The things I learned in Undergrad

My undergraduate experience hasn’t been very conventional. And I’ve hated myself for that since I returned to school in Fall 2015.

But I just finished a 10-minute guided meditation on self-forgiveness (because apparently I’m a person who meditates now), and as cringey and fluffy as it sounds, I realized something important. Namely, that I have learned so much more since I started university in 2012 than I ever could have if things had gone differently.

I wouldn’t be who I am today if I had graduated in 2016 with my friends from high school. If I hadn’t switched programs. If I didn’t take time off for eating disorder treatment. Maybe things would have been easier, but they wouldn’t have been better. Because I went to university to learn, and that’s what I did.

2012-2013

I began first-year as an anxious but generally happy super-Christian. I went to church twice a week, I volunteered with a youth group, and I planned to declare Religious Studies as my major in second year. I hardly know that 17-year-old version of me now. I feel compassion for her, because I remember that Christianity gave her a purpose and a community, before it gave her crippling self-hatred for being a sinner and stifled her dreams. I feel compassion for her, but I barely know her. These days, she rarely crosses my mind. Anyways, at some point, this girl decided God was telling her to become a nurse. When I didn’t get into the Nursing program for the following year, I decided to major in Psychology for my second year then transfer into Accelerated Nursing.

2013-2014

At the end of Summer 2013, after university education and life experience left me doubting Christianity for months, I made the decision that I was no longer a Christian. When I went back to school in September, all my friends thought I was going to hell, I had no hobbies or interests outside the church, and I had no direction or purpose for my life. I tried turning to science to give me some sense of meaning. I thought if I learned HOW our species and our planet ended up where they are now, I would also know WHY. I wanted to switch into Biology. Then Biochem. Then general Life Sciences. Then physics. Eventually, I decided to stay in psychology after all and do something to help those with mental illness. I developed Bulimia in the Fall, and barely attended any classes in the Winter. I went to the Psych ER three times with suicidal thoughts. At some point, I thought a change of scenery might help, so I applied to double major in Math and Writing at a different university in January 2015. Over the Summer, I experienced a trauma and my eating disorder became restrictive and took over everything. (When I talk about this, I like to clarify that my eating disorder COINCIDENTALLY became worse and more restrictive at the same time, but restrictive eating disorders are not generally more or less severe than other eating disorders)

2014-2015

Just typing in those years brings me immense sadness. This year must have been the most miserable in my life to date. In the Fall, I couldn’t work, and I was waiting until January to return to school. I watched documentaries under a blanket in my room all day, and had energy/motivation for little else. All I cared about was food and calories and weight. And to be honest, I probably needed it at that time, because everything else had gone to shit. I accepted a referral to a Day Hospital program, because I thought I would be magically better in 8 weeks and go back to school like nothing happened. I started attending classes in February, and relapsed immediately. I still only cared about food and calories and weight. I dropped all my classes in late March or early April because I didn’t have the mental capacity to learn anything. I returned to the Day Hospital program in April. While there, I decided to return to my original university, as it was closer to my home so my parents would be nearby and the trigger of commuting would be gone. This school doesn’t have a writing program, so I intended to double-major in Math and English.

2015-2016

I managed to mostly maintain my recovery through the Summer. I met Jenn in the Fall. She made me happy and was a great motivation for recovery. I’m still getting over our breakup, so I’ll just say the recovery stuck and Jenn did not. I also decided to only major in Math, as that meant graduating with a BSc instead of a BA, and the English courses at this school are not remotely writing-related.

2016-2017

Jenn broke up with me a few days before classes started in September, so I started the term suicidal. I was in the hospital a few times for overdosing, and was very nearly admitted as a psychiatric inpatient. I managed to get my shit together just in time, and got through the term. In the Winter, my roommate was admitted inpatient, and everything was about her for months. I sound unsupportive and I honestly am, but I had zero support and she was incredibly selfish during this time. I don’t want to get into the details, but our friendship became very toxic, and it was all very difficult for me. I made no changes to my program this year, believe it or not.

