Mel

@melsteff | contributor
Katie Trchka

Struggling With Avoidant and Restrictive Food Intake Eating Disorder

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741. It’s Thursday and I’m sitting down for a typical lunch, packed with all the nutrients I could possibly need for the day. It might not seem obvious from the snapshot of one meal, but this is what my eating disorder looks like. On a brisk February evening during my sophomore year of college, I was enjoying (what we considered) a high quality meal at one of the dining halls with a longtime friend. Somewhere in the course of our animated conversation, I inhaled a piece of food. I coughed as forcefully and as gracefully as possible without drawing attention to the fact that I thought I was choking. After a few intervals of this, it still felt like an object was teetering on some razor’s edge between my larynx and my esophagus. It wasn’t full on zero oxygen choking, but it felt like it could happen at any second. With all of the hacking and water guzzling, the feeling didn’t go away and I thought death was imminent. I immediately called the one friend I knew with a car (thanks Rahul!) and we spent the next four hours, on a school night no less, sitting in an ER in the middle of central Illinois. A lot of sitting and an inconclusive chest X-ray later, the doctor, in his doctor jargon, said it was likely that if a piece of food was lodged, it had since passed. Rahul, my vehicle-wielding hero, and I headed back to campus, tired but cheerful that my incident hadn’t resulted in something worse. Between classes the next day, I ducked into the dining hall for my usual lunch. I put a large forkful of spinach in my mouth and prepared to swallow leafy green goodness. But the second I did, my throat instantly constricted and the choking feeling I felt the night before returned, stronger than before. Spitting out my previously favorite food, I cautiously got a bowl of soup and yogurt, convinced I couldn’t choke on liquids. The next months were plagued with paralyzing fear of choking on food. My sole sources of nutrients were mostly liquids. Determined to not feel alone about my anxiety, but terrified to tell anyone for fear of looking “crazy,” I took to the anonymous internet, googling in my free time to see if anyone else experienced this affliction: the paranoid fear of solid foods. The answers I found were both comforting and disappointing. For instance, many infants will display a fear and avoidance of swallowing following a choking incident. But a 19-year-old? Trying to fit my problem into a neat little box, I stumbled upon a relatively new disorder called avoidant and restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). As of 2013, the 5th edition of the DSM, the standard manual of psychological disorders, broadened the previously selective eating disorder (SED) and renamed it ARFID. ARFID is characterized as, “an eating or feeding disturbance associated with one or more of the following: significant weight loss or failure to achieve expected weight gain or faltering growth in children, significant nutritional deficiency, dependence on enteral feeding or oral nutritional supplements, marked interference with psychosocial functioning. ARFID largely encompasses those who we think of as picky eaters: the texture, temperature and even color-sensitive folks — even sometimes the broccoli haters. AFRID causes my strict dietary preferences to interfere with my nutrition, social life and psychological well-being. Nearly two and a half years later, eating solid food is still a scary task. The difference between “sophomore me” and “now me” is massive though. I’ve gone from nonchalantly always ordering soup at restaurants (in my experience, that’s an easy way to indicate that you have a funky eating habit) and hiding bottles of boost in my bags (which is a staple, nutrient dense drink commonly given to elderly people) to making food hierarchies and forcing myself to try foods that scare me, even in small quantities. I still get weird about eating out and eating in front of people and eating certain foods, but then I remember that I have an eating disorder. And like any health problem, it won’t resolve overnight. While it seems silly that I wouldn’t want to tell people about my ARFID, the fact that I often get scared to do something as simple and necessary as eating is equally silly. After all, the amount of people who eat every day without issue is exponentially greater than those who find it difficult and nerve wracking. As much grief as I give it, living with ARFID has given me plenty of pleasant memories too: the time the TSA took away my peanut butter on the way to London, the alarming amount of cottage cheese I ate at summer camp, my odd tendency to eat hummus plain. Though it’s not always easy and definitely not enjoyable, eating disorders can get better. 10 million men and 20 million women in the United States alone will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. Here’s to telling more of their stories. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via Inner_Vision

