Archives for category: depression

dec 22For those struggling with disordered eating and for those working at their recovery, the holidays can be a particularly challenging time.

Not only because most gatherings revolve around food, but because emotional triggers are everywhere.

From financial stressors to navigating relationships with family, to not having enough time to unwind and recharge, the opportunity for relapse is ever present.

Like many who struggle with E.D., I am a perfectionist.

If you’ve ever watched television during the holidays, you’ll know that this time of year is about getting it right.

Every advertisement that flashes across the screen is a how-to guide on how to acquire the perfect gift, the perfect table setting, the perfect turkey, the perfect tree, the perfect dress, the perfect holiday experience.

Each ad is a reminder that you’re not perfect. Because, shit, you didn’t buy the right gift, your napkins are mismatched, your turkey is overcooked, and half your family isn’t speaking to you.

When things go wrong around Christmas time (and they inevitably do) it generally leads to me having a meltdown. Sometimes in the privacy of my own room. But more often than not, it’s in a shopping mall.

Which then leads to me eating too much to numb the shame and embarrassment, feeling angry that I don’t have enough time to work out after consuming an entire batch of sugar cookies, lamenting my lack of perfection, eating more to deal with that…and cue the relentless cycle.

Yes. The holidays are ripe with opportunities for that nagging voice that tells you you’re not good enough to rear it’s ugly head.

So, in case you’re struggling to quiet that voice too, I’m going to tell you what someone told me today:

Be gentle with yourself.

It’s so simple. So hard. And so true.

Christmas doesn’t care whether or not you’re perfect. That sweater you bought your mom in the wrong size? She can return it. That batch of cookies you just devoured? They were delicious. That turkey that’s overcooked? The dog will love it.

So when shit starts hitting the fan (’cause it inevitably will) take a deep breath, and be gentle.

Be gentle because you’re human. Be gentle because you can work out in January. Be gentle because there is no such thing as a perfect body, a perfect Christmas, or a perfect table setting.

 

 

 

dec 16As I approach the end of my ‘Wunder Year’, I’ve started thinking about 2014 and beyond.

When I began writing last January, I assumed that by the time December 31st hit, I’d be a whole new person. Turns out, I didn’t need to become someone else, I just needed to learn to accept myself.

350 days in and I’m only just beginning to sort my sh*t out.

Yes, this life seems to be a series of quarter life crises and mental breakdowns. And I’m okay with it. Because the more things get shaken up, the more my fear and doubt and shame get broken apart, and the real me finds the space to break through.

Survival, as defined by dictionary.com, is “the act or fact of continuing to remain in existence, especially under adverse or unusual circumstances.” A survivor is then said to be “a person or thing that survives.” Or “a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks.”

In this sense, we are all survivors. I’m fairly certain, that there isn’t a human being alive that hasn’t faced some sort of hardship, and against the odds, prospered. (Functioning is okay too I suppose, but I prefer to prosper).

Some of us have survived earthquakes and storms. Some of us have survived divorce, illness, or war. I have, and continue to, survive myself.

Now, I may very well have no idea what it takes to survive anything other than the war I’ve waged against myself, but whether my hardships were real or a figment of my own creation, the threat I posed to my own survival was (and occasionally still is) as deadly as any raging storm.

Survival is a promise I have to make to myself every day. I make it every time I take a breath, with every bite of food, every downward dog, every step forward, every step back. I make it every time I look in the mirror and choose to love the image I see. Even today I struggle to remind myself that having an extra bite of my sushi doesn’t mean I’m unworthy of living.

Survival may have begun with me, but it has taken an entire community. It has taken the help of my physicians and counselors, the understanding of my friends and family, and courage of other survivors who have shared their stories and given me hope.

Which is why the words I write here, are really the story of how I survived myself.

And I hope, when you read them, you can see that there is a survivor in you too.

 

nov 28I was going to get it right.