After 6 years of undergrad, I will (if all goes to plan) finally receive my degree in 2018. That degree will tell the world that I came to university and I learned about math. And I used to take comfort in knowing it wouldn’t say anything else. Like the fact that it took me 6 years to achieve, or the fact that I changed my mind on my program 20394 times, or the fact that I entered school wanting to be a missionary, or the fact that I lost a year of school to complete eating disorder treatment. But today, I kind of wish my degree wouldn’t just say I learned math. I wish it would say that I learned where I stand on religion, how to survive when I don’t want to, how to cope in unhealthy ways, how to cope in healthy ways, how to break and then put myself back together, how to love, the fact that I love women, what heartbreak feels like, how to put my life back together a second time, what I really want to do with my life, and how to work towards the life I really want. Because I learned all those things, and looking back, I wouldn’t change my path one bit, because those struggles and setbacks and detours made me grow into the person I am today. And I learned things about myself and the world that I will use for the rest of my life. So my undergrad hasn’t been conventional, but thank god it hasn’t been.

Sarah

Reflecting on Recovery

I am generally feeling pretty down this evening, but I’ve been wanting to write a positive post regarding Eating Disorder recovery, so I figured I may as well do that tonight.

I consider myself to be recovered from my eating disorder. Despite the fact that I was not sick for very long, there was a time when I thought I would never say that. I remember once asking a healthcare provider, “What if I’m stuck like this forever?” I can still feel the desperation I felt in that moment. I remember how trapped I felt when over and over and over again, attempts to stop restricting lead to bingeing which lead to purging and recommitting to restriction. And I am so happy not to be feeling those things anymore.

I won’t re-tell my entire eating disorder history here, but I’ll give a rough timeline of my illness and recovery for context. I exhibited disordered eating patterns off and on during my teenage years, but I would say my disorder began in September 2013. (At that time, I had Bulimia Nervosa, but this would later abruptly morph into Anorexia- Binge/Purge Subtype) My illness began consuming my entire life in Summer 2014. I half-assed my way through a Day Hospital Program Winter 2014/2015, relapsed immediately upon discharge, and gave my best effort when I was re-admitted in Spring 2015. Despite beginning to relapse in June 2015, and slipping many times later, I have more or less maintained my recovery since that admission. Over the course of months, my slips went from 3 weeks long to 1 week long to 3 days long, and they were happening less and less frequently. My eating disorder made it difficult to regain the weight I lost last Fall as a result of depression, but it did not manage to suck me in the way it had before. And today, I feel the healthiest I have been (food-wise) since my disorder began.

It has been a year and a half since I have been seriously unwell, so I often fail to notice the subtle changes in my thinking that I never thought I would experience. But every once in a while, I am amazed and incredibly grateful by the transformation that has taken place.

One thing that has surprised me is the way I view my disorder differently as I gain more distance from it. I used to have an unbearable urge to become sicker before I recovered, to show the world how much weight I could lose before “giving up” by getting healthy. I thought my eating disorder wouldn’t matter unless I ended up in a hospital bed with a tube in my nose. In essence, I thought losing more weight would make me finally feel “sick enough to recover”. But the strange thing is, what finally made me feel this way was recovery itself. For one, the amount of weight loss that seemed trivial to me at the time now feels somewhat shocking. But also, living with the freedom to eat according to my body’s wants and needs has made me realize the extent to which I used to be imprisoned by my thoughts. I have memories of wanting so badly to eat, but feeling physically incapable of doing so. I remember crying over a plate of Shepherd’s Pie, while “This is against the rules” repeated in my head like a punishing mantra. I remember feeling too embarrassed to be in public after my first day in treatment, because I thought everybody could tell I was gaining weight. As I sit here writing about these days, I am thinking “What the actual fuck.” I feel so far removed from that world of obsession and delusion. And that validates my struggle more than further weight loss or an increased level of care ever could have.

My biggest surprise though, is that I am actually starting to love my body.

