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At Payson Road we believe every story is unique. Through sharing our stories we hope that we can inspire you to share your own or find hope in knowing you are not alone.  Though these stories are personal, collectively we can support each other.

Express. Heal.


Unwanted Places Can Lead to Valuable Lessons
by Sarah Stoodley

I will spare you all the details of where I came from, at least for now.  But let’s just say I had “done time” with my eating disorder and put in a hell of a lot of work to get better and was happily living my recovered life until late Fall of 2010.  I still don’t know exactly what happened to me, but I literally woke up one day and felt like a switch had been flipped while I was sleeping and therefore not paying attention.  I didn’t feel sick again in an eating disorder sense, but with something more akin to severe depression.  It was like everything in my internal universe had shifted overnight and was off kilter.  But what scared me the most was that my appetite was completely gone.

It took no more than 10 days for me to realize I needed some serious help and got myself into see a therapist at school.  I saw a woman named Jennifer Sherman, who just happened to be the on call therapist that day for crisis appointments.  But she also happened to be one of the two therapists at UMD who work closely with ED patients.  And she was amazing.  Jen turned out to one of the best accidents that ever happened to me, and I’ve continued to see her in her private practice now that I have graduated.  I worked with her as I continued my senior year… in a dietetics program.  And I returned to seeing Faye Berger Mitchell, who was the dietitian I had worked with years earlier and who had been my inspiration for making nutrition my second career.  I really thought that given all my knowledge and awareness, and with the help of these two extremely strong women, that I would be able to beat this. 

I will again spare you all the details of the year that came to pass, but I came close to having to drop out of school and I got sicker and sicker. While I made some life changes for the better, I just couldn’t get enough traction to dig myself out of the hole I was in.  I’d make a small amount of progress, just to fall even harder.  And every time I feel, I lost even more weight.  To the point where I was really scared since I knew exactly what that level of malnourishment was doing to my body, mind and spirit.  I had incredible friends, one of whom went as far as to trying to work refeeding programs in her home for me (thank you, Alice!), but the work we did just did not end up being sustainable.

In September, I ended up in the emergency room. Which just happened to be the emergency room of the hospital I work in.  You see, after graduation, I got a job in nutrition, as was my plan.  I have deferred my dietetic internship, which will allow me to sit for the RD exam and become a dietician, but I am working in the field.  I feed people for a living.  And I love my job.  But I also felt like a hypocrite, because while I was encouraging people who felt truly lousy to eat in order to gain enough strength to go home, I was slowly wasting away and falling to pieces. 

That night in the ER really scared me.  I had known for a long time that I wasn’t eating well, but I had tried to be very careful about fluids and hydration.  But I had missed the mark after almost 12 months of managing to keep that part on track.  I was severely dehydrated and required a lot of fluids before I was allowed to go home.  Looking back, I think in some ways I had allowed myself to get that sick as a cry for help. Continuing to deteriorate was a way to try and get what I needed offered to me or mandated from my outpatient providers. I didn’t know what I needed and therefore didn’t know how to ask for it. 

Around 5 that morning I called out of my job for the first time since I had started… to the 2nd floor, from the ER.  That was embarrassing, to say the least…. and a turning point for me.  I started a conversation at that point about a higher level of care.   Through a series of events and some amazing support from my team and an incredible friend named Loren, I ended up at Renfrew in Maryland.  During my assessment there, I was told I need day treatment, but I convinced them to let me start in their evening IOP program.  This was so I could continue to work.  I started there on October 31st, Halloween.  But it didn’t work.  It was a nice idea, but I needed something more intensive.  And even though I was trying to do solid work there, I had no time to process anything, as I barely even had time to sleep.  I started to slide, and to slide hard. 

Two and half weeks in to treatment at Renfrew, I had a team meeting.  This is when your therapist and dietician, as well as some senior staff in the program, all meet with you together to give you some recommendations.  Their recommendation for me was that I go to day treatment…immediately… as in the next morning.  I was horrified.  This meant I had to admit I was too sick to go to work, lose my income (I am single so my income is my only income) and potentially lose my job since I was fairly new.  I also had to place all of my trust in these people who I had just met and really wasn’t sure I trusted at all.  I brought up this point of trust and Becca, the clinical director, had a great answer.  She told me that I currently only had 3 people I said I trusted and felt safe with and with 20 staff at their location, I had the opportunity to potentially increase that number to 23.  That potential massive increase was too big to just walk away from.  I committed in the meeting to calling out of work – I’d already missed two days anyway because I had literally had an anxiety attack and thrown up trying to get in the door two days earlier – and starting day treatment the following morning.  This was on Wednesday, November 23rd, the day before Thanksgiving.

