Rebecca Schwartz

@rebecca-schwartz-2 | contributor
After spending my entire life consumed with anxiety and depression and several years with an diagnosed eating disorder, I am finally seeking help and on the road towards recovery. I am no where near recovered yet, but I'm working on it!

My Experience of Ketamine Treatment for Depression

By the spring of 2019, I was tired. I had been fighting major depressive disorder (MDD) , anxiety , borderline personality disorder (BPD), complex PTSD and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for many years. One of my biggest struggles was severe, chronic suicidal ideation. In just four years, I had survived over a dozen suicide attempts. I had been through a tremendous amount of treatment and nothing was working. Over 20 hospitalizations, three stays at residential treatment facilities, several different PHP programs , nearly every single antidepressant and mood stabilizer on the market, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) therapy and much more. I felt absolutely helpless and had given up on myself, just as many mental health professionals had given up on me. Even someone in my own family said to me, “I think you are just too far gone.” Too far gone. Is anyone really too far gone? I was towards the end of my nearly three-month stay in residential treatment in Chicago when ketamine was mentioned to me. It was a last resort treatment option for me, as everyone in my life was concerned that I would not live much longer. Ketamine treatment for depression has been controversial, but I was open to anything, so I agreed to it. A few short weeks later, I received my first ketamine infusion. It was one hour long and I had six infusions in total. I have received lots of questions about my experience with ketamine, so I wanted to share. The one-hour infusion feels very, very weird. There are no words to describe the experience when you’re receiving high doses of ketamine. It puts you into a very dissociative state where nothing feels real and your memories don’t feel like your own. I felt like I was floating. Some of the infusions are also known to take you to a very dark place temporarily and can even leave you feeling more depressed for a few days afterward. This happened to me, and I had to be hospitalized before completing my last two infusions. After completing all six infusions, within just a few days, I noticed a huge difference within myself. My severe, chronic suicidal ideation was nearly nonexistent. My unrelenting, intense depression felt much more manageable. Now, nearly six months after completing the infusions, I remain free of suicidal ideation and the rest of my symptoms are much easier to manage. That’s not to say I don’t still have my struggles or even relapse from time to time, because recovery is a lifelong journey and it is not linear. However, ketamine saved my life. Combined with intense individual therapy, I am finally recovering and my mental illnesses no longer consume my life.

Pushing Through the Struggle of My Eating Disorder Recovery

There, I said it. I miss my “sick body.” It’s the body I put through hell, the body that was malnourished, the body that almost gave up on me and ultimately the body that landed me in the hospital. I still miss it. I miss my sick body for reasons other than the ones you’re thinking. I don’t always miss the fact that I could fit in smaller clothes or that the number on the scale was one I hadn’t seen since elementary school. I don’t always miss the compliments, the judgments or the people asking me for weight loss tips. In treatment and throughout the road to recovery, they teach you body acceptance, ways to appreciate your body and reasons to nourish your body. They have you restore weight, then they talk your ear off about how important it is and slam you with the nutrition and reasons behind your meal plan. Why do I still miss my sick body after all of this? And why is that OK? For now at least. I’m brand new to this whole recovery thing, and I’ve never felt more at war with my eating disorder. As I said, that malnourished, frail and smaller body isn’t necessarily what I miss (don’t get me wrong though, sometimes I miss that too). But here are the things I miss more: 1. The Ability to Hide In my mind, by making myself smaller and smaller I felt as if I could hide. I felt like I could hide from people and hide from life, and I liked the thought of just being able to disappear for awhile. 2. The Ability to Numb Out I’ve never been good with my emotions, often pushing them down until eventually the bottle bursts. In a smaller, malnourished body, my brain was not able to feel or process any emotion. I was just numb. Now I feel emotions as they come. Some are good and some are bad, but I don’t like expressing them. And I’m working on that. 3. Feeling Physically Sick Now this is a hard one to explain to those who don’t struggle with eating disorders, and I never tell anyone this because why would anyone want to feel that way? Well, often times I didn’t (or don’t) feel like I deserve to feel or be healthy. Sometimes I feel like it is my job to punish myself for making mistakes. Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, weak and in pain reinforced the fact that I don’t deserve to feel good. All in all, after years of back-and-forth sickness, in and out of treatment centers and finally in the hospital, I still miss that sick body. The difference here is now I have the skills to tackle those feelings. Sure, they aren’t perfect and sometimes I find myself crying in front of the mirror, but I’m pushing though. You can too! With my new body (and new mindset) I am able to enjoy my time with friends, family, coworkers and dog. I can comprehend things better; I can be a better teacher, daughter, sister and friend. It’s important to note and acknowledge the feeling of missing your sick body, but now it’s more important to be able to fight and push forward. My eating disorder took years of my life away, and I’ll be damned if I let that monster take any more.

