The Positivity Paradigm

When existence has been characterized by suffering for so long, it can be difficult to comprehend what life without it could look like. The concept of a positive, happy, well-adjusted person who lives a fulfilling and happy life seems so foreign to almost be unreal. Impossible. It seems as though life is always hard, will always be hard, and any claim of a different narrative is idealistic drivel.

Suffering likes us to buy into this narrative because it means that we won’t cling to the hope that it is possible to be free. And when there is no hope for freedom, you accept the hardships life and disorder puts on you as ‘as good as it gets.’

But the reality is that existence beyond suffering is real. People exist who are well-adjusted, securely attached, who lack trauma and suffering. Who are happy – actually happy – the majority of the time. Now one way to view this is to take a victim mentality and ask why. ‘Why them, and not me?’ Why do I have to suffer, to have trauma, to have dealt with abuse or disorder or suffering. This can be a very self defeating narrative, one in which you allow circumstance to trap you into an existence of being broken.

But another way to view this, and the way I choose to view it, is that the existence of these people is infinitely empowering. They represent hope. They represent freedom. And they are proof that life can exist in a paradigm so foreign to those who suffer that it seems a fairytale. 

This means that we don’t have to accept our suffering at face value. We don’t have to be a victim to circumstance. We can strive for happiness and not settle for less, regardless of what life throws at us.

I believe in the power of agency. Of the ability for us to choose how we react and are effected by the things that happen to us and around us. This is how I have been resolving my world-shattering realization that ‘full recovery’ may not amount to what I have always dreamed it to be. I have no control over what the outcome of recovery looks like — if full recovery consists of maintenance and tolerance of symptoms, then there is nothing I can do to change that. But I know I want my life to mean something. And I have constructed the goals and values that make my life meaningful. Thus, regardless of the outcome of recovery, I can choose to live that meaningful life. I can choose to believe in myself and my own ability to cope with whatever life throws at me, because I am more than my existence.


I wrote this post a few weeks ago, but had difficulty completing it. It felt too short to actually publish, but I didn’t have any more to write. The realizations in it had made me feel limitless, something I had always wanted to be. But sadly, as the experience that inspired these realizations ended and I returned to real life, everything started to tank. My health, my mind, my recovery — it all went back to the struggling state I was in prior to this experience. The hard truth that my limits are real and tangible hit me again like a ton of bricks and destroyed the positivity I had been feeling.

Now, nearly two weeks later, I realize that the reality is it isn’t one or the other — limitless or hopeless. There are aspects of both. I am far more limitless than I was 5 years ago. Or 1 year ago. Or even 6 months ago. But that doesn’t change the fact that I am dealing with some hard things. Some of us are dealt a difficult hand, and it’s not something we chose or can control. It just is. And that sucks. It sucks to have limits put on you that you never asked for. It sucks for every day to be hard when for some it is easy. It sucks that your normal doesn’t necessarily get to be like other’s. But that doesn’t mean we have to resign to our illness or our struggles.

In the last year I have realized that I am so much more capable than my illness and my hardships have ever let me believe I could be. And I have begun to identify the potentiality of a life worth living that I fight for everyday. So, it is okay that it is hard now. It is okay that I am not limitless. It is okay that breaking from my structure and routine throws me off for a while. It is okay that I am not better. Because I am still trying. I am still fighting. And I will continue to do so. Possibly forever. But I refuse to accept misery. Ever. Full stop. We deserve more than that, my Warriors. We deserve lives we want to live. And I believe with my entire being that we can achieve that. We may have to fight forever. But isn’t that worth it when you consider the alternative?

I am restructuring my recovery right now with all these insights at mind. I have decided to focus on the root of my issues rather than the symptoms. Yes, my friends — on the root of trauma. I am terrified of this. It’s scary to decide to face what you have forever buried so deep so you never have to look at it. Trauma can mean a lot of things. And I think its at the root of so many of our problems and behaviors. So I have decided to start to tackle mine. Because it limits me so much more than anything else. And I am okay with getting worse for a while. With the fight being harder and the battle feeling unwinnable. I am okay with cutting back on parts of the life I have built to make more room for recovery. I am okay with all of this because no matter what I believe that life can be better than it is.


I suppose, after re-reading the first half of this post, that I came to the same conclusions a second time. And this, in my opinion, simply strengthens the concept that we are more than our suffering. Whether things are going great or terribly, there is always more that we can reach for if we believe that we deserve it — and we do deserve it. So believe in yourself. I do.