I was going to do recovery so perfectly, that my disordered thoughts would have no choice but to stay the hell away.

I was going to fill my life up with so much love and sunshine and happiness that there would be no room for my former crazy.

Years ago, on the mend from a broken heart, I learned that my former boyfriend had found somebody new. Like best friends and sisters are required to do on such occasions, L spied on my replacement with the intention of reporting back to me with the gruesome details.

“Well, she’s not as pretty as you.” she said (which I’d later learn she made up for my benefit), “But, she’s probably not crazy, so I can see the appeal”.

Her words were like a knife plunging between my ribs, ripping apart my flesh, tearing apart everything that had been keeping me together.

Beautiful would have been alright.

But those words and this stranger’s obvious sanity proved what I already knew. He’d ended it for the same reasons all the others had. I was too hard to handle.

If there was one thing I had prayed for every single night of my life, it was to wake up ‘normal’.

I would have sold my soul to be content and pleasant and predictable.

Because, for as long as I could remember, there was always a storm brewing just beneath the surface. Sometimes you could sense it coming. You could feel the wind pick up, the air grow cool.

More often than not, I would transform without warning.

My depression was like being in the eye of the storm with no way of of controlling the damage or destruction. I could see everything I was doing – the hurt I was causing, the way they’d pull away from me in fear – yet there was nothing I could do.

Until I met J.

J, who could clearly see that I was mad from the day he met me, and decided he was up for me anyway. J, who not long after we met, declared he found sane girls “horribly boring”. J, whose unconditional love relinquished me from having to prove myself to be anything other than what I was.

And when the inevitable storms did appear, he wasn’t afraid. He’d stand out there like a madman and weather them with me.

Being the kind of woman who refuses to believe in knights in shining armour and any of that affiliated bullshit, it pains me to admit that a boy had anything to do with my recovery, but when he looked at me, I saw myself.

More than that, I saw a way out.

The funny thing is, the only way out, was to start letting love in. And the more you let love in, the less room there is for the sadness and the anger and the shame and the despair. So they hit the road.

I just assumed it was for good.

It is perhaps the hardest thing to own up to. My failure to keep them out.

I wanted to be so good at recovery. I wanted to be so good at being “normal” that I’d never end up back in the eye of that storm.

I never again wanted to be too hard to handle.

So last night I told him the truth.

I told him that I’ve broken all my promises. That my E.D. has waltzed back in and made itself at home. That I’m a little bit scared and a little bit lost and whole lot angry at myself.

And he’s clearly still a madman, because he just stood his ground. And as he stood there, I saw what I was really seeing all those times I looked at him and thought I saw myself.

I saw love.

The kind of love that every person is capable of. The kind of love that looks beyond the beautiful and the crazy and sees only more love.

We are not our eating disorders or our depression or our so called “normal”. We are not the words of our sisters or the men who left us or the number of times we got it right or the number of times we failed.

We are the love we let in and the love we give out.

We are the compassion we offer each other, and first and foremost, the compassion we offer to our selves.

 

 

 

 

 

photo(273)I have come to believe that there is nothing that a little sweat can’t fix.

I have come to believe it, because after three days spent wallowing in a pit of misery and self pity – all the while trying to convince myself that I had every reason to be happy – the only thing to cure my sour mood was some good old fashioned sweat.

It all began on Saturday when I was cleaning out my closets and decided to try on the blue jeans that I had packed away at the start of my Wunder Year. The jeans I decided to try on weren’t even my “skinny” ones. They were the jeans I wore before I got really dedicated to my eating disorder.