Community Voices

It’s Not “Just About the Food”

People always say things like:

”just eat”

”you’re thin enough already”

”you’re to beautiful to do that to yourself”

”it’s just food”

But the fact is, it’s not “just about the food” or “just about eating.” The eating disorder holds onto so much more. It’s a coping skill for many other things. So no, I can’t just fix myself by eating, i need more than that and I’m so glad I am in the process of receiving the help I need.

When Your Eating Disorder Says You're Not 'Sick Enough'

“I can’t be here.” “This can’t be happening.” “I don’t have a problem.” “I’m most definitely not sick enough.” These thoughts and many more crossed my mind while I was sitting in the waiting room of a hospital about to be assessed and evaluated. Let me start off by telling you: I was mainly there to please my therapist. I had been fighting her for months about going to a higher level of care for my eating disorder and I wanted to prove to her that I was fine. I was convinced that I wasn’t sick enough for them to admit me. But I was. I started a partial hospitalization program (PHP) in July of 2017, which my eating disorder convinced me was a joke; if I was sick enough, I’d be put into inpatient care. I went to PHP that Monday and began the program still thinking I didn’t have a problem, comparing myself to others and feeling undeserving of being there. I was only there for a week before going inpatient, not even able to go home and pack my things that day. Now I was sick enough, right? According to my eating disorder: wrong. I went into inpatient with stable vitals and the ability to complete my meals, which left me thinking, “This is silly, why am I here?” I cried because I had lost all of the control I thought I had in my life, not because I realized I was sick. In my experience, eating disorders are very competitive mental health illnesses. You are competing with your own head day after day, minute upon minute. Your eating disorder wants to convince you that you are not sick enough, and therefore, unworthy of help. I looked at all the other patients and compared myself them. It wasn’t until I began taking a longer time to complete my meals and agonizing over food that I realized I might have a small problem. I was sick enough now that I thought I had a problem, right? Wrong, again. I made it through the week-long inpatient stay and was discharged back down to PHP for the next five weeks. Thinking that I was “cured” now, I left the program early to return to work. I made it four months before things hit a wall again, except this time things were way worse. But again, my eating disorder continued telling me that I still was not sick. From November to January, my depression hit hard, my anxiety was out of control and my eating disorder behaviors increased. I didn’t want to go back to treatment; I was just there six months ago. I had a career, things and people to take care of and I still didn’t feel sick enough. I was not skinny enough, like how eating disorders are portrayed in the media. I wasn’t in the ER and I didn’t think I had any medical issues. Or so I thought. I was readmitted to inpatient on Valentine’s Day. I felt selfish and ashamed, yet unable to get out of my own head. Twenty-one days, two ER visits, many unstable vitals and multiple medication changes later, I was finally discharged. Even after a second admission, I didn’t feel sick enough. I can’t express the importance of a good outpatient team. I left the program still being able to see my amazing therapist and incredible dietician. Once I began seeing them regularly, I started to realize that maybe I was actually sick enough to receive help. I don’t know when or how — it was not an epiphany I had — but something clicked over the past few weeks. I still don’t necessarily feel “sick enough,” but I finally feel dedicated to getting better. Long story short, your eating disorder may never let you feel or think you are sick enough, so to everyone who feel the same way as I did: You can start the process of recovery at any time and at any stage you are in. I can’t thank my outpatient team enough for helping me understand this. I’m in the process of finding the motivation to recover. I can’t wait to see what this new found motivation has in store for me.

Why I Can’t Just 'Turn My Eating Disorder Off'