The Invisible War – The reality of the daily fight for recovery

I often wonder what life would be like without my mental illness. What it would feel like to wake up in the morning without already being exhausted. What it would be like to care for and nourish myself without effort. To think of food when you are hungry, and then to just eat like its no big deal. To have a stressful day and go home and take a hot bath and pet my cat and that be enough to be better. What would life be like without this invisible war I fight every single day? This fight is transparent to me; it blends with existence. Fighting is simply like breathing – It has to be when you are chronically mentally ill. If survival didn’t become a reflex you would simply parish. 

So you learn. You learn how to battle through the daily drag of human existence in order to achieve a sense of functionality, even though every act of normalcy takes tremendous effort – taking out the trash, doing the dishes, taking a shower. You work hard to maintain the routine that for others is, if annoying, effortless. You plan your day around how far you can stretch yourself while still being able to bounce back for tomorrow. Sometimes that means just doing one thing in a day. “Tomorrow I will clean my house.” “Tomorrow I will do the laundry.” “Tomorrow I will see a friend.” Statements that, for those with the privilege of sanity, seem innocuous. Benign. Stops on a to-do list for a single day, and then some. But for the chronically mentally ill, doing that one thing can be exhausting. Because its not just the one thing. Its that one thing, on top of living. On top of hygiene and nourishment and hydration and taking out the trash and getting up in the morning and… Every one of those things takes effort. And maintaining the functionality of life is a fight.

I can now do two, sometimes three things in a day. Or do something and then go home and do homework. Or paint. Or write. This feels like such a huge accomplishment, and yet it’s such a basic level of functionality.

I feel like normative people tend not to realize this. They take for granted the effort required to maintain basic functionality. They don’t realize the effort and the strength it takes to maintain that each day. So when things get hard, and we start to slip on our ability to maintain those basic markers of functionality, they see it as a huge slip. Or worse, when the struggle really sets in, and we go from less functional to non-functional — from a messy house to behaviors popping up to no longer being able to force ourselves to eat, let alone keep up with our responsibilities. Our job, school, social lives. Suddenly, people are paying attention. “What happened?” They ask worriedly. All they see is a sudden surge of illness. A sudden relapse. They don’t understand when you explain you are so tired of fighting. They say but the fight has just begun! The rally around you, trying to help pull you up as you fall. That is when they see us as ill. That is when it finally clicks.

 But in reality, we are just so exhausted from fighting day in and day out just to maintain what comes so naturally to them. We have been falling for months. But they can’t see that. Because it is easier to see us as normal and healthy as long as we are able to maintain functionality. So they only see the illness when we fall. When it can no longer be ignored. When it is making things messy.

The illness is always there, folks. We never stop fighting it. We never stop struggling. Every day is hard. Every. Day. Every stressor makes it more difficult. Everything is being added on top of the exhaustion that simply comes from living with chronic mental illness. It’s not this sudden drop. It’s not that the illness is ‘suddenly back’. It’s always been there. We just don’t talk about it. Because if we explained what a fight it is to work through every single day, you would see us as sick. We would have to make you feel better about it, help you cope with how hard our lives are. Because it’s not pretty, and it’s not nice. 

We want those who are sick to get better. Period. Full stop. And sometimes they may relapse, but then they fight again. And then, again, they’re better. Better. Fin. The End.

What is better? What is recovery? I have spent a lot of time pondering this idea the last few weeks. I always thought that recovery meant ‘Better. Period. Full stop.’ It meant the illness was gone, and I would be done fighting. That I finally would be free. I have been fighting for freedom my entire life. 

But apparently, that’s not what recovery is. All those I’ve asked have said recovery is defined by the sustainable management and tolerance of symptoms. But to me, all I hear in that statement is recovery means fighting forever. Fighting the invisible fight, with my struggle only being seen when I fuck up and fail. 

How is that a worthwhile existence? To forever be in an invisible battle between my mind and my life? It seems an incredibly intolerable outcome. It feels like being trapped in a game I can’t win and I’m not good at. 

My motivation for recovery is waning because I don’t know if what I am fighting for is enough anymore. 

I wish I had a nice way to wrap up this post. I wish that there were easy answers in this battle. That this blog could show you a glimpse of suffering and then wipe it away with an accolade of relatable drivel to remind us that this is a war that can be won if we just keep our heads up. But that isn’t reality. The reality of recovery is ugly. It is painful and cutting and difficult to come to terms with. The truth is you don’t just enter recovery and then travel a linear path to the top of the mountain where you can bestow your sage advice on ‘better’ to those struggling beneath you. Recovery isn’t linear. It isn’t something finite. It isn’t something you may ever be able to concretely hold on to. And it will never be something you can control.