Mel
Mel @melsteff
contributor

How Trusting My Eating Disorder Treatment Team Changed My Recovery

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741. I didn’t trust people. The only things I trusted were my scale, nutrition facts and drinking buckets of caffeine. I only trusted my eating disorder (ED). Multiple times I went into hospital-based treatment, sat down for my first meal, and was reminded just how ambivalent I really was. I had people telling me how that piece of paper with my meal plan spelled out on it would help lead me to a healthier version of myself, that I needed to believe and trust in my treatment providers. I needed to surrender to the process. But I didn’t see it that way. I didn’t believe that anyone would be able to change my mind about stepping on a scale in the morning, or opening my fifth can of diet soda. It took me many years, many different therapists, multiple different admissions and many long cry sessions to get to a place where I could trust a treatment team over my eating disorder. And honestly, to this day, it’s still hard sometimes to believe that happened. But it did. I started recovery somewhere around six years ago, and within those years I’ve heard the phrase, “You need to trust your team,” from so many different people, so many different times. And on most of those occasions, it didn’t mean anything to me. I simply didn’t know how to trust anything other than the overpowering, overbearing eating disorder voice that followed me everywhere I went. That statement overwhelmed me and frustrated me, because I just didn’t know how to do it. But one admission, I found myself surrounded by people I didn’t know, staff I’ve never met, and my thoughts were louder than they were in a long time. I looked around me and it sunk in that there was no easy way to get around the obstacles recovery has. I realized I couldn’t half-ass it anymore. And I didn’t have any energy to try and weasel my way out of treatment because I was scared. So I stayed. And I ate. And I went to group. I don’t want to say “and then I did it,” that’s too much of a blanket statement, because recovery can’t be simplified like that. But it was the first true moment where I realized I couldn’t keep doing recovery with one foot in and one foot out. It wasn’t working for me anymore. I was so sick of going in and out of treatment, and I told myself every day when I was there that I needed to keep pushing. I needed to try my absolute hardest to make that my last admission. I needed to not be ambivalent anymore and choose recovery over the rest. That wasn’t my last admission, but that attitude I found during that admission has stuck with me and has helped me to keep pushing myself forward. There were a lot of things I did during that hospitalization that were different than what I ever did in the past. Including the fact that I gave them my trust. I followed their program and woke up every day reminding myself of why I came to treatment. I told myself I just needed to do it, recovery was my only option, recovery was the best option. Even when I didn’t want to finish a snack or do an exposure, I did it anyways — I didn’t let myself quit. Before, I wasn’t ever able to trust a team without feeling like my body was rebelling against me and nobody was doing anything to help stop it. I used to feel like a prisoner, like nobody cared what I had to say, like I was doomed to excessive weight gain forever and that nobody cared about how miserable that would make me. But with open communication and my team being willing to keep me informed with my progress emotionally, mentally and physically, I calmed down. I saw that nothing extreme happened when I did what they said would help. And by trusting them to let me know where I was at, and by seeing that what they were saying matched how I was responding in all aspects of my recovery, I learned to trust my body as well as them. That is something I never imagined would happen. This was vital to my progress, because not trusting my body was one of the major things that kept me stuck in a recovery versus relapse state. For me, I allowed myself to move forward when I did something different. I didn’t trust the treatment team right away — I didn’t know them and meeting a whole new team of people was scary. But one thing I did do was stop trusting my eating disorder. I knew that following my eating disorder’s demands wasn’t working for me anymore — I tried really hard though. But I picked the only other option I had left. I chose recovery, and kept choosing every day I was in treatment, and every day afterwards. When I realized I really had just two options — living or my eating disorder — I had to trust someone who knew ways to help me break away from living a life I didn’t really want. When I used to hear “trust your team,” it would confuse me. I think it confuses a lot of people. I didn’t know what to do or how to go about doing that; but now that I have, I want to tell people to trust their team over and over again. It was one of the hardest things for me to do. I not only learned how to trust somebody else and doubt my eating disorder’s voice, but I learned how to trust myself, too. And that has changed everything. Now, my team is different than the one I had during that treatment stay. Those treatment providers saw me when I was in a bad spot. Those who I see now see a different girl, and I think it’s special that you get to meet people at different times and points in your journey. If I didn’t meet the treatment team I had in the hospital when I was in a bad spot, I might not be where I am right now. I think when you’re able to move to a spot where you can trust someone else, other than your ED, and trust their opinions wholeheartedly over ED, that is truly special. I was lucky enough to have found that, even if it was just for a brief hospital stay. I am in search of that again. I think, for me, I reached a point where I was sick of being sick. I didn’t want to align myself with that or see myself in that anymore. Now, I want to be better and to be recovered so much more than I want to be trapped with ED. And some days are not easy. Some days ED whispers to me and says whatever he says, but the difference is that I am finding strength in new things and I am building myself up in ways I haven’t ever done before — in ways where ED can’t get to me again. I believe finding a treatment team who you can trust is super important, so if you don’t trust yours, it’s OK to look for providers who may be better suited to meeting your needs, because you deserve recovery just as much as anybody else. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty image via ruddy_ok We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Mel
Mel @melsteff
contributor

