Zara Renee

@surviving_and_thriving | contributor

The Struggles of Anorexia When You Have a Disability

“Girl, look at these thighs. You know I eat a lot.” I used to eat well and now I am starving every day. But my muscles haven’t atrophied yet. “I don’t feel well, I’ll eat in a little bit.” My feet were so swollen today I couldn’t run enough, so I don’t deserve to eat. “My colon is acting up today so I’ll just do liquids today because they’re light on my intestines.” I don’t want to eat so I’ll use an excuse no one will question. I stand looking in the mirror at the reflection staring at me, but I can’t see what anyone around me sees. I close my eyes and touch instead of look. I rub my hands across my body and there is a gushing sensation of joy from feeling how thin I am. My head rolls back and I feel my body floating as if it were hooked on ecstasy. This is the part of anorexia many of us are silent about because we feel ashamed for craving that high that comes from feeling the thinness, the dull ache in our starving stomachs, or the thrill of not getting caught. Having CRPS II and a string of other health problems is a dream excuse for an anorexic, and the worst nightmare for the people around them. They watch the person fading into nothingness but keep excusing it with “They will get better. They’re just physically sick right now.” This is why bodybuilding for me as a woman who is anorexic and disabled has become the most important aspect of my recovery. When I first started training, I was below a healthy weight and I couldn’t stop my eating disorder. I fell so quickly in love with the sensation of being strong from lifting. It made me feel in control, powerful, and untouchable. My coach helped me slowly start to recover from my eating disorder. He constantly reminds me, “You have to eat to grow your muscles.” And so I ate without pleasure at first. I sat there staring at the food in front of me with dread… and I would force myself to eat it, and keep it down… but when I felt the energy that eating gave me at the gym, I went home and ate again. Gradually, I stopped eating just for fuel and began eating for pleasure. I came to love my healthy meals because it was like all the cells in my body were having a party each time I ate. I no longer had to lie to people I loved, I didn’t have to avoid social events where there was food, and I could live a truly free life. If you’re out there using your disability as a cover for the shame of not being able to control your eating disorder, know that you are not alone. In my experience, recovery is possible. You can’t do it alone, you won’t do it perfectly but in time, you can heal. Love yourself, find what you are passionate about, and the rest will come. What will you discover that will inspire you enough to live for it?

How the Gym Changed My Expectations About Life With CRPS

“I can.” I step up to the bar and I inhale a deep breath. My eyes focus on the words on the wall in front of me. “Relentless,” “fearless” and “strong.” I close my eyes and in the blackness, I feel a calm wash over me. I place my hands on the cold steel bar and I duck to feel the bar pressed up against my neck. The world becomes a blur as I feel the beating of my heart. A few seconds later, I feel the quiver in my legs as I am struggling to do just one more. Just one more. The searing pain in my legs tells me that I am worthless, that I am weak, that I will never be able to simply be “normal.” I see the word “relentless” glaring at me and I muster up all the strength inside me and fight to lift upwards. As I place the bar back onto the rack, my lips form an unstoppable grin. I look at my coach. “I can.” I feel like a dominant beast who conquered the world. I stand tall and proud prepared for anything that is thrown at me. “What’s next?” He laughs because I am always eager for the next set of exercises. As I walk beside him to the next station there is a happy bounce in my step, for I conquered that set. Eight years ago, they said it was impossible for me to walk. They said it was impossible for me to be healthy. They said I could never be strong. They said living a full and complete life was impossible. I was a fool to believe them. I gave in to the low expectations of people with disabilities. In my heart, I dreamed only for the simple things. I resigned myself to accepting that there were impossibilities for me. I never dared to hope that I could be an athletic woman with a disability. When I gave up the foolish notion that because I am disabled, I must be fragile, I began to soar. For here I am with my head held high, with my body shaking as I do my 16th lunge with a 25-pound bar on my neck. I look into the mirror and I no longer see a woman shackled to the low expectations society has for people with disabilities. I am ferocious. I refuse to accept the limits I have been told to believe. My disability does not define my passions, my goals, and has no control over my dreams. I am a woman with a disability and I am deeply in love with the rush that comes from finishing that last hard set. I am a woman with complex regional pain syndrome and I love lifting. I am a woman with a disability and I can do anything. Don’t expect me to be fragile anymore. Watch me soar.