So I am falling. This is me falling. This is my darkness. This is my reality. This is the reality of the struggle for ‘better’. Everyday. Not just when it is bad enough for all to see. Everyday, we fight this war. Everyday we are Warriors.

I will continue to show the darkness. And I will continue to fight for the light.

Drowning in Calm Waters – The Stress of the War for Worth

Stress feels inevitable in our fast paced world. And what do we expect when we live in a culture that prioritizes production? Our world wants us to constantly do more to prove our value. And if we fail to do so? We are less than. Those of us plagued with perfectionism know this story all too well. It is one of Ed’s favorite stories to tell us – that we can never be enough because we never do enough, and even if we are doing everything we aren’t doing it well enough. There is always a higher expectation to meet in order to be enough. To be worthwhile. So we take on too much, and then we begin to fall apart, and we use that as evidence that something is wrong with us. Not that something is wrong with our workload, or our expectations, or our beliefs about ourselves. With us. We are the problem. We are what’s wrong. We are why we will never be good enough.

I have been drowning in this story lately. This semester has hit me hard. I am taking more credits than I have in the past, am in harder classes, and am trying to do countless things on the side. I have been justifying it all with the ‘fact’ that I must do these things to achieve my goals, I must do them because I want to do them and I should be able to do them. Because I’m supposed to be in recovery, and doing well, and living the life I was denied for so long due to my sickness. So, need to get a perfect score on the GRE to beef up my grad applications? I’ll add that on. Independent research will look good, so lets add that too. And writing a blog. Learning to cook. Playing the fucking ukulele. Developing my artistic voice. Overcoming codependency. Doing trauma work. Learning Python and R. Reading 50 books this year. And painting everyday. And building my daily meditation practice. And maintain a healthy social life. And…

And suddenly, I am drowning. But these are all things I want to do. These are all things that are meant to help me – help me progress in my recovery, help me pursue my dreams and goals, help me develop into my authentic self. These are all so important. So how can I possibly give any one of them up?

It has been two weeks since classes started. I am sick. My body is angry with me about the stress I have put myself under and is fighting back. I am feeling the full weight of my neuroses. I am already behind in my school work because I am so overwhelmed it is hard to get things done. I am angry with myself for not being good enough to do what I need to do. For falling apart as soon as things get hard. For doubting myself. For struggling. For wanting to give up when things are just getting started.

Every one of my friends from treatment have relapsed. Many are back in treatment, at high levels of care. The only reason I have not returned to treatment is that I have been able to see my team as often as I need. Last semester it was 5-6 times a week. This semester, its down to 3. Everyone is relapsing and I feel like I’m next. I hear Ed’s voice creeping in, using my overpacked, perfectionist schedule to convince me how bad I am. How little I am capable of doing. How much I ruin everything. How much I don’t deserve the things I have. That I am just delaying the inevitable. That I am fighting an unwinnable fight. 

‘If you can’t win, at least you could be thin.’ he whispers in my ear.

Ed is so good at finding your cracks. He loves to feel you out and find any little place he can sink his teeth into. You don’t even realize he’s there, rooting himself anywhere he can. Lulling you into his trance. Ready to bring you down and drown you as soon as he has his grip.

I don’t want to drown. I don’t want to relapse. I want to live. But I so often miss the ingrained habits that lead me back to Ed. Straddling the line between underscheduling in fear of too much making you sick, and overscheduling in an effort to prove you are beyond the sickness. Either way you are trying to prove the validity of an identity crafted by him. You handicap yourself in fear of your eating disorder and of your mental illness, or you drown yourself in an effort to prove you are above it.

What is the middle ground and how do we find it? Are we Warriors doomed to constantly flip back and forth, from one extreme to the other, in a desperate attempt to take back control of our lives from his grips? How is that any different than simply being in them?

I keep trying. I keep fighting. I keep drowning. I try so hard to convince myself that I don’t need to prove my worth. That I don’t have to validate myself. That I am already valid. That I am enough. That I deserve to be. Because I do. I know that. But unfortunately knowing and believing are two very different things.

I want to be more than my eating disorder, than my illness. I don’t want him to own any part of my identity. I have had glimpses of who I truly am at my core these past few months, and I love that person. I love who I am, untainted by the grips of this disease. I am awesome. I am a bad bitch. And I want to be her — to be me — 100% of the time. No need for validation. No need to question my worth. Owning my life, and living it – for me and no one else.

I think the most difficult part of recovery so far has been finding my true self inside me, getting to be myself, and not being able to be that person all of the time. To feel trapped inside the shell of this sickness, only able to bob for air through the sea of sickness every so often instead of getting to experience all of life as myself all the time. I know what it feels like to be free now. And that makes drowning so much harder. I never would have thought that getting better would make being sick so much harder. But that is the reality of this fight.