What 6 Years of Choosing Eating Disorder Recovery Means for Me

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741. Do you ever think back a few years and feel like that life wasn’t yours? Like you don’t remember that part of yourself, or you’ve disconnected from your past? Or does it haunt you? Does your past stay with you every day, perched on your shoulder, reminding you of things that have been missing? Or do they happen simultaneously, tugging you back and forth, having you wish you’d just split apart instead. My past will probably forever feel like sandpaper. Six years ago, I remember walking into the back office of my ballet teacher, dressed in my oversized sweater with my tights and leotard on underneath. I walked in to ask my instructor a question, and he looked at me and after a brief conversation he told me that I needed to stop losing weight, and if I didn’t then he was going to call my mom. Aside from being caught off guard from that statement, my entire body lit up and my brain congratulated me. “ You’re actually losing weight. The scale isn’t lying. Keep going. He won’t actually call her. ” My brain said. Many might assume that a comment like that would hit harder than it did, and at least have some bearing on my actions; that maybe it would make me stop doing what I was doing to myself. It didn’t. When you’re wrapped in a world of numbers, outside threats seem empty. The only thing I believed in at that time were calories and numbers on the scale. I only believed in things that my eating disorder told me. But eventually everything caught up with me. My body got tired. It became hard to walk up the stairs. Everything seemed to slow down. My mood got bad. I couldn’t stop crying, I was miserable. But the thought of losing weight calmed me down, just as much as it tore me apart. Some people see their school counselors or social workers to help them to get through school. So did I. But where most people saw the social worker about once a week, I sometimes saw them three times in one day (no exaggerations). I hated school, but I loved that it was a perfect place for me to restrict my food without anyone to hold me accountable. It was a perfect place for me to restrict, but it was also the perfect place for me to fall apart. I had all those hours to sit in class and just think about food. Eventually though, sitting in class got to be too much. So I stopped going. It started with getting up a lot to pace the halls, to going to the social worker’s office during those times, to just straight up not going at all. I would hide in the halls or walk around the entirety of class time, and I even started to just leave the building altogether. I hardly went to school. I would ask my mom or grandma to call me out, which they usually would; but even when my mom wouldn’t, I would just leave. I would call her after I left and tell her she should probably call me out so I wasn’t marked truant. She didn’t like that very much. When people couldn’t or wouldn’t pick me up, I would walk home. I lived about a mile and a half away, and because my greatest goal in life at that time was to lose weight, I didn’t mind it. Even after I got home I would go out for walks again. I remember being up in the middle of the night because my funny heartbeat decided it needed to wake me up. There were some times it felt so weird that it began to scare me, but I quickly calmed down when my brain reassured me I was totally OK: it’s normal, I’m fine, I’m overreacting. Eating disorders play with your logic and they play with it well. Every thought process I had was so altered and messed up. At first, eating can feel so wrong and it physically aches and your whole being just begs you to stop doing it. And re-feeding is definitely one of the worst pains I have ever felt. But it’s literally a choice of life or death. Your eating disorder doesn’t let you choose both. Not in the end. But choosing recovery is actually so cool — it’s so cool to watch yourself reappear. Watching your eyes light up again in the mirror. Having more hair to wrap up into a bun in the morning. Feeling your real smile come out after having been in hibernation for who even knows how long. I’ve been in recovery from anorexia since I was 16, and I am now 22. Every day isn’t always a struggle, but it sometimes can be. Sometimes I can be OK for a long time and certain foods don’t set me off into severe panic. Other times, I feel like some foods just have it out for me. Sometimes eating lunch with my therapist grinds to a halt in the middle of the sandwich because I no longer can allow myself to pick my hand up to grab it. But all of the days I’m doing well are so much more worthwhile than the ones I spend crying over food. Recovery doesn’t hand you your life back, but it does give you more strength and more tools to go get it and build it yourself. Being on this journey for so long sometimes results in me forgetting important milestones I’ve reached in recovery, and I can feel like I’m more stuck than I am. That is why I would recommend journaling to literally everyone, because looking back on my own journal (when I can handle reading hard things), I can really see how I’m so much more different. You start to notice that watching movies with friends, or reading a funny book, or scrolling for new memes makes you so much happier than not eating that cookie. In fact, eating the cookie may even make it a bit better. I want to look back on my life in the next six years and see recovery, be recovered, be living. And I will. I choose recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Mel
Mel @melsteff
contributor

