knowing that Carrie is having a bad day, but not everyday is bad and sometime soon the good will come back.  But if I am not willing to collaborate with Carrie on those gone days, then I certainly have no right asking to collaborate on the lucid ones.

So as I end today, I have hopes that tomorrow I will enter the studio and find Carrie in her purple hat and pink gloves smiling and working with her pastels. But if I walk in and see her in her big coat, with glazed eyes and rigid shoulders, I will react in the same way. Go over to her desk, say hello, sit down, take out my paintbrush, offer to make art with her, and accept whatever response she offers back.  Collaboration, same as support, is a two-way street and my job is to meet her halfway.

Rubber Band

I have time and time again compared my eating disorder to a rubber band. eab976192d1d9672efd90602d639b9fe

Phase One- Fusing

Initially I had no idea that there was band wrapped around me.  I didn’t know that I could only move so far without being pulled back. I had no idea that dieting was leading to starvation or that cheat days were leading to binging/purging.  I had no idea that spending hours at the gym was not normal. I had no idea that over the course of several years, the eating disorder had come in the form this rubber band to restrain me, my life, and my future.

rubber-bandsThe day I first became aware of the band around my body, I was 17.  Hunger had left me doubled over, retching in pain as I tried desperately to close my eyes and sleep.  My mind screamed for me to get out of bed and eat something.  My body begged me to drink some more water to help ease the Charlie-horses in my legs.  This was not uncommon during this time, actually this was not uncommon throughout the past decade or so, but something about this night stuck with me because lying there unable to sleep, I had the thought that I didn’t want to do this anymore.  I didn’t want to restrict. I didn’t want to get up at 4:30 to workout. I wanted cereal in the morning and to sleep past the sunrise.  I wanted to feel warm again and not have to line my bed with four comforters. I was 17 and that night desperately wanted to get out of bed and eat and drink and end this agony that I was living in, and yet I couldn’t.  Something inside of me, held me down, told me not to move, told me that I wasn’t allowed to because if I did then everything I had worked towards, all the weight I had lost, all the calories I had purged, all the hours spent ruminating over my body and calories and weight and diets would have been wasted.  If I got up that night, I would be a failure and failure was not something I could deal with.  And upon realizing the paralysis of adhering my body’s needs, I rubbed my hands across my torso and felt for the first time the rubber band around my waist that was now fused to my skin with no hope of removal.

Phase Two- Stretching

The rubber band was so much more uncomfortable once I knew it was there.  It was tight and irritating.  It gave me rashes and left my waist feeling sore.  You know when you wear a ponytail too long and you take it off and your hair hurts?  Well, imagine never being able to take out the ponytail.  You always have to wear something that is cutting off your circulation and doesn’t allow you to bend certain ways.  That is what living with a rubber band is like.  That is what living with a rubber band that is actually an eating disorder, that is actually slowly ruining your life, that actually won’t ever leave you alone is like.

The rubber band got thicker over the years.  It got so big that people started to notice it was there.  That is how I ended up under the microscope listening to a bunch of doctors and therapists and dietitians trying to help fix me.  I was willing at first to spend my days in rooms lined with couches and eating premade meals, but then I was told that no one was going to remove the rubber band for me and I lost all faith in the process.  The rubber band had fused to my body over the years, leaving me dependent on it.  My blood supply now ran through it. It was a muscle that helped me to think and walk.  It was a part of me and the professionals told me that they couldn’t just cut it off.

I didn’t like that answer.  So, I hooked one end of the rubber band to a pole and started running in the opposite direction.  Running and running and running away from the arena that the band had chained me in.  The direction that promised me recovery. The direction that promised freedom.  I ran with one end hooked on a pole because I thought that if I stretched the band far enough, that it would eventually snap. rubber-band-keep-stretching

The opposite happened.  Instead of a snapped rubber band resulting in the freedom I so longed for, I got so exhausted I had to forfeit the race.  I had to rest my feet and the moment I sat down the rubber band pulled me back to the starting point.  The place, where the one end was hooked on a pole.  And, after all that running and effort and energy I landed myself back in a room full of couches with premade meals and professionals telling me that they couldn’t cut the rubber band off and I couldn’t run from it, expecting it to snap in two.

I didn’t believe them.  Instead, I hook on end of the rubber band onto a pole and started running again. Run, run, run, run and then retort.  Back to the pole, back to the couches, back to the professionals.  The rubber band was too thick to snap.  It was too thick to outrun.  It was too fused to remove. I sat on the couches and raised my hands in surrender.

Phase Three-Walking

Though running away from the rubber band didn’t work, it did stretch the band out.  The times I was running away from the rubber band were the times I was fully onboard the recovery wagon and doing everything in my power to get rid of the eating disorder.  Then the times when the rubber band pulled me back to the pole were my seasons of relapse and reentering treatment.  This process was exhausting, a push and pull, a back and forth marathon of trying to find any way to get rid of the band.  Some positives did come out of these seasons though because they stretched out that band, which represents the eating disorder’s malicious voice inside my head.  The band after these seasons fit like a loose pair of sweats rather than tight skinny jeans.

WalkingBecause the band was now loose, I felt as though I could take a step back and truly look at it. This was the key all along.  Walking with the band and slowly finding ways to loosen its grip.  That is what the dietitians and therapists and doctors were trying to tell me.  They weren’t saying that I would never be free of the rubber band, they were saying that I had to first accept the band before I could learn its weaknesses.  The running away from it and the multiple attempts to snap it were valid, but ineffective. It was so too much too quickly. I had to slowly pull away.  Find ways to become less dependent on it.  Find other ways of coping with pain.  Find other skills to help me distract from behaviors.  Learn to live without the band.  Cut of the blood supply running through it and eventually it would just shrivel away and die.