It took me a few days to get settled.  It was hard to leave the women I had come to know and trust in IOP and move to a whole new group, but I adjusted.  And I learned how to eat again.  Initially I just had to battle to get through the sheer quantity of food we were required to eat in the allotted time.  And it was hard… really hard. 

I felt less anxious when I ate there, at least most of the time, but I knew that having spent almost a year restricting that normal sized meals were going to feel insurmountable.  I had to teach myself to take normal sized bites, and to not put my fork down between bites and rest.  Small bites, picking at the food or resting, all meant I wouldn’t be able to finish.  I just had to put my head down and eat.  But we had group after every meal where we got to process how the meal went for us.  I loved that group.  For better or worse, it was great to be able to process what had just happened in my brain.  Getting it out of my head was so much better than keeping it in and dwelling on it.  That became true for just about every thought I had for 6 ½ weeks. 

Through the various groups, I was able to teach myself who I was again.  I was able to find the will to overcome the paralyzing anxiety I felt outside of program that I really believed made it impossible for me to feed myself.  I learned that I could overcome urges for other injurious and destructive behaviors, even when I thought trying to do so was a lost cause.  And I remembered that I was a valuable person who had a life that was worth saving and worth living. 

This was critical because in the weeks before I started at Renfrew, it didn’t matter to me whether I was dead or alive.  I was so tired that most days I was truly okay with just laying in my bed until I died.  I honestly believed that dying in this manner would mean that my friends would be a few degrees less sad and that getting up to try again for another whole day was a waste of time and energy since I was destined to fail.  That twisted logic and very black and white thinking is a product of my eating disorder.  Eating disorders teach us we are worthless and that damaging ourselves day after day is acceptable, if not fantastic.  And each destructive choice is like money in the bank to buy that one-way ticket to the hell of self-loathing and misery.  A one-way ticket where once you pass miserable, you give up.  And once you give up, you are dangerously close to dead. 

I met some incredible women in program and was blessed to walk the path of my journey to wellness alongside them as they walked theirs.  We supported each other, had empathy for the enormous daily struggles each other faced, as well as for the life circumstances that had led us to a place where we were so sick we required the level of care that we did.  Sometimes I would share something and everyone is the room would understand, but no matter how obscure what I shared seemed, there was always at least once person who had felt the same way or had had the same experience or a similar one.  There was such power in that group.  Power of accountability, power in moving beyond behaviors and thoughts to access feelings, and power in the tremendous support and encouragement everyone had for one another.   That collective power enabled me to push myself to do things I did not think were possible.  And it allowed me to find myself again and to put my eating disorder voice… that I call the gremlin… back in its proper place.  A place to the side, where the healthy voice of Sarah is allowed to speak and ask for what it needs. 

I still have a lot of work to do, and continue in IOP now as I return to work, but taking time to allow myself to get the treatment I needed was one of the best gifts I have ever given myself.  I have learned that I am stronger than I thought I was, and continue to test that strength on purpose to make sure I know it is there.  I have learned that I can take a leap of faith and have it work out for the better, something I have not had a lot of success with in my life to date. I have learned, again, that sharing is the best way to find empathy and support.  And I have learned that recovery is possible.  I knew that before, but this relapse was so scary that I was not sure that it was, or that I was strong enough to push through to find out. 

Knowing that recovery is possible is immensely settling to me as I continue to work through my day-to-day struggles.  But I take one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time, or one bite at a time, and do the best I can do to care for myself in the best way possible based upon my needs at any given time. Knowing what those needs are, acknowledging them and being okay with finding a way to meet them is the most important lesson of all.   Knowing I can access compassion for myself and hope for the future makes it worth getting out of bed each day to keep moving forward.

4 comments:

  1. Sarah thank you so much for sharing this with everyone. There was so much I could really relate to--I'm sure I'm not alone in that.

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  2. And thank you for this avenue for expression. It is super important to me and I am glad to share.

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  3. Anonymous5:33 AM

    Sarah- I dont know what to say. I'm in a really tough space feeling a backslide and suffering from a lot of the feelings you described so eloquently. Your words are a perfect example of the power of the group and a wonderful reminder of what is possible and come at an important time for me. Thank you so much for sharing this and for your strength to write your story. Sandra (let's make plans-and keep them- soon!)

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  4. Anonymous12:09 PM

    Your story is truly inspiring, and it has given me hope that I won't have to deal with this forever. I'm so glad to have met you during my own recovery and I hope we both continue to make healthy choices throughout our lives.
    -Duckling L

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