4 Things I Do When Eating Disorder Recovery Feels Far Away

Getting better always felt really far away from me. It always seemed like it was something I’d have to work for for a very long time. And while I was ready to put work into my recovery, I didn’t want to be “recovering” for the next half of my life. I wanted to achieve recovery and be recovered. I wanted that end prize sooner than what I thought it was going to take. But I wasn’t quite prepared for what recovery all required, I didn’t really realize all of the missing pieces I would have to find and implement before I would be able to come close to calling myself recovered, or healed, or whatever you want to call it. But some of those things are: 1. Eating regularly. This seems obvious. But I wasn’t doing it. I needed to start eating on a schedule and not letting myself go long periods without food, to always keep nourished. This keeps my mood regular and stable too, which is super important for someone who has bipolar I. 2. Hydration. I am getting better at this. I have to remind myself to put down my Coke and pick up my water bottle sometimes because hydration is really important and dehydration is really serious. I don’t want to end up in the ER anymore for IV fluids, so staying hydrated is super important for me because I forget really easily about water. But I have been getting a lot better about drinking water and staying on top of my daily fluid intake. 3. Dissolving toxic relationships. I thought I could keep some relationships around if I kept them in super small doses. This is not true. Relationships that harm your recovery do so in any amount and as hard as it was to let some people go from my life — my recovery is thanking me for it. 4. Trashing your scale. The scale is my biggest weakness. It’s the thing that has kept me stuck the most and the thing that always keeps me coming back to my ED. I am currently trying to let mine go again. I’ve given it up and taken it back, time and time again. It is my safety net. It makes me feel more secure. But that’s a false sense of security and I am working on letting it go because being recovered is more important to me than a scale. That number it gives you really only gives you anxiety and insecurity, and I am trying to remind myself of this to try and give it up once again. All of these things are factors that will contribute to my recovery journey of me becoming recovered. By achieving these things, recovery becomes less far away from me and more within my reach. These are four little goals, four things I know I need to actively work on in order to further my recovery and better myself. There are a lot of other things out there too I need to work on in order to complete my recovery, but these things I’ve listed are some of the main ones for me, personally. I don’t want to be recovering for the next half of my life — so I’ve decided I won’t. I will get this right, one step at a time. And you can too.

Mel
Mel @melsteff
contributor

To My Younger Self Struggling With Mental Illness — I Forgive You

During one treatment admission, I heard someone talking about writing a list of “forgive you’s” to herself. The idea intrigued me, so I sat down and played with it. This is what I came up with. Most of mine come from my school-age years, which were the hardest years for me. Those were the times when my mental illnesses ran wild and when I didn’t have very many friends to lean on for support because most of my “friends” were leaving me because I was “too much” or “too hard to deal with.” Now, looking back at it, the fact that so many of my friends didn’t want to be around me anymore after I got sick was perhaps one portion of what helped keep me sick — because I felt like I didn’t have anyone else to turn to. And it’s because I truly didn’t at that point. But in treatment, I found writing and found it was one of the only things that was able to bring me back from dark situations. So, one night as I was laying in my uncomfortable hospital bed, I wrote this list of forgiveness to myself, which I now read when I’m feeling either down or trapped —in an attempt to make myself feel a little bit more freed again. To remind myself I am OK and am not an inherently bad person for having been sick. To the second grade little girl who wrote down all of the things she wished she was. Who wrote down “skinny” and “popular,” who just wanted to have a lot of friends — I forgive you for not becoming her. To the third grader who cried and called home every day because she was so anxious about getting germs on her or on anybody else, I forgive you. Your cracked, over-washed hands healed and stopped bleeding. I forgive you for feeling weak. To the sixth grader who followed the “emo” crowd, made her hair into a swoop and experimented with self-harm, I forgive you for just not knowing who you were. To the eighth grade girl who cried to her ballet teacher, many times after class, about not feeling good enough — who just needed some extra reassurance to ease her paranoia, I am proud of you for sticking around and getting what you needed. I forgive you for being needy. To the 15-year-old girl who spent some of her first days of high school crying in the guidance office, I forgive you for losing your hope. I forgive you for not being able to enjoy what was supposed to be the most exciting days of your teenage life. To the freshman who started to count calories and began what became an abusive relationship with the scale, who had to fight like hell to make her mind her own again — I forgive you for not knowing this would hurt so much. I forgive you for not knowing that you would soon meet your eating disorder. To the sophomore who basically moved into the guidance office, who left most class periods crying, who hid in the abandoned hallway when sitting in class got to be too overwhelming, who was barely able to ever show up to school in the end, I forgive you. You needed to protect yourself, and you did that. To the 18-year-old girl who, attendance-wise, probably shouldn’t have graduated high school, I forgive you. I forgive you for missing out on your teenage years and for “living” your life with your mental illness that you never really wanted. But I thank you for doing it. I thank you for allowing it to make you stronger, not bitter, and for letting it teach you instead of making you run. To the girl who had to take medical leave in her freshman year of college… and her second year and her third year, “catching up” really doesn’t mean anything in the end. Take your time, you’ll get where you want to be. I forgive you for not doing things the way you thought you needed to. You may not have done everything the way your friends have, but you found other things that are just as important. Like your voice. Don’t let anybody ever take that away from you. That is your power. To the girl I am now, you’re going to remain ever-changing. Don’t let your past dictate your future. I forgive you. For whatever is holding you back, or weighing on you. Whatever you need forgiveness in — I forgive you. Nobody said it would be easy. And it definitely hasn’t been. No matter how many times you drop the ball, trip over that crack in the sidewalk or fall to the ground – I’ll always forgive you. I honestly wish I could sit here and write 100 more things I need forgiveness for — for things I did and didn’t do in recovery that I want to apologize for and would also like forgiveness on — but I think these are a good start. Recovery is the messiest, trickiest thing I’ve ever done and I know I don’t do it right all of the time, no matter how much I want to. And I have to learn to be OK with that. I think, personally, it’s important to get other people’s forgiveness if you do something like accidentally step on their toe when you’re walking around the corner, but, I think the ultimate forgiveness we need is from ourselves. And I don’t know how to tell you how to go about doing that. But I can tell you that once you’ve figured out a way, it will feel good. Forgive yourself. You deserve it. It’s been a long time coming.