You know in the movies, the person who has the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other shoulder? The devil is telling the character to take the “bad” route, make the mistakes and go against everything the angel on the other shoulder is saying — the “right” things, the things that go with that person’s values, the “logical” route. Even though that person probably logically knows what is right, the devil can be so convincing. What if I were to tell you that doesn’t only happen in the movies? What if I told you that’s exactly what it feels like? It’s hard to believe, right? Unfortunately, that’s often exactly what having an eating disorder is like: you have both a devil (your eating disorder) and an angel (your own mind) in your brain at the same time, all day, all night, 24/7 — it never ends. People with eating disorders don’t usually expect anyone else to “get it,” because half the time we probably don’t get it either, but it’s important for others to understand that it’s not as easy as just “flipping a switch and turning it off.” Eating disorders are not just anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. In fact, there are several other, less well-known but equally as dangerous types of eating disorders, such as binge eating disorder (BED) and other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED). Any of these eating disorders can experience the devil and the angel. Often times, the devil can appear without someone even realizing it. It wasn’t until recently that I learned it wasn’t me making all of my choices, it was the “devil” in my brain. When I think of my eating disorder, I have a picture of what the devil might look like: a grumpy, red, mean looking man. This helps me when I am trying to separate those eating disorder thoughts from my own thoughts, and let me tell you: It’s way easier said than done. Here is why can’t I just “turn it off and eat:” 1. My brain is “wired differently.” I was only recently officially diagnosed with an eating disorder this past summer after my eating disorder had completely taken over my life and I was unable to hide it from others. This diagnosis came after struggling with anxiety, depression, body image issues and food issues my entire life. Having said that, according to every mental health professional I have seen, I was born with, or quickly developed, many of the characteristics of an eating disorder. Perfectionism, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, the inability to effectively communicate or display emotions, the need to be in control, high expectations and picky eating are just some of the characteristics I’ve always possessed that make me who I am, but were also a catalyst in the development of my eating disorder. The list of characteristics are not limited to the previous list — there are so many things that could go on for someone in the development of an eating disorder. 2. I’ve experienced a life-changing event. I know what you might be thinking: “ Well, everyone at some point in their life has experienced a life-changing event, yet not everyone has an eating disorder. ” And while you’d be right, for all the reasons I listed in my first point, sometimes all it takes is a significant life-changing event to send someone with the characteristics of an eating disorder into a downward spiral. I realize this doesn’t happen for everyone, but unfortunately that is what happened to me. I’ve always struggled with my body image, with disordered eating and exercise behaviors. I always felt like the biggest of everyone around me, often spending countless minutes on the scale and in front of the mirror, wishing I could change every aspect of my body. All of this happened off and on for years — since elementary school — but it wasn’t until my grandfather’s (someone who was very important in my life) health started deteriorating that my eating disorder really started spiraling. The saddest part was: I didn’t even know it was happening. Things were getting worse and worse little by little for the two years leading up to the eventual complete disaster that very quickly consumed my entire life. I was already so consumed in my eating disorder in the months prior to my grandfather’s passing, but when my grandfather eventually passed away, the eating disorder became my way to cope with the loss. I didn’t have to feel the emotions that came along with his passing, or the guilt that I had about so many things around it. It seemed like everything around me was falling apart; I carried so much guilt and felt like I had no control over anything but my eating disorder and my weight, so how could I ever give that up? 3. I didn’t even know it was happening. There came a point where I couldn’t hide my eating disorder any longer: I was losing weight quickly, I had completely isolated myself, my health was starting to deteriorate, and according to others “I just wasn’t myself.” I was told to “get help or we will get help for you,” and at that moment I reached out to a therapist. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me, I just did it to please the people around me. During this time in therapy I was closed off and not open to the term “recovery.” After all, what did I have to recover from? It wasn’t long before my therapist started pushing for a higher level of care. My first reaction was “absolutely not,” but once summer came, my parents got involved and I was off work, so I really didn’t end up having a choice. I was admitted to the partial hospitalization program (PHP) at first, still in denial that I had a problem. In my mind I still wasn’t sick enough, I wasn’t skinny enough, and there was nothing that anyone could say or do to convince me otherwise. The devil had completely taken over and I was consumed by the desire to either get skinnier or die trying — or so I thought. I lasted one week in PHP before I was pulled into a room and told I was not allowed to leave the building and go home that night, I was being admitted to inpatient 24/7 care until further notice for medical stabilization, and to begin working through the eating disorder. This was my turning point: I had hit rock bottom and I felt like I couldn’t go any lower unless I was buried six feet under the ground. I now realized I had a problem, but recovery still seemed to terrifying and out of reach. 4. Fear of the unknown. By the time I realized I had a problem, my eating disorder had taken over my whole life, I strongly felt that without it I would lose my complete sense of identity. I had no idea what recovery looked like, so my head was instantly flooded with terrible thoughts of what my recovery future might look like. Who was I without my eating disorder? After all, if I wasn’t perfect I would be a complete failure and never get anything done, but if I recovered I would be selfish for focusing on myself and everyone would hate me more than they already do. If I gained weight in recovery I would be even uglier than I already am and no one would love me — my biggest fear would come true and I’d be alone forever. If my self-esteem and confidence went up I’d be greedy, self-centered and an overall awful person. Who would I be without my control? My life would fall apart, I wouldn’t be able to function or do anything right. All this time I thought my eating disorder provided me with my identity; to my co-workers, some friends, to the parents of my students, I had the perfect life. I had it all together, and if recovery took away my ability to have it all together, I would very quickly become a failure. I could and still can hear the devil loud and clear in my head telling me that without him I would be nobody, I would quickly become a failure and nobody would like me. Six weeks in the hospital helped me to begin separating the two voices in my head and learn ways to cope with the horrible thoughts my eating disorder gives me, and the urges to give in to those behaviors that my logical self knew was destroying my body. Much to my surprise, recovery wasn’t that easy, because I’m still consumed with these thoughts every single day. Most people struggling with an eating disorder have no idea what recovery looks like, especially in the beginning. If I’m being honest, I still don’t know what it looks like, as I struggle every single day to shut that devil voice inside my head off. Believe me, I so wish there was a switch in my brain that I could shut off, and I’ve spent countless hours hating myself for “not being in control of my own brain.” Because of the stigma of mental health, I thought there was something wrong with me; I didn’t believe I was sick, but the reality is, I didn’t choose to have an eating disorder, anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue I have struggled with. I need help to get better; the help of medications, doctors, therapists, psychiatrists and a dietician in order to fully recover. This is no different than someone with a physical illness or injury, but unfortunately for most, you can’t physically see that someone has a mental illness, especially someone like me who is high-functioning. It took me forever to realize this eating disorder is not my fault, I did not chose to do this to myself, and I needed help — but I’m glad I finally did. I am not in recovery yet, and I still have so many bad days where recovery seems too hard or too scary, and going into total relapse seems easier, because then I could go back to numbing myself out and not dealing with stress or emotions. There will be slips — I can’t just turn my eating disorder off even though I so badly wish I could, but please believe me when I say I am trying. I’m trying hard. I want to silence the devil and bring back the angel, the Rebecca I know is in there somewhere. 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 Chet_W