Holding on to Hope as Someone Living With PTSD

Fright. The panic that overwhelms you when you feel the soft brush of someone passing you. Terror. The nagging little inkling in the back of your head that the people near you desire to destroy you. Impulse. The scrambling to feel the rush of adrenaline you felt when someone violated you. Anger. The outrage you feel as you blame, degrade and punish yourself for what someone did to you. Trauma haunts you. It follows you like a ghost taunting you. It forces you to do the unthinkable. It corners you, immobilizing you with fear until your reality is so distorted that you sink to the floor and wail for the agony to end. As you struggle to escape the emotions trapping you in a room filled with dark thoughts, you watch slowly as your candle of hope burns away. Trauma whispers in your ear that there is no escaping. That’s the lie. The dread in your heart is an illusion. You can gain freedom. It’s a miserable journey crammed with discomfort, loneliness and coming to terms with unsettling thoughts. The days drag by as you slowly crawl across the floor. Even a little hope is still hope. Don’t let it burn out before you escape. You are not what happened to you. You’re worth more. You deserve happiness. What happened to you was a crime, but you aren’t the criminal. Stop punishing yourself. You don’t have to give others the ability to take advantage of you anymore. You don’t have to keep penalizing yourself because of what someone else did to you. You don’t have to be docile and make everyone happy. You have the right to be angry. Walk right up to your anger and embrace it. Be outraged at the person who violated you. Be infuriated at the people who stood silently by watching you retreat into your room of trauma. Feel the fury running through your veins. Enjoy that rush of adrenaline. Let the power flush out the dark thoughts fastened to every wall of your mind. Dare to believe that you are phenomenal. You’re the survivor. Slowly peel those twisted self-perceptions off the walls. The bare walls might be startling, drab and leave you with an empty feeling in your gut. Breathe. That sensation will only last so long. When you stop giving air to those notions in your head and let them die away you see the world in amazement. You see the world in rose-colored glasses. You start to see the beauty of the small things for the first time. You crave happiness, you stand fierce and allow no one to control you. You transform into someone who refuses to allow anyone to put a blemish on your joy. It’s possible. You can rebuild your home. You can take a stroll down to the pier and hear the ocean breeze. You can put your toes in the water and feel a warm hand in yours. The world is yours to take. Peace can be yours if you just venture to thrive. Will you dare to dream with me?

Holding on to Hope as Someone Living With PTSD

Fright. The panic that overwhelms you when you feel the soft brush of someone passing you. Terror. The nagging little inkling in the back of your head that the people near you desire to destroy you. Impulse. The scrambling to feel the rush of adrenaline you felt when someone violated you. Anger. The outrage you feel as you blame, degrade and punish yourself for what someone did to you. Trauma haunts you. It follows you like a ghost taunting you. It forces you to do the unthinkable. It corners you, immobilizing you with fear until your reality is so distorted that you sink to the floor and wail for the agony to end. As you struggle to escape the emotions trapping you in a room filled with dark thoughts, you watch slowly as your candle of hope burns away. Trauma whispers in your ear that there is no escaping. That’s the lie. The dread in your heart is an illusion. You can gain freedom. It’s a miserable journey crammed with discomfort, loneliness and coming to terms with unsettling thoughts. The days drag by as you slowly crawl across the floor. Even a little hope is still hope. Don’t let it burn out before you escape. You are not what happened to you. You’re worth more. You deserve happiness. What happened to you was a crime, but you aren’t the criminal. Stop punishing yourself. You don’t have to give others the ability to take advantage of you anymore. You don’t have to keep penalizing yourself because of what someone else did to you. You don’t have to be docile and make everyone happy. You have the right to be angry. Walk right up to your anger and embrace it. Be outraged at the person who violated you. Be infuriated at the people who stood silently by watching you retreat into your room of trauma. Feel the fury running through your veins. Enjoy that rush of adrenaline. Let the power flush out the dark thoughts fastened to every wall of your mind. Dare to believe that you are phenomenal. You’re the survivor. Slowly peel those twisted self-perceptions off the walls. The bare walls might be startling, drab and leave you with an empty feeling in your gut. Breathe. That sensation will only last so long. When you stop giving air to those notions in your head and let them die away you see the world in amazement. You see the world in rose-colored glasses. You start to see the beauty of the small things for the first time. You crave happiness, you stand fierce and allow no one to control you. You transform into someone who refuses to allow anyone to put a blemish on your joy. It’s possible. You can rebuild your home. You can take a stroll down to the pier and hear the ocean breeze. You can put your toes in the water and feel a warm hand in yours. The world is yours to take. Peace can be yours if you just venture to thrive. Will you dare to dream with me?