Mel
Mel @melsteff
contributor

When You Lose Your Identity in Eating Disorder Recovery

Everybody talks about losing the eating disorder identity once you get into recovery, but nobody really talks about what happens if you lose the “you” identity you have. What happens if you lose your personality, the parts of you that make you who you are? What do you do if you lose your signature giggle? That wide grin, your special sense of humor? Yes, losing your eating disorder identity is hard. It’s hard to figure out who you are again, who you want to be, what you want to be known for now. But it’s even harder to think you’ve found that person already, and now you have to go out and do all that work you already did, all over again. I went through the losing the sense of my eating disorder self, but I didn’t expect to lose my true, usual self. It hit me out of nowhere like a ton of bricks and I was not ready for it. It left me feeling empty, lost and directionless. For a long time, I didn’t even really care to find myself again. I kind of just sulked around and went about my life with no goals, ambition or striving for anything. I lost everything I was. My sense of humor was gone. I didn’t laugh anymore, smiling was hard and it felt like everything that came out of my mouth was a lie because I didn’t know who I was anymore — I didn’t know if what I was saying was what I truly wanted to say or not. This is usually the part when people talk about when they lost their friends, but I honestly didn’t have any friends to lose at this point. Everyone had already left me, which made losing myself the icing on the cake. I had nobody to vent to, nobody to go to or turn to. So, this was the hard part, and the part that sounds the cheesiest — but this is where I picked myself up from the dirt, dusted myself off, told myself to start putting my life back together and I started to recreate myself from the ashes of the girl I let burn. I began making friends by talking with people who I usually would’ve been way too shy to say “hi” to before, and hung out with people who got me out of the house. I joined clubs at school for causes I was passionate about. I got a job that could eventually lead to a career I wanted post-graduation. I set myself up for things that would lead to further success down the road, and I kept up with all of my mental health appointments even if I wanted to cancel them and not go. Eventually, the more I got out and did stuff and the more people I met, the more I found myself. By doing new things, I found what I liked and by meeting new people, I finally met friends who I could confide in so I didn’t have to feel so alone and isolated all of the time. I did lose my eating disorder identity, and I lost that first. I thought that would be the only part of me I’d lose. So when I lost the “whole me,” I was really taken aback and it took me a while to gather the strength and motivation to go out there and create myself again — but I did it. I am not the same person I was before I lost myself, and I think that is partially due to working on recovering from my eating disorder — but also because I have just evolved as a human. I am not recovered yet, but I am so much closer, and this version of Melena is much more in tune with herself and knows so much more of who she is and what she wants out of life and recovery and I think that by going through this process, and by having to find myself all over again, I’ll have a stronger recovery for it.