What Lent Is Like When You Are in Eating Disorder Recovery

Ash Wednesday = no meat and fasting.Good Friday = no meat and fasting.40 days and 40 nights with an excuse to give up something.Every Friday during Lent = no meat. My eating disorder brain is throwing a party right now. I have so many perfect excuses to restrict whether it be through fasting, not eating meat or by telling myself, “for 40 days I will not eat_____.” I — I mean, my eating disorder — cannot wait until the beginning of Lent. I’ve gone to church my whole life, every Sunday with my family. We celebrate every Catholic holiday, we attend Holy Days of Obligation, we volunteer at the church, donate blood regularly at the church and for as long as I can remember, followed all of the rules when it comes to Lent. I’ve always understood the meaning of Lent and have thought about that each year as we observe it. Since childhood I have understood this period of 40 days that come before Easter as a period of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. By observing the 40 days of Lent, we as Catholics replicate the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us when he went into the desert for 40 days. Having said this however, for me, Lent in the past few years has become less about what Jesus did for us, and more about how my eating disorder can take advantage of that 40 day period. For many people working on recovering from an eating disorder, Lent is a slippery slope, potentially a trigger for relapse. The minute you let “ED” slip in for just a second, he can easily begin to take over again. ED is convincing, it only takes one trigger, one slip, one thing for him to be back and taking up the space in your head yet again. I’m not going to let a time that is supposed to be about reflection put me into a complete relapse. So how do you go through Lent without feeling guilty? I’ve made a list of suggestions that may help someone experience Lent without the risk of falling back into their eating disorder. 1. Don’t beat yourself up. According to The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Those that are excused from fast and abstinence outside the age limits include the physically or mentally ill including individuals suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Also excluded are pregnant or nursing women. In all cases, common sense should prevail, and ill persons should not further jeopardize their health by fasting.” Eating disorders are very serious mental illnesses. The stigma surrounding mental illness is not even a factor when it comes to fasting during Lent. You are excused from fasting, so please stop beating yourself up with guilt for not being able to follow the “rules.” 2. Fast from something non-food related. By fasting from something not food related, you are still choosing to use Lent as a time of reflection, but not focusing that reflection around food. Here are some ideas: Social media, complaining, hiding emotions, certain T.V. shows, staying up late and negative self-talk. 3. Follow your meal plan. For me, since Lent has always involved food in some way. I can’t imagine not continuing to do so. For that reason, my Lenten Fast will involve food, but in a different way. I can use Lent and stay more dedicated to my health as well as my faith by eating my full meal plan. Starting on Ash Wednesday, my goal will be to eat as much of the food on my meal plan as possible. This includes grains and fats which I struggle with the most. This scares me the most, but I know will ultimately bring me closer to my faith. By being nourished, I can continue to focus on things I cherish and start to bring back in the real reason for Lent. Going into Lent, deep down these things are scary. My head is screaming at me, and the guilt of not doing Lent “the right way” is still very loud in my brain. I know that in order to make it through Lent, I will need to use my support system, my family, my friends, my treatment team and God for support. Trying to do this alone seems so much easier, yet I know I will be less likely to be successful.Remember this: “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:39 You are loved. You are loved by God, by your support system and that is something you can never hear enough. Nothing you will ever do, including not “fasting” during Lent will break the love that the Lord has for you. Don’t let your mental illness make you feel less than you are because you are so worthy of God’s love.