I don’t have the solution. Every time I act in defiance of Ed it seems he finds a way to use it to his advantage. All I can do is keep trying. And that is incredibly difficult when life is putting you down at the same time. I am trying to remember that I don’t have to try to be someone worthwhile. That what I do and am able to do is enough. That I am good. That I am kind. And that I matter. All I can do is look for another opportunity to bob for air, and hope that maybe I will be free a little longer this time than last. Believe that one day I will live above the surface. That all this struggle will have been worth it. Because I survived.

I will survive.

Uncertainty, Anxiety, and the Present Moment

Why is it always so difficult to do what is good for yourself during the times when you need it most? As the new semester approaches, I can feel the overwhelm sinking in. I have yet to step foot back on campus, but I am already intimidated by my classes, the few syllabi I have access to, and my entire life as I see it playing out throughout this semester. It is so easy for completely natural anxiety about something new to snowball into a comatose hibernation. Why is that? 

I think a big part of falling into the abyss of catastrophic anxiety stems from an inability to stay in the now. Whether we like to admit it or not, we have no control over the past or the future. Rather, all we can control is the moment we are in.

If I were to allow this wave of anxiety to go unchecked, it could drown me. I could be too anxious to do my homework, which would make me afraid to go to class, tanking my grades and tearing down my confidence. Depression would set in, keeping me from going out or spending time with friends, thus worsening my mental state until I fall apart. Then, 15 weeks from now, I would be a wreck. I would have to drop out, move to another city, grow a beard and rename myself Cindy so I could start a new life as a cocktail waitress with a mysterious past. 

This is the narrative my Anxiety Monster is fond of telling me, something psychology likes to call catastrophic thinking. It’s the worst case scenario your brain goes to when anxiety starts to rear its ugly head in earnest. But what starts with a simple and reasonable worry about doing well in a new semester snowballs into the end of life as I know it. And suddenly, even though these predictions play out literal months from this moment, they have become the truth and nothing but the truth within the confines of my psyche. In some ways, preparing for the worst is a safety plan – its your mind trying to protect you from anything that might go wrong by focusing obsessively on everything that could go wrong. But in reality, it simply cripples you from wanting to do anything for fear that whatever you choose might be the wrong choice, ending in disaster.

However, this isn’t the only future narrative that can occur. Some days, Miss Perfectionism likes to take over, helping us plan out every second from now until death so that she and I can be in precise control of every part of our lives. There is safety in certainty, and Perfectionism wants to provide that for us. Unfortunately, life is unpredictable, and as soon as things don’t go according to plan we are struck with yet another bout of anxiety and feel compelled to obsessively re-plan out this perfect future in order to regain our sense of control. And on it goes, an obsessive cycle of attempting to make order out of the chaos of reality. And even if life doesn’t knock us off track, the sheer pressure of trying to live perfectly and do every little thing according to plan is enough to give you an ulcer (or at the very least, an eating disorder).

This is the danger of living in a fictional future, as anxiety likes to do. Trying to plan out everything that will happen, whether catastrophically or with perfection, is a recipe for insanity. But it feels so safe! Sadly, this safety is a facade, just like when ED tries to rope us in and hook us with his promises. Because no matter how much we plan, we have no control over anything except our thoughts and our actions in this precise moment. Not the one that just passed. Not the one that is about to happen. Only this one.

Man, does that suck. The worst thing to tell someone who is constantly struggling is that there is no way for them to regain control, no way for them to guarantee a future without pain. But that is the truth. We can’t protect ourselves from uncertainty or pain, not absolutely. And trying to avoid it or mask it or control it won’t make that fact go away.

The only way to deal is to accept it. To accept that we don’t have the control we crave, and we never will. Accept that pain is a part of existence, and that nothing can protect us from it forever. That life is inherently uncertain, and we will never know exactly what is coming next. We will never be perfectly prepared.

In reality though, who would want to be? A year ago I could literally have never imagined what life would be like now. What I would be capable of feeling and experiencing. What I would be able to handle and tolerate. The (positive!) beliefs I could hold about myself and my body and the world. The hope I could feel in my heart, and the happiness I could get to experience from time to time. The relationships I would have, not as a facade but as the real, authentic me that I have come to appreciate and love. The dreams and aspirations I would hold. The support I have received from my family and friends, and even strangers. The pain I have felt, and overcome, and learned, and grown from. The pain that is still to come, that I feel ready for. That I know I can get through because of what I have already done.