So when I couldn’t even slip them over my thighs, I had a meltdown.
There are some parts about recovery that I’ve realized are probably never going to be easy. Realizing that in the course of six months I’ve gained twenty pounds, is one of them.
To be entirely honest, I probably should have worn a “Caution” sign around my neck to warn the people around me (specifically my boyfriend) to tread lightly. Unfortunately the world doesn’t work that way and you can’t just give everyone around you a memo that you’re in the midst of a somewhat irrational breakdown.
Which means somehow, you’ve got to will away the demons that are whispering in your ear and do your best to avoid crying in public at the drop of a hat or lashing out at your boyfriend for not answering your text.
Unfortunately, spending all my energy on reminding myself that I’m still beautiful, is a little bit exhausting. And when I’m exhausted, I have a nasty habit of taking it out on other people.
More specifically, I have a nasty habit of taking out my own sense of failure, fear and shame on the people I love. It’s probably the single ugliest thing about me – if only the people I love took it as a compliment that I trust them enough to show them my worst angle.
But they don’t. And rightfully so.
I’ve got some pretty extraordinary people in my life and they deserve to be treated with love and respect. Unfortunately without loving and respecting myself first, I lose sight of what it truly looks like to love another.
What I’ve learned, is that I can’t always talk my way in to loving myself. Because I’m really good at talking my way back out.
It’s been a long process to find this out, but I can’t always trust my mind. There is however, some serious wisdom in my body.
Today, I took a barre class after work. With each bead of sweat, I felt the anxiety over everything that my too tight jeans represented melt away. The sense of failure I’ve been trying to convince myself out of, suddenly just disappeared.
When I left the class, I felt my heart open up.
Who knew that a little sweat is the best defense I have against fear, shame and doubt.

jul 16When I don’t do yoga, I become a crazy person.

Seriously. A few days away from the mat and I start to wind myself back up again. I’m like one of those plastic toys from the 1970s that have the little pin in them that you slowly twist up until the moment you release it and the damn thing spins around and goes completely nuts on you.

Unlike a small plastic toy though, when I get all wound up the results are far more detrimental than amusing. My muscles seize up, I lose focus of what really matters, my digestive system gets out of whack, I get headaches, I cry spontaneously, and I snap at people I love for no reason.

Without a regular dose of asana, I turn into a straight-up bitch.

I’ve known this about myself for quite some time, but in the attempt to be and do other things, I forget that for me, maintaining a regular practice is a non-negotiable.

It’s as vital to my well-being (and to pleasant interactions with other human beings) as brushing my teeth and showering regularly.

So naturally, yoga is the first thing I shove to the sidelines when life gets crazy. The moment things get overwhelming I seem to forget that the only thing that will save me from my self-destructive behaviour is a little one-on-one time with my favourite rectangle.

In the past six months in an effort to keep all the plates I was balancing spinning, yoga took a backseat to my relationships, my goals, and my career. As my mat lay gathering dust in the corner I forgot that without my yoga practice, the rest of my life becomes unmanageable.

To some extent we all have those things that keep us grounded, connected to our purpose, and signify that we have got things under control.

Whether it’s reading the paper in the morning, a nightly walk, painting our nails, eating healthy, or volunteering; we all have activities, actions, or people that help us keep our inner balance in tune with the outside world.

Mine is a minimum of three yoga classes a week. Without them I cease functioning as a kind, compassionate and joyful being.

I remembered this tonight as I spread my fingers out and pressed back into downward dog. All at once the tension that has been wrapped up inside of me began to unravel. The inhale and the exhale felt like a dance I used to know.

Without a regular practice I forget how to let go. I lose the ability to be graceful.

They say that everything always shows up on the mat. Tonight I saw things I didn’t necessarily want to see. But in the recognition of the things I’ve been neglecting, I begin to find my way back home.

 

jul 14When I entered into the process of recovering from my battle with disordered eating, it became clear rather quickly that if I was going to regain my health and my happiness, I was going to have to take life one day at a time.

At the beginning, the act of getting out of bed in the morning took everything I had. I had to learn how to set simple goals like “eat a bowl of oatmeal” or “go to work” or “start loving yourself”.

Over time, the day to day has become easier. It takes less effort to place one foot in front of the other when each step you take is not filled with self-hatred. It is easier to be in the moment when the voices in your head aren’t screaming at you.