Phase Four- Unknown

I haven’t gotten here yet.  I think it is supposed to be the phase where the rubber band eventually falls off somewhere along my walk.  Where the band no longer fits.  Where the band is no longer used. Where I am come to a place where I am no longer concerned with the band and how it feels and then one day I just realize that it is gone.  I don’t know if I believe in this phase. I don’t know if I ever think that the rubber band will be gone.  But I do know that I have heard people talk about loosing their rubber bands.  They don’t know when or how or why exactly. They just know that one day they woke up and realized it was gone. Perhaps, one day I too will wake up, rub my hands along my torso, and find no rubber band. Perhaps, one day.

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Grief in Meadows

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I have been escaping into the layers of my mind to find some resolution within my current circumstances because when I close my eyes, anything can become real if only I am to envision it.  So I climb deep deep down into a golden meadow where seated in the middle is a little brick house.  Each brick laid by my own two hands.  A safe house.  Brick by brick built to enclose the one’s I hold dearest.

The meadow is vast and speckled with red flowers. Red because red is his favorite color.  The flowers grow abundantly.  Over and over again.  Taller and taller until him and I and everyone else who I want to protect are swallowed in their beauty. Hidden in their petals. Protected in their sent.

The sunlight dances and the wind sings in the meadow’s melodies that change with the passing times. But time here is not like time over there.  Because time in the meadow is never ending.  You do not have to be afraid of running out.  Time is welcomed in the meadow and it to becomes an element of the choreographed dance of the sun and wind.

We dance. We sing. We laugh underneath the sun. Warmth radiates off of our cheeks. Red and rosy they become reflecting back on us the beauty of the flowers. We are not afraid. Here, we are never afraid.

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When I open my eyes, the sharp sting of reality whips my cheeks as I take in the violent noise of my alarm.  I am ejected from the world of safe havens built of brick houses and thrown into one in which time is limited. Time is ticking. Time is slowly running out.  A world where the beeping of the alarm signals the panic to get up and get going and get at another day.  And there is no way for me to communicate with this reality about the world it is missing, the world that exists deep inside my mind.

I want that world.  The world of eternity. The world where Andy is still alive and where my mom is not sick and I don’t have an eating disorder and survivors didn’t exist because surviving wasn’t real because all anyone knew how to do was live.  I want my reality to erode like a rocky shore.  Let the waves cut at it. Let it fall away so I may unravel into a place of perfection and safety.  Take me to the meadow with the little brick house where each person that I love I can stick inside and build a room around and ensure their safety.

But that world is a myth.  It is a byproduct of my overly imaginative mind.  The world of dreams and perfection and wonder and magic.  The world we live in is real. So real that it will stab you in the chest every so often just to make sure you feel it.  Stab. Stab. Stab.

During the day I put on my mask.  The mask has a screen over the eyes that places me in the meadow.  I wear the mask all the time because when I take it off I don’t know where I am or what day it is.  When I take off the mask I get really scared and cold and confused because I am suddenly in a world that I don’t want to know.  But that is the truth, isn’t it?  That the world cannot be known. Reality cannot be understood. Especially when it entails the loss of someone so suddenly and so young.  It will never be understood.  So what, then?  Do I just take off the mask and stand naked in the world with the cold and foreign winds freezing my tears to my raw cheeks?  Either that or wear the mask.  Live in a meadow. Build up more bricks. Dance in the wind and flirt with time. Until the sand in the timer runs dry and the fake façade I spent so much energy building slowly disintegrates and I am left as a shadow in a world full of solidity.

If I leave with a mask on I will fall away from what is true.  The mask is what keeps me from the grief.  It is the disconnect from the tragedy of loosing Andy of the uncertainty of my mom’s illness. Even if I choose to wear it, the grief will find me eventually. So I have taken it off and put it in the closet. Because it would be a disservice to Andy’s memory to pretend he wasn’t worth grieving over.   But I need people to be patient with me for this very reason.  Yes, I have taken off the mask and I am standing in the cold winds and I am sad and angry and hurting.  The winds feel like knives cutting at every aspect of myself, the heart, the mind, the soul.

Some days just simply breathing is all I can manage to do.  Some days I walk all the way to work and then can’t make it in the door because of the waterfall of tears flooding my eyes.  Some days I can’t speak when I am in class because the kid across the room looks just like him.  Other days it is okay.  It is bearable.  The grief is able to walk along side me instead of crushing me.

Without the mask I am leaving behind the meadow and the dreams of eternity that live in it.  I am leaving it behind not because I don’t believe in heaven, but because I don’t believe I am there yet.  I am leaving it behind so I may look at this world, this reality, these circumstances and begin to figure out how they are going to work with this crater that Andy’s death has left behind.

Without the mask, my mind is much more vulnerable, much more exposed and the grief is real.  When grief is real, time is ruthless, and waves of emotion start to dictate my days. But I think that is acceptable.  I think it is better to grieve than to stuff. I think that riding the waves is important.  I think that not making it to work one day doesn’t constitute as a failure. I think that letting myself be sad is good. Grief has a purpose.  It reminds me how much Andy mattered.