I feel hypocritical saying that, because there are still days when I think I am fat, and I still let my desire to numb my emotions hurt my body when I self-harm. But whenever a friend says I have a nice butt, (an occurrence that once contributed to a relapse) I respond with “Thank you; I know.” I came home from the gym one day last week and told my roommate, “My legs are great”. I sometimes flex my biceps in the mirror like a douchebag. I thought that losing more weight, on top of validating my suffering, would make me like my body more. And yes, there were a couple milliseconds sprinkled throughout the time I spent unwell where I felt “skinny”. But 99% of the day, I felt tired, depressed, and most importantly, “not thin enough”. I remember riding the train to my first day of treatment (Round 2) at my lowest weight, and thinking my thighs looked fat. I realize now that my unconscious goal was to make my body disappear, something I could never have fully achieved. No matter how sick I got, my body would still have some mass, and my legs would still be there. I looked down at my thighs and hated the space they took up, so making that amount of space smaller would have never satisfied me. Now, I am no longer wishing my body out of existence. I see the way some clothing accentuates my curves, and I feel beautiful and feminine. I look down at my thighs and, while I do see fat, I also see muscle I have worked hard to build, and I see pieces of a human being who is allowed to exist and take up space.

I can’t explain in words how profoundly grateful and surprised I am to be in this place I didn’t think I would ever be. I so easily forget the progress I’ve made when depression and anxiety continue to affect my everyday life. But I get to work on these issues with my fully functional, well-nourished brain, and then go home and eat Reese chocolate peanut butter spread like I give a fuck, and then do my abstract algebra homework somewhat-efficiently, and then spend time with friends because I have the energy for it. Focusing on my current struggles is important, but it’s also nice to look back on the progress I’ve made and feel proud and thankful that I have gotten this far.

Sarah

2 Years Later

I wrote this letter 2 years ago today. It had been 2 months since I had been discharged from an Eating Disorders Day Hospital program, and it would be 1 month until I began the program for a second time. I wrote this to my future self in Day Hospital, so whenever I started romanticizing my eating disorder (which I do a lot), I would be reminded that it was hell. I still pull this letter out sometimes, when I start looking back with nostalgia on my life with an active eating disorder. I am proud to say that, 2 years later, I consider myself recovered from Anorexia, and I have no plans of going back.Untitled

Bye, 2016. See you never.

I felt like posting an update tonight, and then I realized that it’s about the right time to start reflecting on the giant pile of shit that was 2016, so here I am.

Before I begin, I would like to contextualize this year in my life by briefly summarizing 2014 and 2015, which weren’t too great for me either.

I began 2014 in my first Severe Major Depressive episode and was bingeing and purging almost daily. Around March, I began dating a guy I didn’t like at all because I was desperate to not be alone. That relationship ended in July with a traumatic event, and my eating disorder worsened and became mainly restrictive. I was unable to function, and did not return to school in the Fall. I began a Day Hospital Eating Disorders program in December.

I remained in the Day Hospital program for the entirely of January, getting discharged on the 31st. I returned to school in February, but maintaining recovery on my own was harder than I had expected, and I relapsed almost instantly. I was re-admitted to Day Hospital mid-April and was discharged 9 weeks later. I began to relapse in June and July, but was able to turn things around, and have essentially stayed well since, aside from the occasional  bad week or two. I was fired from a job after disclosing my mental health disability (which is definitely illegal), and later quit a job that caused more anxiety than I could handle. I moved out and returned to school again in September, and in November, I began dating my ex. Ugh, fucking Jennifer. 2015 concluded with the one good month of that relationship.

Enter 2016. The New Year brought a lot of anxiety, as I hadn’t yet told my parents I wasn’t working and I knew they wouldn’t be happy about it. My ex was being dramatic as fuck about her co op term, and was unbearable to be around. She also stopped giving a single shit about me. In May and June, I had to live at home, as my landlord sold our student house and the new place I wanted wouldn’t be open until July. I also had a hard time finding a job, which caused a lot of self-hatred and finance-related anxiety. The job I eventually found was pretty good, but working really triggers my social anxiety. And of course, on my last day of work, my ex broke up with me in the shittiest way imaginable. I suffered my second Severe Major Depressive episode, which brought on 3 overdoses, a relapse into self-harm, a brief eating disorder relapse after unintentional weight loss, and just overall misery. And then a fascist, sexist, reality TV star became leader of the free world.