Not to say that I don’t still battle them from time to time – the voice of the E.D. is so pervasive sometimes I don’t even know it’s there – but there is space now that was once filled by sadness, shame and fear.

Space that has just been sitting vacant as it waits for me to start to dream again.

As I watched the clouds drift above me today, I realized that in the act of learning how to be in the here and now, I became too afraid to make plans for the future.

I have been afraid that if I begin to dream again, I will be opening the door for my eating disorder to waltz back in.

It easy easy to maintain the simple acts of waking up in the morning, writing this blog, and brushing my teeth before falling asleep at night when there is little risk of failure.

To have a dream leaves me in the uncomfortable space of being vulnerable.

Before my E.D. completely took over my life, I had some pretty big visions. I was going to be on Broadway and carve out a life as an actor. I was going to share the story of the human experience through theatre, song and film.

But before I could make it anywhere, the voices that once whispered that I wasn’t worthy of my dreams began to yell. I began to believe that I was too fat, too ugly, too stupid, too incapable of living the life I had planned for myself.

I’m not certain that I’ve completely mourned the death of my sixteen year old self that once believed that anything was possible. I’m not sure if I’ve forgiven myself for the disease that spiraled out of control.

But I am here now. And it’s time to let “all the things I never amounted to” go. It is time to start dreaming again, from where I’m at right now.

 

jul 1As I sat on the boat’s stern and watched Gabriola Island fade slowly beyond the line of the horizon, I had a momentary urge to jump into the wake and make a break back to paradise.

Alas, reality beckoned and, as I discovered yesterday, the water’s of The Pacific North-West are a little cold for my liking.

So here I am, sitting in my sweltering apartment trying to drown out the sound of my neighbour’s yapping Chihuahua (or as my Dad refers to the breed, their “rat on a rope”) and rubbing aloe vera on my sunburnt shoulder’s every 15 minutes.

I don’t think I realized how desperately I had needed a vacation until I saw the Vancouver skyline reappear before me this afternoon. Because the moment we crossed under the Lion’s Gate, the knots of stress that three days of total relaxation had undone began to tie themselves back up into my shoulders, and stomach, and back again.

The deep line between my eyebrows that was smoothed by sunshine and seashells reemerged, my jaw clenched up, and I felt my breath – made easy by the salty air – become laboured once again.

Suddenly I am more away of what my body is telling me than I have ever been.

And if the headache and nausea I’m battling this evening are any indication, it’s high time I began to listen.

If I have any chance at pure and unadulterated happiness I have to give up being stressed out all the time.

I have to give up trying to do too much and feeling like I’m never enough.

Because in the reality I’ve created, nothing is ever good enough. And all the scarcity I’ve created has got my body in a panic all the time.

I never have enough time or money. I’m not pretty enough, smart enough, bold enough, funny enough. My work’s not good enough, my clothes aren’t nice enough, by entire life is two-steps behind. And in the race to catch up, I stress myself out trying to reach an ever moving finish line.

And I’m done. I’m tapping out. I surrender.

I cannot compete with myself anymore. I am so tired of making myself sub-par.

I am not sure what it is about being out in nature, but this weekend as I began to disconnect from the machinery and pressure that has become my life, I realized that all the stress I’m under is completely of my own design.

I watched a bald eagle flying over our boat yesterday. It is an incredible thing to witness it taking off from a treetop and spreading it’s wings to catch the air. As I watched it, it dawned on me that this magnificent creature likely never says to itself “I am just not good an enough at being an eagle.”

Because that would be ridiculous and completely detrimental to it’s continued survival.

No, an eagle doesn’t wax on about it’s right to take up space on this planet or whether it’s worthy of it’s prey; an eagle just spreads it’s wings and soars.

I may not be an eagle, but I am enough.

I may not have it all or be able to do it all, but if I’m going to fly as free as a bird, it must be enough to just be me.