CRPS: Ask About the Battle You Can't See

Having complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is like being trapped in a room filled with flames, and I’m doused in gasoline. Under my skin, everything is scorching hot, and my hands ache to rip my skin off of my bones to put out the flames. But touching my swollen skin only sends an  electrical spark of pain roaring through my veins and I have to repress a scream. I feel trapped in this room filled with fire, and I’m burning alive. The smoke is seeping into my throat and I’m fighting to breathe through the smothering pain clenching me. This is the drilling pain that I am battling. The burning flames feel so hot that I begin to shake from the chills that radiate through my body. I hold so still, petrified that even the smallest breath is going to intensify what I’m experiencing. My face is paralyzed with a radiant smile on it. I’m externally frozen with the flames burning underneath my icy skin. My face is illuminated by the glow of my smile as my eyes crinkle at the corners. My voice has a pleasant chime to it. I let my positivity shine outwards despite the pain that is slicing into my body. The person standing in front of me has so little control of my disease, and doesn’t deserve any negative energy from me because of my battle. This violent disease will not stop me from gifting my warmth to others. As a CRPS warrior, I have fought a battle every day — one that you may not be able to see. I was simply breathing while I struggled to fight CRPS, but now I am learning to live in sync with this agony. I am a warrior; I am a brave woman who is experienced with this disease, and I am capable of managing my physical symptoms. But my endurance has not made my journey effortless. I, like many CRPS warriors, struggle with depression, feelings of being worthless, and body positivity. My strength has allowed me to fight to survive, even in the darkest moments. Those are the moments when I need those dear to me to be strong for me and encourage me through my ugly truths. My loved ones support my journey and wait with me while I am processing what is happening to me. I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who support all of my  journey, and who encourage me to stay true to myself. I hold onto my warmth, and I show kindness to those around me despite the disease clinging to me. In those moments my friends are strong for me and encourage me to continue to spread my positive perspective even when dark thoughts are attempting to disrupt my happiness. Many of us with a disability hold onto our strength so intensely, our loved ones don’t recognize when we need someone to be strong for us. Our smiles beam across the room, and we hide our needs. We must start self-advocating. It is okay to stumble and have hideous moments. Open up to those close to your heart and let them in. We must start checking in on one another because often there is something trapping our voice inside of us that refuses to let us say “I need help” or “I need a friend”. CRPS has been colloquially called “the suicide disease,” because so many of us with CRPS have lost the war. The strength that any warrior has cannot be an indicator of their mental well-being. Remember that, and be kind. We must take initiative to ask for help, and to support other warriors. Today, make sure that you check on those you love. Check on your sad friends. Check on your happy friends. Check on your friends that seem emotionally distant. Embrace those you love, and let them know that they matter to you. Spread love today because everyone is fighting a battle that you may not be able to see.

