March 11, 2012

Sharing Our Struggles

Thanks to Sarah Stoodley for sharing her struggle with everyone.  Your honesty, and bravery in sharing this is inspirational and appreciated.

Staying Sick
by Sarah Stoodley

Sometimes having a brain with a mental illness is very confusing.  I am not sure where I stand right now.  Am I working really hard to move forward?  Am I making progress?  Or am I using these ideas of progression as a cover-up and a way to stay sick?  I honestly am not sure at this point.  Can both of these things exist simultaneously? 

I’ve always felt like my eating disordered voice, the gremlin, spoke very clearly, and could be heard and assessed and hopefully argued with…and if I was lucky, fought against.  However, right now, I am not sure any of that is the case.  Maybe I am the gremlin right now and have myself totally deluded. 

I am doing some real work – I do go to my sessions and to group and speak about hard things that I have never verbalized before – but I also am not doing what I need to do on a day-to-day basis to take care of myself.  I am starting to tackle a list of about 25 body image “rules,” ideals and concerns that have dictated my desire for what my physical body should look like, but I feel like I have only been able to do that because I know I am not doing what I need to do to meet 100% of my meal plan.  I am pretty sure that is either cheating or deluding myself.   Or maybe it is what I need to do to give myself the space I need to tackle these really hard issues; a few of which are new to this round of recovery, but many of which are close to 20 years old.  But if that is the case, something is still wrong because I obviously am in need of a coping skill to be able to deal with my feelings as I work on these issues and the coping skill I am using is my eating disorder.  I don’t think that is valid progress. 

All of this came about from a major crash.  I graduated from IOP at Renfrew about 5 weeks ago.  However, I wasn’t ready.  I sat through my graduation, wishing that I wasn’t graduating.  I cried most of that night – both when I was asleep and when I was awake.  I headed into the next day in a really bad place and regressed significantly.  I called my outpatient therapist and told her I thought I had made a huge mistake in saying I was ready to leave IOP, even thought I thought it was true when I had made the request and obviously the team had agreed since they had let me graduate.  She spoke with Renfrew and ultimately it was agreed upon that if I returned to program that coming Monday that I would be allowed to return and continue.  I had to think long and hard about whether I wanted to give up the things in my life I was planning to return to, and if the crash I was experiencing was going to be temporary or more long term, but in the end decided that going back was necessary to ensure the success of my recovery in the long run.  After 5 very rocky days, I went back. 

Initially, I felt a little stronger, but I have not been able to get myself back to the place I was before that “graduation.”  I went through a period shortly after my return where my motivation for recovery was the lowest it has been in a long time, if not ever.  I was close to needing day treatment again, yet was going to quit treatment altogether if that was the recommendation I was given.  Partly because my eating disorder did not want to meet my meal plan or maintain my weight, but more so because I had a list of things I was totally terrified of that I had yet to identify. 

My team encouraged me to talk to my psychiatrist about a med change and I did.  We ended up adding a booster (I am capped out on the dosage of my antidepressant so increasing that was not an option) and within a few days I was actually able to think again and feel a feeling or two.  The feelings I felt were terrified and scared.  I literally would lay on my couch and shake, but not in a way that felt like a panic attack, instead in a way that felt genuinely terrified.  Several lists came out of that terror.  One list of things that I am scared of – relapse, not ever really getting better, my ability to turn every situation that feels uncomfortable into one where I am the victim and then use that feeling to harm myself further as punishment for that feeling, feeling guilty about all the support I receive from so many people and my lack of ability to make what feels like sustainable progress, the fact that I am not sure I will ever get to do with my life what I really want, etc – and another list of all those issues surrounding my view of my body that I had never put on paper, let alone verbalized. 

When I looked at these lists, it was very clear to me why my leaving IOP had not worked out.  I still had too much work to do.  But it was work that just floated around in my head and had not been formalized.  One at a time these things did not feel like such a big deal, but since they all existed in there together, the pressure they created was pretty significant. 
I have taken these lists to Renfrew, to Jen, my outpatient therapist, and to Faye, my outpatient dietitian, and have been given a lot of credit for being able to access these issues.  I have a plan of what issues/fears will be addressed in group and which will be addressed in individual sessions and have started that process.  And I have picked the first issue off the body image list and started to work on that with Jen. 

It all seems like this should equate to progress, but yesterday I realized that on the inside I feel like I am cheating.  I am not meeting my meal plan – sometimes I am not even aware of it until later, as I am not choosing to stay aware of what I am doing in each moment and for each meal.  Which is different than actively choosing to restrict, but in the end has the same outcome.  And while I am reaching out more than I was, I am not as much as I could be. 

My Mom was here for a week, about a week ago, and that was really helpful.  It meant there was structure around meals at home, and it meant I didn’t come home to an empty apartment.  I was hoping that really positive time could be a jump start to moving forward and not just a band-aid, but I have not been able to maintain what I did when she was here, nor did I even manage 100% with her help.  I still struggled at work and I struggled on my days off when there was less structure. 

I keep telling myself I want to move forward and to get well and I know I have made significant progress from where I was in October when I went to Renfrew, but some days recently it feels like a game.  A game I play where I get to be sick and better at the same time.  A game where I appease both the healthy and sick parts of my head as best I am able.  That is not a line I want to walk – if it is the line I am actually walking.  Which brings me back to where I started… how do you know what to trust when your brain is mentally ill?  Am I being paranoid and frustrated with myself because my recovery is not going as well as I want it to or I am tricking myself and those around me into thinking I am putting as much effort as I can into getting well while I am allowing part of me to stay sick?  In this moment, right here, right now, I honestly do not know.  

1 comment:

  1. Sarah7:04 PM

    Having been through the week I have been through since I wrote this (which I will address in a subsequent piece), I did learn that I was trying as hard as I could. Trying to shore up the walls and fill in the holes just caused me to spin to a really scary place. I learned that I was doing what I could do and not cheating or slacking in my recovery and that I need to allow myself space to be where I am at in any given moment and not worry about being "better" at recovery.


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