 

 

 

 

jun 27Last night a friend told me that the physical attribute he loves most about his twenty-six year old girlfriend, are her laugh lines.

He swears they were the first thing about her that drew him in.

I knew from the laugh lines around her eyes and at the corners of her mouth, that she must live a life that’s filled with joy – and I wasn’t wrong – her happiness is infectious.”

I often wonder if the way we feel about our bodies so-called imperfections would change if we could see ourselves through the eyes of the people who love us in spite of – or even because of – them.

When J tells me that I’m beautiful, and he say’s it often, I generally brush him off or ignore him. I figure he’s biased because he loves me.

Which is crazy, because what I should be saying is “This dude loves me! And he thinks I’m beautiful and smart and amazing, and I’m not even paying him to think all those things!” He just loves me for no good reason.

This incredibly smart, funny, rational man holds me when I sob about my cellulite, lets his entire left side fall asleep when I use it as a pillow, laughs when I fart in bed, and doesn’t even complain that our entire apartment has become my closet.

And if that doesn’t prove to me that I must be sexy as hell, I don’t know what will.

On the flip side, I love him back more than he’ll ever know. He’ll be the first to tell you he’s no Brad Pitt, but I wouldn’t trade him for the world (or even Ryan Gosling for that matter). I’m sure he probably thinks he’s got a bunch of flaws – but if he does – I don’t see ’em.

Tonight as we ate dinner and I marveled that a friend of his didn’t seem to hold it against me that I’d once acted crazy in front of him (it’s a long story that doesn’t need repeating) J looked at me and shook his head, “Babe, anybody worth knowing has had their fair share of saying and doing crazy things. A little bit of crazy is always more interesting.”

Which means it’s probably time I let go of any last shred of guilt, shame, and embarrassment I hold about struggling with disordered eating and depression.

Maybe the stretch marks that appeared because my weight fluctuated so rapidly and the little belly I’ve got because I rediscovered a love of carbohydrates are all just part of what makes me beautiful in the eyes of the man who loves me. Maybe my neuroses acts as some kind of pheremone.

Maybe, if I chose to see myself the way he does, I would discover a love for my body and my soul that is unparalleled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jun 18When I began writing my blog on the first of January, it was to document wearing Wunder Unders every single day for an entire year.

It became apparent rather quickly that as amazing as Wunder Unders are – and they’re unreal – writing about wearing them for 365 consecutive days is just not sustainable.

I learned that if I intended to keep writing about how my life was transformed by a pair of spandex tights, I was going to have to start getting real.

Knowing that as a former Drama Queen (and I use the word former liberally) I would have some difficulty dropping my act and being truly vulnerable, one of my very best friends sent me a letter written in 1934 by Ernest Hemingway to his chum, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In it, Hemingway tells Fitzgerald that if he is to be a great writer, he must write truly and not care what the fate of it might be.

Forget your personal tragedy” He writes, “We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don’t cheat with it.”

He is telling Fitzgerald off in the letter for making his characters come from things they are not. He advises his writer friend that, “If you take real people and write about them you cannot give them other parents than they have (they are made by their parents and what happens to them) you cannot make them do anything they would not do.”

Hemingway’s words (though he’d written them half-cut) are a message not just to Fitzgerald, but to every human being who has picked up the pen to tell the whole story.

We seek to tell the truth with our words, yet telling the truth is our greatest fear.

The truth isn’t always pretty. Often it has been dragged through the mud, covered in shit and then bathed in insincerity and doused with the cheap scent of saving our own ass.

We dress up the details to protect ourselves ourselves and to save the people we love.

We hide it in plain sight amidst the clutter and chaos of our own fictions.

Sometimes it is the flash of a bare ankle. A scar that we don’t quite cover up.

We like to pretend that our secrets won’t hurt us. That the closer we keep our cards, the more we’ll win.

I’ve learned that our secrets keep us sick.

