This post discusses Eating Disorders, Suicidal Ideation, and Self Harm. If you think reading this might be harmful to you, please stop now, and please take care of yourselves, my friends.
There’s nothing like a therapist to start you thinking about how things were. Because I don’t know about you, but for me, mental changes come so slowly, that it’s hard to remember how bad things were at the beginning. Or the middle, for that matter, as I didn’t start seeing this therapist until my mental state had already improved by leaps and bounds. But even then, me, my team, and my family were trapped in a cycle of putting out fire after fire, trying to keep me stable, and while logically I know that things are different now, it doesn’t always feel that different. More importantly, I don’t feel that different. But I am, and I can prove it.
Three years ago, I was low, lower than I think even I knew. Put it this way- on a scale of 1-10, I was a negative two. My life revolved around the amount of calories I took in, and the amount I could manage to get out. My brain actually turned it into a kind of math puzzle. If calories (C) equals food minus exercise, how many miles will you have to walk before you’re allowed to eat dinner? This equation became my whole life. Obsessing about calories in versus calories out, slowly decreasing my portions, and pacing. Endless pacing. I had shoved out my life all the things that I loved, and I didn’t even know it, because the numbers were all that matters.
The one other thing I did have time for was hurting myself. Not that restricting and over exercising wasn’t hurting me, but that wasn’t really why I was doing it. I knew enough about the body and nutrition to know that technically what I was doing was harmful, but it was more of a secondary thing. Self-harm was different. It was conscious and purposeful, and as confusing as it sounds, back then it was the one bright part of my day. When it came to restricting and exercise, I could never do enough to make my brain happy. If I set a goal, I wouldn’t feel good even if I completed it. I wouldn’t feel good even if I surpassed it. How depressing is that?
I worry when I talk about self-harm, because I don’t want to romanticize it. It’s easy to avoid making an eating disorder sound good because when I was restricting, all I experienced was misery. I will tell anyone who will listen that eating disorders are not cool, they’re not sexy, or glamorous, or anything but a life full of desperation and sorrow. I struggle to do the same with self-harm, mostly because given where I was at the time mentally, I needed it. Please note the past tense, because now that I have a therapist, and meds that work, and a collection of coping skills, I don’t need to hurt myself anymore. But I did then. And I didn’t care about infection, or about causing more harm than I intended. I certainly didn’t care about scars, although I wish that I had, because mine lead to a lot of awkward questions now.
It is impossible to sustain this sort of life, and when I finally got help, I was circling the drain. Something I’ve since learned is that when you want to stop a behavior but can’t, you’re way past being able to fix it on your own. I spent about a month trying to deal with it myself. I’d do okay for a day or three, but eventually, everything would come crashing back down, worse than before. So finally, after almost of year of living a secret life, I told someone. You’d think that something so important would be imprinted in my brain, but to be honest, I don’t remember it. This is probably a testament to how malnourished my brain was, and how disconnected I was from reality, but it happened, whether I remember it or not. I don’t remember how it went, but I definitely remember what happened next.
I’m not going to go into specifics about treatment, mostly because for the first year, it was a complete wash. Undiagnosed autism made the standard treatment model ineffective, and after therapist after therapist told me that I was stubborn and rigid, and unwilling to change, I started to believe it. I would do well for a few weeks, only to relapse the minute I was given a little freedom. This happened over and over, and this hopelessness that I wasn’t good enough to get better, and the loss of my only coping skills, dropped me into a pretty dark state of mind. The feeling started slowly and crept forward, the feeling that I would never get better, that I would be stuck in a body I hated, that I was hurting the people that I loved. It whispered in my ear that maybe I wasn’t meant for this world, and maybe it would be better without me. This is a dangerous pit to fall into, because often times, in trying to climb out, you end up digging deeper instead. Instead of paying attention in treatment, I was daydreaming about what the world would be like without me, and how I could make it happen. It didn’t happen. Clearly, I’m still here. But it took several hospitalizations and some new diagnoses to keep me here.
Recovery is a strange beast. In the beginning, it occupies your mind every moment of every day. You go around and around, questioning if recovery is worth it, if you can do it, or if you even want it. And everyone has a different path to recovery. Some people can recover on their own, some only need one round of treatment, and there are chronic types like me, who need to do it over and over again before we can get it right. I can’t tell you what happened when I truly got it right. I’d like to stay the stars aligned and everything I learned came together in one magical recovery moment, but it wasn’t like that.
In order for recovery to work for me, I had to figure out how to replace restriction, over-exercise, and self-harm in my life with something healthier. Even more, I had to accept one thing that no one will tell you about recovery- those healthy replacements? They’re never going to work as well as the unhealthy ones. And you’re going to have to keep making all those healthy decisions for the rest of your life, and that’s really hard. I’m stable enough to make good decisions maybe 95 percent of the time. Even in good times, I’m not perfect. But if something terrible happens? If my meds stop working? I don’t know if I’ll be able to do the right thing. I hope. But I’m not sure.
We all change throughout our lives. Some people go through more drastic changes than others, and I have no problem saying that I’m one of those people. In just three years, I’ve gone from the desperate, disconnected person who was barely hanging on, to the person my therapist was talking about today. I take my meds, I follow my meal plan, I use my coping skills. I connect, not just when I’m in trouble, but for the joy that is being part of a community. I am neutral on my own existence, which might not sound like much, but is huge for me. I still don’t feel very different, and I don’t know if I ever will. But I don’t think that’s the point of recovery. As long as I feel like me, and as long as I’m living the life I want, past me is just that- past.