How to Build Self-Worth When Living With Chronic Pain

I leaned into the mirror, staining my lips a bright red as the music blared in my tiny room. I felt the vibrations roaring through my body as my heart raced to the beat of the music. My heart was smiling with anticipation of going to the movies with my friends. I spun around feeling my soft skirt dancing around my legs. Time started to blur, my vision became distorted, as I froze an electrifying shock zoomed in a spiral surrounding my legs leaving me unable to move from pain. I cried out for Mr. George, my (then) service animal as this pressure stifled my ability to breathe. Gasping for breath, I floundered towards my bed immediately sighing with relief as I collapsed into my bed. I closed my eyes and embraced the darkness feeling the cool tears falling against my cheek. The darkness created a calm warming atmosphere as I inhaled against the pain. I felt soft fur brushing against me, soothing the sizzling pain in my leg. Taking a breath felt easier. I laid there frozen. Inhaling cool air, and exhaling the desperation that was overwhelming me. Feeling the alleviating brush of my service animal’s fur against my leg. Breathe. Just breathe. As pain subsided, Mr. George walked me through the steps that we always took to get me back on my feet. I stood in the mirror, with a tinge of pain in my leg, with Mr. George standing by my side. My stomach felt queasy as I looked in the mirror with all of my darkest thoughts bellowing from the mirror. You’re worthless! You aren’t at your strongest and no one wants to be with a drag! You never go out anyways, why start now? That repulsive feeling in my gut took control over my actions, and propelled me to text my friends that I wasn’t coming. I put my phone on silent so I didn’t have to hear the chimes of texts pouring in wanting an explanation for why I cancelled this time. In those moments, I had enlisted the help of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) to rob my future self. I hired CRPS to sneak into my mind, and convince me to see a woman in the mirror with diminished value. I didn’t see a woman of worth who would one day find friends who supported her on her worst days. Friends who encourage me today to have fun regardless of if my disease has impacted me earlier in the day. I underestimated the impact of loving myself while I have this disease, and making memories while living with CRPS. Having CRPS does not diminish your worth. CRPS cannot stop us. Having CRPS does mean that every single day I am fighting for my future self. We are powerful, unconquerable humans fighting for the right to a happy existence. We have to pick up our battle weapon, recognize our own worth, and get out there to make happy memories for ourselves. I am a person with CRPS who goes to eat with her friends using a cane.I am a person who goes tubing, bowling and to see every Marvel movie.I am a person with CRPS who sometimes uses a wheelchair when she goes out.I am a person who will dance to good music anytime.I am a person with CRPS who smiles while she’s walking to work with a brace.I am a person who wants the world to know how it feels to be loved. I am now hiring CRPS to work for me, and we will make happy memories for my future self. I am a person with CRPS and I can.

What It's Like Living With Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Winter is coming. For someone with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), this is knowing that pain, torture, and sadness are reaching out to grab ahold of you. Recently I have reached out, looking for someone, anyone, who has the “suicide disease.” This is my sixth winter battling the agony, the horrendous pain that ranks higher than childbirth on the McGill Pain Scale. In my search, I stumbled across so many pages of voices shouting out in the dark –screaming for help, crying for a friend, “burning for a cure.” My eyes skimmed thousands of comments, people telling immaculately detailed stories of what they would do, or would be doing, if CRPS hadn’t found them. What would I be doing right now if CRPS had never found me? I would be on holiday break from Berry College. I’d be sitting at home with my mom, wearing fuzzy socks, and drinking warm tea while some ancient movie blares from the television. Instead, I’m sitting here alone at a totally different college. Imagine having to tell your mother that you can’t hug her because it hurts you. Imagine watching your mother grow old and knowing that you may never get to hug her again before she goes. Imagine wanting to fall in love and knowing it may never happen. Imagine knowing you can never have kids, that they are an impossibility. You’d never be able to stand the pain, the insufferable pain of a child hugging you, or the stifled screams because of the vibration their voices make. It’s difficult to hold back the burning tears every time you must distance yourself from yet another person you love, simply because of this illness. This is a piece of the horror that CRPS warriors speak of. When people talk about disability they often think it’s insulting to say that someone “suffers from [illness].” I say that it’s insulting to say that I don’t suffer from it. CRPS is an abominably suffocating illness. It changes your entire lifestyle — from the makeup you wear, to the types of clothes you buy, to the friends you have, to the career you choose. What people haven’t acknowledged is the surreal effect it can have on your life if you surrender your weapon. Thanks to CRPS, I have a genuine concern for those around me. I learned to have empathy for others because life isn’t a competition. Others deserve help not if they are good people, not if they are pleasant, but simply because they are human. I have learned to advocate for myself, as well as others. I’ve learned to not be accepting of things that are discriminatory. I have learned that a changed life is still a life. I have learned that doing things differently is not doing it the wrong way. I have learned to be proud of the things that I can do on the days that I can do them. I will not have learned helplessness. I have CRPS and I refuse to say I can’t.I have CRPS and I can. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty Images photo via Marjan_Apostolovic