Mel
Mel @melsteff
contributor

Tips for Anyone Struggling With an Eating Disorder During the Holidays

The holidays can be a hard time in general, especially for those struggling with eating disorders. But don’t worry — I’ve got you covered! Here are a few tips I have for the holidays for anybody struggling with an eating disorder: 1. Food. It’s what everybody is worrying about. Because holidays can be so overwhelming and the food component can leave you feeling so frazzled, it’s important to have some plans in place for when those difficult situations present themselves. Some things that have helped me include trying to take in some external cues. Is this the main meal? Is this a snack time? But I also needed to look inside myself, authentically, and ask myself: Have I eaten enough so far today? Am I truly not hungry, or is my eating disorder dictating what I am or am not eating? I know that eating regularly is important for keeping my mood steady — my therapist has said those words to me like 300 times. 2. If the world around you becomes too stimulating, take a break from it. Find a chair on the side of the room and temporarily take a break. Don’t disengage for the whole day, but give yourself a chance to reset and recharge. Sometimes things like depression or being overwhelmed by food, at least for me, would get to be so draining and I’d get so dragged down that social interaction would feel like the end of world. So take some time on the side, for yourself, until you are ready to come back to socialize. 3. Don’t leave your coping skills at home! Bring something that helps you through your day with you. Whether it’s your aromatherapy bracelet or your earphones so you can listen to that one playlist you love, bring something to help distract from what’s shaking you or something to help get you grounded again. 4. Oh, no. Triggers. They’re probably going to be there. And there have to be some ways for us to squash the ramifications of them, healthfully. If someone says something about your body or your plate, what are you going to do? What can you turn to? You’ll need a plan for this. Maybe it’s a sticky note you put in your wallet or a note you put in your phone — have something ready. You could write statements “replying to” the comments you may potentially hear, so you can handle them better. Or just write a nice, encouraging letter to yourself that you can read if the time comes where you need some extra reassurance that it’ll be OK — then you’ve got it right there, and from you. There will most likely be triggers around you, whether it’s just looking at the food or hearing someone say something you didn’t need to hear, it helps if you’re prepared. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty image via hedgehog94

Mel
Mel @melsteff
contributor

How I'm Being Body Positive, Even When I'm Uncomfortable in My Body

Seeing body positive posts all over the internet has been mostly positive, but at first, it gave me some unreasonable expectations of myself during recovery. You can’t go from loathing your appearance to loving it overnight. It’s hard to make that transition in one thought process — in one snap decision. But I wanted it to be that quick of a change. I didn’t fully understand everything at first, but I believed that in order to be a part of a body positive culture, it meant I had to love my body all of the time. Doing that while in eating disorder recovery just isn’t that easy. It can’t be one of those so called “snap decisions.” Seeing people in their underwear or swimsuits posting these long Instagram captions of how they found acceptance did motivate me in some ways, and it was also a reminder that I, too, have been in that spot, but at times it just felt discouraging. Logging into other social media platforms like Tumblr and Facebook had similar effects on me. Seeing before and after photos weren’t always things that made me smile. If my body wasn’t like those in the picture, I felt like maybe I wasn’t able to be part of that culture of “body love” just yet and that I needed to “wait” until I fit some sort of criteria. But I have found that loving yourself doesn’t have entry requirements, it’s an invitation and it’s always there for you, welcoming you. Reading how people found this new love for their bodies was like a breath of fresh air, but since I was still trying to find it myself, I felt behind. I thought I just couldn’t do recovery “right.” I felt like I would always only be halfway in recovery, and halfway in eating disorder land. But I was wrong. I need to allow myself to accept my body, whether I believe I deserve it or feel a bit behind. I’ve come to find that being “body positive” doesn’t mean I have to love my body 100 percent of the time. Rather, that I promise to work with it — not against it, and to always try my best to accept myself in whatever form I’m in. There’s a quote I love that I repeat to myself often: “Accepting this body did not mean convincing myself that it was beautiful, it meant giving myself permission to exist regardless.” Trista Mateer The size of my thighs or the width of my hips doesn’t get to determine how much fun I have at the party, or how often I use my smile. I am not wrong for having this body. I am allowed to eat the rest of the ice cream and wear my favorite high waisted shorts instead of hiding away in my leggings and baggy sweatshirt. And while I still may struggle with this, and some days it feels further away from me, trying to love and accept myself is always more worthwhile than any time dwelling on ways I “need” to change myself. I don’t need to love my body every second of the day, but that shouldn’t mean I withhold things from it that it deserves — like nutrition or going out with friends. My body doesn’t need to be punished for simply existing and neither does yours. If you’re looking for permission to find body positivity or self-love, this is it. You have all the permission in the world to accept yourself in the form you’re in. This piece was originally publish on Project Heal. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Unsplash photo via Harry Burk

Mel
Mel @melsteff
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Being 'Treatment Resistant' for Bipolar Disorder and Finding Hope