So here we are, in December 2016. The past three years have been one very long shit-show, but maybe things are gradually improving? My hospital stays lasted days instead of months, I held down a full-time job for most of the Summer, and I spent most of the year out of the toxic environments at my parents’ houses. I learned a lot about myself and became much stronger. I loved and I lost (it should have been you, Bernie), but mostly I survived. And maybe 2017 will fuck me all over again. But maybe it won’t?

I’m generally pretty cynical, and it’s not like I expect the new year to bring me fairy dust and a pet unicorn. But the bar has been set low, so 2017 will likely be an A+ year on the bell-curve of my life. I guess I just need to do what I can to make that happen.

Sarah

Oh haaaaay Anorexia

TRIGGER WARNING: This post is being written by my eating disorder.

Things have been a lot lately. I still feel depressed and lonely more than three months after my breakup. I’m writing finals this week and next. Finances are very tight, as I am reaching the end of the student loan money I received in September. And I am dreading the hours I will have to spend with my family on and after Christmas Day. Maybe this is why I have been feeling particularly nostalgic about my eating disorder lately.

I don’t feel fat- no more so than usual anyways. I’m not feeling anxious about eating a normal amount with decent variety. Recovery is not difficult right now.

But I keep thinking about the high I got from losing weight. The way I actually liked myself for a little while. I think about watching my body change and feeling my clothes get looser. I miss the routine and the obsession and the perfection. I even miss that god-awful Day Hospital program, where healthcare professionals cared about me for a second because my pain became visible.

I know rationally that I was miserable when I was in the throes of my disorder, and that I would hate myself if I gave up on recovery. But the desire to lose weight is so strong. I can feel Anorexia taking over my brain, and I don’t even mind. This might go away in a day or two, or I might let it continue.

Today, for the first time in a while, I tried solving a problem by restricting. My roommate bailed on our plans today, and I felt incredibly angry and anxious at the sudden change. I wanted some way to let my anger out, and my stomach was in knots anyway, so I threw out the bagel I was making for dinner and had a bowl of vegetables instead. I’m having a hard time studying now, but I feel powerful.

I don’t know what to write as a conclusion. Obviously, my thoughts are incredibly disordered right now, and they’ll probably go back to normal soon, but I wanted to express them. So, there they are.

Sarah

Side Note

I don’t want to make a whole post about this because I am trying not to think about it, but I am currently trying to eat more after a month of restriction following my breakup. For the first few weeks, this restriction was simply due to lack of appetite, which my depression had caused. But eventually, my Anorexia became triggered as I began getting used to my restrictive diet and enjoying the mild weight loss it had caused. In an effort to improve my mood and regulate my emotions, I have decided to start eating more again. This is difficult, because my appetite has not fully returned. Also, after having very limited variety in my diet for weeks, it is scary to begin eating new foods again. The most difficult part is letting go of the weight loss, as it feels like the only good thing happening in my life right now. But I know I will feel better when I am properly nourished and at my set-point weight. I am trying to do this mechanically, without giving it a second thought. But as I sit here eating cookies that scare me, while still feeling full from lunch, I need to tell someone how much this sucks.That’s all I will say on that topic.

Sarah

Update: Still Depressed

I apologize for the nonstop bombardment of pure joy and excitement that is my blog these days. I’ll try to bring the optimism down to a manageable level.

But seriously, I am still depressed and it fucking sucks.

My previous two hospital extravaganzas left me feeling renewed and filled with purpose. My near-death (but not really) experiences had caused me to achieve enlightenment, and I couldn’t imagine ever overdosing again, the world shiny and sparkly as it was. Tonight, a small part of me is considering asking for a psych admission. Like on purpose. I honestly don’t feel much better than I did when I got myself into this mess, and that’s a scary thought. Something obviously needs to change, because I can’t keep spending my weekends in the ER.

Again, maybe my meds need to be changed, or maybe I need a different type of counselling. Most likely, I need to start eating more again. But without the piece-of-an-eating-disorder I’ve been toting around, I will truly be alone. And then the ground will come out from beneath me, and the world will just open up and swallow me. Obviously that’s a bit dramatic, but I swear that’s how it feels.

I suppose there isn’t much I can do to fix my life in the hospital at 1am. Except sleep. Oh right, sleep. Let’s do that.

Sarah