My Christmas Wish as Someone With Chronic Pain

My mind rolls back like a movie reel to the last few years during the frigid winters. As the wind becomes piercing my nights drag out, and the tears I shed in private visit a little longer. My door shuts on people I love more frequently. I’m often curled up alone in a corner, rediscovering my disgust at my inability to be a part of the festivities. As the movie reel spins forward, the same image stays in the screen up until this frightfully frosty winter. My heart feels detached from the whole world as I lay with my entire body pressed up against the corner of my room. The sensation of needles drilling into my bones radiates through my body. The jolting pain hurts my head so badly that I feel the nauseating need to scream so loud I might just possible overpower the feelings of burning agony. My eyes shut and I glare into the blackness as I feel the pain shooting through my body. With every breath I expel, my ribs feel they might explode. My ears throb as the vibrations of the jovial college students around me force me to lock my jaw and grind my teeth to keep from roaring at the world. A spasm of pain shoots up my leg and my eyes burst open and fall on the photograph on my dresser across the room. Despite my mind crackling from the burning pain, I feel a warmth of love spreading throughout me as I look at the man in the photograph who shows me patience. The tears from the sensations in my body drip onto my pillow as a smile crosses my face. My hand moves an inch, and my body collects a huge gust of wind as the pain stabs me in the shoulder. I tap the black screen despite the tears falling faster, realizing that truly it is me blocking others out of my life. I hit the speaker button and lay curled up sobbing and hacking before I speak. “Ryan, I love you.” My finger dragged down to the send button, and my eyes fell shut with exhaustion from the fire within. I lay there horrified to move, afraid my bones would shatter if I dared to flutter my eyes. Ding! The vibration diffused in the bed, igniting a tormenting fire through my muscles. With my teeth grinding together from the pain, I peered through my eyelids to peek at the cracked screen. “I love you more.” Another tear escaped as my heart danced the waltz inside my burning body. Every kind word he utters is ammunition against this disease. Every warm smile he gives me, the acceptance of days without hugs, and the patience serves to help me battle this agony. With his patience, he has unknowingly given me a sense of holiday cheer despite my CRPS. His patience is like a hand reaching down into the darkness to bring me up into the light with everyone else. This Christmas, I plead with you to open your heart. Instead of having solely empathy-driven actions, try using actions riddled with patience. I ask this for those like me who are lying in the corner, frozen from the stinging torment of chronic pain. Please fulfill my Christmas wish and sprinkle patience throughout all of your interactions with those of us who have a disability. Show me that we can become a nation that is inclusive of all people. I have CRPS and I can endure. We have disabilities and we can conquer. We are a nation of patience, and we can include all people.