Editor’s note : Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication. Getting yourself to your mental health appointments can be hard enough as is, but it can be even more difficult when you feel like you’re just the puppet in the room. Aside from feeling self-conscious about your behaviors, embarrassed for your thought processes or feeling like a seemingly sad sack of pajamas and tears because of your weight, there’s more. After trying over 50 different medications within a three to four-year period, after being described as “treatment resistant” and after medically withdrawing from school twice, I started to lose sight of the hope everybody tried to convince me was there. I not only lost my hope, but my trust in my doctors, too. I received so many different opinions. “Go on this med”, they said. “It’ll stabilize your mood”, they told me. And many of those times, they were wrong. I even had a test done which was supposed to tell the doctors which kinds of medications my body wouldn’t handle well. It came up with no red flags. I should’ve been grateful my body supposedly wouldn’t react badly to anything, but I wasn’t. I was disappointed. I already knew I reacted poorly to many of them; I didn’t necessarily need the test to tell me that. I just wanted a definitive answer — proof — and now I was back to having none. I felt like I was just destined to be forever sad or manic, with no in-betweens and I wouldn’t find a medication that would work. I know it wasn’t anybody’s fault how my body responded to medications, but it felt like the people who had the solutions just couldn’t find one for me, and after a while that made it hard to want to try anything at all. It made me angry; angry at my treatment providers that there was no answer yet. But most of all, I was angry at my body for rejecting everything and every chance I gave it. Some ways I dealt with this were: 1. Writing in a journal. 2. Writing or reading poetry. 3. Reading other people’s stories who were having similar issues. 4. Crying. 5. Finding music that said the words I didn’t know I needed. Eventually, I was put on another medication for bipolar disorder. My hands trembled so badly I couldn’t take notes in class. My hair became thin and brittle and fell out in handfuls. And after a little while, my levels of the medication went into the toxic range. I found this out during an inpatient stay, and after returning home, my outpatient doctor immediately wanted to put me back on it, despite all of my side effects. When I refused, I was met with very obvious frustration and a couple of more attempts to resume the medication. He wasn’t listening to me; again I felt like his puppet and like I wasn’t being believed. This was only one of many times where I felt unheard by a medical professional. Having trust between you and your doctors’ is vital; treatment depends on that. Ways I developed trust between myself and my doctor: 1. I wrote down my side effects and things that came up that affected my mood. 2. Admitting if not wanting a certain medication was due to my eating disorder trying to avoid potential weight gain. 3. Showing my commitment to taking them as directed, and calling before making changes. 4. Not abusing the medications she prescribed. 5. My doctor was honest with me about side effects and didn’t just deny them to try convincing me to take it regardless. 6. She also was willing to make changes when I spoke up and said I needed something different. Sometimes, in my opinion, it is hard for some doctors to understand why people who have a mental illness don’t want to take the medications they’re suggesting. Some just plain can’t see why we stop them, or take them inconsistently. And while we may explain until we can’t explain any longer, it’s just not possible for everyone to understand. And that’s fair. It’s fair enough. It can be hard to understand something you yourself have never experienced. But, it’s also not fair to be expected to take something that impairs your ability to function the way you need to. Shaky hands that can’t write won’t serve me well in school; losing fistfuls of hair every day isn’t “normal.” Somewhere in this puppet show I starred in, I lost hope and faith along my journey, both in myself and in medications, and in some doctors. However, I did find several physicians afterward who met me halfway and were willing to work with my needs. The first step in cutting the strings was learning how to deal with my own frustrations so I was able to breathe and move forward during the hard times when nothing appeared to work. From there, the next step for me was to build that trust with my doctor. This took time, but the effort in doing so benefitted my treatment in ways I didn’t expect were possible. It is possible to be heard and it is possible to find somebody you can trust to help you get well again. Getting myself to mental health appointments still can be hard, but at least I don’t feel like I’m just the puppet in the room anymore. It’s so important to be able to have open conversations with your doctors, and for them to really hear your concerns because it’s your body and you’re the one living with those side effects. And the treatment you require may not be compatible with a doctors’ style. And that’s OK; you just need to find someone’s whose does. Advocating for yourself and getting your needs met trumps the potential disappointment of a doctor. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo by Sherry Zhu on Unsplash