I’ve also learned that like Fitzgerald before me, I have often taken my own personal tragedy too seriously. I have wanted to rewrite the beginning, the middle and the end. Tie it up neatly so that nobody gets hurt.

The truth isn’t always pretty.

It’s not neat or tidy or particularly nice.

Sometimes the truth is so big, so complicated, you can’t share the whole of it in one story.

Sometimes it takes years to unravel it.

Sometimes you never do.

But always, when you get to the heart of it, the truth is more beautiful, more perfect, more forgiving than any fantasy you conjure up within the hallways of your wounded mind.

 

 

may 13I have struggled with depression for the better part of my life. I suppose it would be more accurate to say I battled it, because that is what it has felt like. A secret war I have waged against myself.

For approximately twenty years I chalked up my extreme emotions to a case of being crazy. I figured that I was born wrong. That God had made some horrible mistake in sending me here. At times I was convinced that I was possessed by evil. How else could the kind of hatred I had for myself be justified?

I would see my sister, who had been raised in the same world as I was, and I could not find an explanation for our extreme differences.  It seemed plausible to assume that there must be something terribly wrong with me. Something dark and terrible that nobody else could see.

Our personalities were night and day. Where she was adventurous, I was afraid of everything. Where she was witty, I was serious. Where she was so easy to get along with, I was difficult to read. At times my intensity must have been downright terrifying.

I am not sure if it was a blessing or a curse, but my sensitivity towards the darkness, meant I was also equally drawn towards the light. While I was easily moved to tears by sadness and anger, so too was I moved by joy and beauty.

I painted, I wrote, I sang. I danced, I read and I took to the stage. I wanted to escape the darkness by creating something beautiful that might erase the depth of my rage.

Of course, I didn’t realize that if I was going to conquer my demons, I would have to finally face them instead of just trying to escape.

Trying to escape finally landed me in a doctor’s office in January of 2012.

It was here, weighing 93 pounds and exhausted from the war that I’d been battling my whole life, that I finally surrendered to the idea that everything I had been doing was just not working for me.

I had seen people before-doctors and psychiatrists who had been quick to prescribe me drugs-and I’d refused their help. I figured if I was going to beat whatever it was that was eating at me, I was going to do it my way.

My Way meant I was not going to accept any fucking help from some concoction of chemicals that was bound to dull my creativity, my emotions, and most likely my sex-drive.

I don’t know what it was about that visit, I may have just been too tired to keep fighting, but I decided to give “treatment” a try.

And I really, really, really don’t like saying this, but I have little doubt that the little pills I took helped to save my life.

And I am the last person I ever though would say that, because even now, I remain pretty anti-anti-depressents. But if I’m going to be honest about my battle with depression and disordered eating, I’ve got to come clean about my use of them.

Using them was not a quick fix kind of decision. Nor was it my first choice. In fact, I even fought with one of the leading specialists on disordered eating in North America as to why I was going to beat my Bulimic behaviours and suicidal tendencies without them.

For years I had hoped that I could kick my mental illness in the face with a little yoga, some deep breathing and a solid dose of therapy. What I had to finally accept, was that given where I was at, I didn’t have the emotional (or the physical) strength to look at what I really needed to in order to finally address what was at the core of my deep shame and anger.

I was terrified to go on medication, but my doctor presented his case with a compassion that I had not seen from any other health professionals. After weighing my options and  hearing about the success of Prozac in the treatment of disordered eating and Major Depressive Disorder, I waved my white flag and filled out my prescription.

I have struggled for months about whether to write about my use of prescription drugs- not because of the controversy I know that the topic invites, but because there is a part of me that still feels like I must be really messed up if I needed a drug to save my life.

I am telling you about my year on Prozac, because it is a part of my journey. And now, as I am coming off of my meds and learning how to be in recovery without a little extra help, I am realizing how vital it is that I reconcile the guilt I feel over needing to be on them in the first place.