The Power of a True Friend When You Have CRPS

“I love you.” “I have CRPS.” These two phrases are both made up of three tiny words, and both have such powerful effects on others. The first one causes growth, inspires, and creates hope for the future. The second phrase causes others to stare, to underestimate me, to pity me, or try to force me into a box of incapability. About a month into studying at Wesleyan College, I was entering my dorm room with my friends. My arms were stuffed full of various things such as binders, textbooks and my water bottle. I was faced with three stairs to get to the first floor of the dorm. These frightening, enormous three stairs blocked me from getting to my room where I could just sink into my bed and finally discover relief for my swollen feet. I sighed an exasperated sigh because there was no easier, more accessible way to my dorm room and I was ever so exhausted. As I placed my right foot onto my staircase I stumbled, and my water bottle shot out the crook of my arm, bounced off the railing and slammed into the door behind me. My friends at the hall entrance door turned around and looked at me. I slowly moved my leg from the first stair, and grudgingly went and picked up my bottle. I trudged back towards the stairs. I lifted my first foot onto the stairs and inhaled a sigh of relief as nothing dropped. I placed my other foot onto that first staircase, and as I did my notebook slipped out from under my arm and flew down the stair to the ground behind me. My eyes hesitated to glance up, afraid of what my friends were thinking of me. My friend ran to me and picked up my notebook, grabbed my arm and said “I’ll save you. Give me all your stuff. I can just carry it to your room.” My eyes stung from the pain and my lips clenched as I held back my agitated thoughts about how she thought so little of me that she was willing to take everything from me rather than patiently wait for me to get up the three stairs on my own, which I can do. Just as she was yanking my stuff out of my arms, my other friend who had been on her phone the entire time this was happening walked down the stairs and with a smile handed me back all my stuff.  She glared at the other person and calmly and matter-of-factly said, “You can go ahead to your room if you don’t have time to wait.” Christen smiled brightly at me with a twinkle in her eyes and said, “Ugh. I hate these stairs so much.” And so, with each of us using a rail to lean on, we struggled up the stairs together until we reached the top. We climbed stairs slow as caterpillars freshman year together, while other students stopped and gawked at me. We propped our feet up together, waiting on the swelling in our feet to go down together. She defended me to other students who questioned why I had a person with a disability car tag but looked so “normal.” She instilled confidence in me as a person with a disability. She held me when I cried, comforted me when I felt scared and challenged me when I would say that I couldn’t do something. As Christen advocated for me on campus with my peers, I began to understand things I had never realized before. My disability cannot prevent me from doing the things I love. I cannot be trapped in this cage called CRPS. I can’t give up simply because others tell me to. I don’t have to allow others to swoop in to “save” me simply because they want to be a hero. Never underappreciate the Christen in your life. Never underestimate yourself. You can do more than you believe. You can do everything your Christen says you can. You can be greater than you could ever dream. You truly can make a difference in your community. We are people with CRPS and we can do anything.

What It's Like Living With Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Winter is coming. For someone with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), this is knowing that pain, torture, and sadness are reaching out to grab ahold of you. Recently I have reached out, looking for someone, anyone, who has the “suicide disease.” This is my sixth winter battling the agony, the horrendous pain that ranks higher than childbirth on the McGill Pain Scale. In my search, I stumbled across so many pages of voices shouting out in the dark –screaming for help, crying for a friend, “burning for a cure.” My eyes skimmed thousands of comments, people telling immaculately detailed stories of what they would do, or would be doing, if CRPS hadn’t found them. What would I be doing right now if CRPS had never found me? I would be on holiday break from Berry College. I’d be sitting at home with my mom, wearing fuzzy socks, and drinking warm tea while some ancient movie blares from the television. Instead, I’m sitting here alone at a totally different college. Imagine having to tell your mother that you can’t hug her because it hurts you. Imagine watching your mother grow old and knowing that you may never get to hug her again before she goes. Imagine wanting to fall in love and knowing it may never happen. Imagine knowing you can never have kids, that they are an impossibility. You’d never be able to stand the pain, the insufferable pain of a child hugging you, or the stifled screams because of the vibration their voices make. It’s difficult to hold back the burning tears every time you must distance yourself from yet another person you love, simply because of this illness. This is a piece of the horror that CRPS warriors speak of. When people talk about disability they often think it’s insulting to say that someone “suffers from [illness].” I say that it’s insulting to say that I don’t suffer from it. CRPS is an abominably suffocating illness. It changes your entire lifestyle — from the makeup you wear, to the types of clothes you buy, to the friends you have, to the career you choose. What people haven’t acknowledged is the surreal effect it can have on your life if you surrender your weapon. Thanks to CRPS, I have a genuine concern for those around me. I learned to have empathy for others because life isn’t a competition. Others deserve help not if they are good people, not if they are pleasant, but simply because they are human. I have learned to advocate for myself, as well as others. I’ve learned to not be accepting of things that are discriminatory. I have learned that a changed life is still a life. I have learned that doing things differently is not doing it the wrong way. I have learned to be proud of the things that I can do on the days that I can do them. I will not have learned helplessness. I have CRPS and I refuse to say I can’t.I have CRPS and I can. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty Images photo via Marjan_Apostolovic