The last two months have been insanely difficult. Scratch that. 2021 was deemed as the year of saving grace. The one where we could wash away the sins and chaos of 2020 and start fresh. But let’s face it, that’s not real life.
The clock doesn’t strike midnight and everything starts over with a clean slate. The fresh start happens whenever we want it to.
On Valentine’s Day, after a breakup with someone I believed to have been a complementing partner, I drove through one of the biggest winter storms of the season. This wasn’t a drive to the grocery store or a getaway to the mountains. I had packed up as much as I could fit into my car, and drove from Denver, Colorado to Massachusetts. I wanted to be with friends and family who could support me while I decided the next steps of my life and where that path would take me.
And I couldn’t have made a better decision for myself. I cried (a lot) and spent time with people who helped me to feel what I needed to feel, and decipher my thoughts leading me to a decision that was only mine to make. I knew where I wanted to be in life and how I wanted to get there.
A few weeks later, I took the plunge. I got in my car and drove down to Florida, the place where I grew up during my transformative years. It was the best decision for me. The sun would give me the vitamin D my mental health was craving. I could find a more affordable means of living. I could be around the three ‘F’s’ I needed most: friends, family, and familiarity.
After three weeks of trying to find my rhythm and searching for an apartment, I finally did it. I found the perfect little spot in one of the most perfect parts of Tampa to call home. It belonged to no one except me and my four-legged child, Luna. A dog beach just minutes away, beautiful sunsets along the water. It was it’s own private island getaway that provided the community I longed for and the proximity to my family while each of us navigated our own struggles together rather than alone.
But then it happened. Gas pedal knee. I kid you not, this is a real thing. It’s like getting tennis elbow, or for the youths of the world, cell phone elbow. From over 5,000 miles of driving around the country, barely taking time to stop in order to get to my end destination, the positioning of my leg and the strain on my driving knee caused a bruising on my right thigh. Already having bad knees from Osgood-Schlatter disease, the discomfort only proceeded from my thigh, down into my knee, and finally my ankle.
Welcome to my current state. A life of immobility and continuous icing.
For someone with an eating disorder, immobility is unbelievably difficult to manage. Someone like myself who thrives on activities like running for my anxiety or dancing for my soul, not being able to move my body has taken a significant toll on my mental health. I just didn’t realize how much it was actually affecting me until I saw my therapist last week.
My OCD patterns were coming on strong. The disordered thoughts and behaviors were trickling in. The less I moved, the more depressed I became. I chalked it up to a temporary set back. It wasn’t going to ultimately destroy all of the work I had done through recovery over the last year since my previous relapse. Besides, my 31st birthday was coming up and there was no way I’d allow for the saga of last year’s horrendous birthday to be repeated.
I started my therapy session talking about all of the craziness that has been my life since her and I had last spoken. But she could tell the angel and the devil were screaming into my ears. I took a breath, pulled out a tool from my mental health tool box, and said the words out loud, “I’m struggling with my eating disorder. Hard. And I don’t know what to do about it because I know it’s not a good thing.”
From my lack of mobility, I hadn’t even noticed that I had been eating less. I began examining and criticizing my body in the mirror, pinching at the excess skin terrified of what was looking back at me. What I saw in my reflection was distorted, and I could tell that the voices were coming back stronger than I remembered them.
“Whenever things go good,” my therapist said through the computer screen, “I notice you find ways to sabotage your successes. Can you be more specific about what you mean when you say what’s happening isn’t’ good? Why is it bad?”
Ah, good old Cognitive Behavioral Therapy at it again. I started sifting through my filing cabinet of thoughts.
“Well,” I paused. “I know it’s not good because I’m afraid that it will become the domino effect like it has in the past. If I start having these thoughts and behaviors, the depression will set back in. Then I’ll be right back at square one for the millionth time having to pick up the pieces all over again. And I can’t do that anymore. I just can’t.”
“There’s your answer.” What the hell is she talking about? What answer to what question? “When you say ‘that’s not good,’ what you’re really saying is that you’re scared. You have a fear based mentality that is making you want to revert back to your old, familiar, comfortable place, instead of sitting with the uncomfortable.”
Damn it was she right. It’s our nature as humans, dating as far back as the caveman, for us to associate negative thoughts with fear. From the beginning, our main focus was survival. Food, water, shelter. If those things were threatened, our fight or flight responses would be triggered.
What was happening to me was exactly this. My Maslow’s Hierarchy was threatened at it’s fundamentals. So my therapist gave me one of her usual mantras to carry with me while I continue to navigate this portion of my life:
“Here is what I know. These are my lived experiences, not guesses. They are real and are my truths. And my truths are valid.”
When we allow ourselves to sit with the uncomfortable and recognize what we are actually feeling instead of distracting ourselves with outside sources, we stop blaming our pain and hurt on the superficial and can truly start taking one small step towards dealing with our truths. Our very real, and valid, truths.
In a state of panic, I sat on the floor and started to cry. There were two options laid out in front of me, the same two options that we are all faced with in every struggle we are presented with:
I could dwell on the awful and allow myself to remain stagnant.
I could dust off my tools, and take a small step.
I walked (more like hobbled) over to my laptop, sat myself down, opened up a brand new GoogleDoc, and started to write. I ditched the negative self-talk and instead, chose to share with all of you the honest and transparent pain I have been dealing with as of lately.
And guess what? I already feel better. That one step, rewriting the narrative and reframing the negative self-talk, helped me to be more compassionate with myself. See what can happen when you remove some of the heavy layers of your life?
I’ll be the first to commiserate with you that taking that first step isn’t always easy. It’s really not. But I can give you another example from a recent reviewer of my book, In Body I Trust, who trusted me enough to share this comment not only with me, but publicly on my social media for the world to see:
“You are so inspiring!! After reading your book, it encouraged me to seek out a therapist. I start next week. Something I have been putting off for a long time for fear of working out my own viscous thoughts and admitting them to anyone but myself. You have inspired me to take control of my life and stop letting my thoughts haunt me every day.”
See!? It’s not just me! This incredible woman decided to take one small step. And I’m not talking about going through the process of actually pulling out her phone, scrolling through endless possibilities of therapists she could meet with, and actually scheduling an appointment (because kudos to her and those are HUGE monumental steps that make me so damn proud).
What I’m talking about is the small step she took in sitting with the discomfort long enough to acknowledge that she, in fact, has viscous thoughts that have haunted and controlled her life that she no longer wants to manage on her own. She sat with the uncomfortable long enough to see that she wanted and needed help. That right there is the step I’m talking about.
This woman is ditching her negative self-talk. She’s making so much space for the good that is to come by asking and receiving help. Just like I’m ditching the negative self-talk to make space within myself to be vulnerable and have self-compassion.
And here is exactly what I did.
I texted a friend and said these words to someone other than myself, so they could be out in the universe and allow me to hold myself accountable:
“This is me, doing an ED (eating disorder) thing. I’m holding myself accountable and calling the monster out on its shit. Despite the voices yelling at me not to eat because I’m not able to be active and feel like my life is out of control, I’m proud of myself for saying fuck off, I’m eating because I know it it will make my mind think clearer and my body feel better. Even if it scares the living shit out of me with every bite I take, I’m bigger, braver, and stronger than the fear.”
Because sometimes life feels like the longest domino effect, one bad thing after the other. But today, we can set the dominos right back up. Just in a different direction. One that rids our lives of self-deprecation and starts gives space for all the love we deserve to give ourselves.