Mel
Mel @melsteff
contributor

How I'm Living Through My 'Dark Days' With Mental Illness

On the “dark days,” I can’t breathe. Everything swirls above my head, just far enough away. I see some things I want — like a boyfriend or to graduate college — but I can’t reach up and grab them because the water above me is moving too fast and it’s too black outside to see things around me. I’m too cold. I don’t have any energy. And if all of those things were excuses, I guess they were all I had left. I was out of people to run to, out of people who would listen, out of people who would take their time to care. I was out of treatment center options — I was out of hope. When the dark days come back, I try to run as fast as I can. But we all know that some days, trying doesn’t really cut it. They’ll still end up tracking me down. Swallowing me. And I’ll sit there, in the belly of the beast and cry. And then scream. And then cry. Because, oh man, I am in for it. I didn’t know if I’d ever get far enough from the darkness to call myself free. It felt like everybody else was going to better places and I was just… there. I believe in recovery from my eating disorder, but I don’t know how to define recovery when it comes to depression or bipolar disorder. I remember letting myself rot in my bedroom, only getting up to feed my cat. And being alright with that. When the time called for me to leave my apartment, my world felt like it was shattering. My safety bubble had been popped open and I was forced out into the real world — out of my bed that had become my only safe space. I didn’t want anything to do with the “real world.” I didn’t know how to become a functioning human, and at that point — I didn’t have enough energy to figure it out. And at some points I liked to think I was better off alone, but I know I’m not. I have myself, but I need other people in my life to care for, and for me to be cared by. I’m always trying to get enough — be enough — and I can’t always quite figure out the right combination. I am trying to get rid of enough of the dark days, but I can’t always control my world in the same ways other people in my life can. My decisions are sometimes made for me, with little thought behind them, with great impulse. So how do I deal with my “dark days?” 1. Write, write, write. I think that above all else, that has helped me more than any other coping skill. Write in journals, word documents, scribbles on random pieces of paper. Get it all out until you feel even a little bit better. 2. Find a friend who is willing to listen to what you need support with. Even if you don’t necessarily want to dive into your whole life story, even just talking to someone or hanging out watching Netflix may help. Sometimes conversations that don’t revolve around mental illness or treatment may help even more. 3. Get a stuffed animal that has lavender in it and that’s microwavable and use it. Snuggle with big, comfy blankets 4. Fuzzy socks! They may not cure my depression by any means, but they do help add comfort to uncomfortable times 5. Try and find new music. Listen to as many songs as you want, as many times as you need. I have given advice like this to so many people, and that’s because I truly believe it helps. But if you have some other healthy ideas that work for you, definitely do those too! The most I wish for today is that I’ll be able to breathe easy. I’d like everything to stop swirling, or at least somewhere besides right above my head. I’d like to warm up a bit and get some more of my energy back. I don’t know if I’ll ever deem myself “free from depression,” but I’d like to. I think that it’ll probably pay me some more visits off and on, for a long while. Who knows, maybe it will keep swallowing me and spitting me back out. But my wish is for it to become less intense, and less frequent as the days go on. All I can hope for — for today — is that depression spits me out again soon. I hope I won’t need the help of the hospital again, but completely ruling it out would be unrealistic. I hope I won’t have to drop out of school and waste more money on credits I will never get. I hope that I can live life without the impending doom of the clouds and the rain and the darkness I’ve been seeing more often than I’d like. Maybe I’m not supposed to be able to figure all of this out. If this path has a meaning beyond what I can comprehend right now, I believe I will find it in time. My friend recently reminded me that, “There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not always an oncoming train.” Recovering from bipolar disorder, specifically the depressive episodes, is really hard to say the least, and sometimes feels unmanageable because it’s so silent when it lets itself back into my life. It’s hard to tackle something that seems to have no cause and sometimes even no triggers — something that’s basically invisible besides its side effects, from crying to not getting out of bed even though its 4 in the afternoon. If you were to look back to where I’ve been in the past, compared to now, the differences you’d see are tremendous. I may be having some hard days, but I am also thankful I’m not back at square one anymore and that things aren’t necessarily always as bad as they might feel in the moment. The water in the sea of tears I began creating years ago has diminished over time. The storm always passes. I just need to give myself time and permission to find the shelter I need and take cover until I can get it to pass. Because for me, depression sees its way out, it’s just a matter of waiting for that time to come. Some ways I can tell I’ve made progress and that I’m not at square one? 1. Even just changing the room I’m in makes me gives me some relief. 2. When people tell me I’m going to be OK, I don’t immediately get angry. I sometimes even believe them/ 3. I know how to distance myself from those who may be negatively impacting my recovery. 4. I eat even when I’m not hungry just because I know it’s time. 5. I’m able to successfully complete homework without entering panic mode. 6. I am now able to go some places alone. 7. I don’t use my anger toward myself in harmful ways anymore. 8. Some days — on bad days — even though I may not see the light at the end, the thought of it being there gives me reason enough to move forward into the next dark day. 9. Therapy isn’t the only highlight of my week. 10. Always, on the dark days, I still fight for better ones to come. Some days — on the dark days — I still have hope. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via panic_attack