I never in my life could have imagined even one of these things. If I had had complete control, the absolute ability to predict and plan my future, my life would be miserable. What I thought I wanted and needed when I was sick was so so small in comparison to what I have now, let alone what my life will grow to in the future. I would be trapped in ED’s sick vision of an ideal future, in which I was cornered and broken and literally starving for life. 

Who would want to confine themselves to the limited vision of their “safety goggles” when in distress. Of the future our sickness tells us will be perfect. The uncertainty of life is a gift, not a death sentence. It allows for everyday to be a clean slate. Everyday we can choose to be who we are, act how we choose, and follow whatever path we feel drawn to. Yes, this means that everyday we have the potential to get worse. To take steps towards sickness, or unhappiness, or pain. To stray from our dreams and our values. To push away others and console in ED. But it also means that everyday we have the option to choose life. To choose to love ourselves and pursue our dreams and bake cakes and pet puppies and to read and paint and sing. That is the nature of uncertainty. And that is power. Realizing that we don’t have to control every variable of life. We just have to be in this moment, take the next step, and make the next choice.

Sometimes choosing what is good for us is hard. In fact, I dare to say MOST of the time it is hard. It is easier to fall into the momentum of what is around you than it is to push yourself in your own direction, particularly when life just won’t stop throwing curveballs your way and you are struggling to breath let alone to define your path. But the fact of the matter is, everyday we get to choose. And push. And fight. And try. And that is all we can do.

My dad always used to tell me this, and it would piss me off to no end. When he would tell me I get to choose, all I would hear is that I had chosen that which had happened to me. That I had chosen my eating disorder, my mental illness, all the trauma that has happened in my life. That I was somehow responsible for all the pain I had ever encountered. That it was my fault. But after literal years of therapy (and family therapy) and a lot of reflection on my part, I have come to understand his meaning.

He told me I have a choice not because he was putting the blame on me for what life had thrown at me. But rather, he as highlighting the fact that I wasn’t just helpless to the shitty whims of reality. That I had a choice in how I reacted. In how I lived my life, the actions I chose to do, the thoughts and narratives I chose to subscribe to, the people I chose to include in my world, and the path that I chose to aim for. Not that any of this could prevent life from dealing me a hard hand, or keep me from ever feeling pain. But that I had power. He was showing me that even if the hand was shit, I held all the cards. And I got to decide how to play them.

Now-a-days I try to remember this when I feel helpless, as Anxiety Monster and ED both like to make me feel. That doesn’t mean I am always up to the task of choosing, or that I always see the options to choose from. But to remember that I have an inherent power over myself and this moment that no one, and no circumstance, can take away from me is – well, empowering.


I have spent the last four or five days letting the pull of the ocean of anxiety and depression move me where it may. I felt paralyzed, unable to alter my path. I couldn’t use any of my oh-so-well planned skills because I didn’t have the energy or capacity to implement them. It’s as though I’ve had boulders tied to my waist and ankles, pulling me down slow and steady into the cold dark abyss. I still feel like I am fighting for air. I am terrified of my classes, of not being good enough or not being able to do enough or not being enough or… The snowball threatens to turn into an avalanche and bury me in it.

All I can do is try to stay in this moment. Try to remember what moments like this have felt like in the past, and how they have panned out (a useful way to use the past to influence the present to keep from freaking out about the future). I think about how I often feel this sense of paralyzing overwhelm and not good enough at the beginning of the semester, or really any new thing. I try to remember how those other semesters panned out okay, even though I felt this way early on. But, you are doing so much MORE now, my Anxiety Monster screams. There is no WAY you are good enough for that! I breath. Remind myself that I can’t predict the future, that I don’t know how this will pan out. That all I can do is try my best. But if you don’t DO good enough, you won’t be able to get into grad school! How can you ever change the world if you can’t even get into school! ‘All I can do is my best, and that will lead me where I am supposed to go,’ I tell my monster. ‘And anyways, grad school is still a ways away. Can’t we wait until then to have a panic attack?’ BUT… 

This is what the fight looks like sometimes. And sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes all we can do is pop an anti-anxiety pill and try to sleep it off. To reset in the night, and try again the next day. Sometimes we try something else to help, like a hot bath or a good meal. And sometimes, yes, we plan. Sometimes we make, or write, or read. And sometimes this helps.This is what the fight looks like sometimes. And sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes all we can do is pop an anti-anxiety and try to sleep it off, reset in the night, and try again the next day. Sometimes we try something else to help, like a hot bath or a good meal. And sometimes, yes, we plan. Sometimes we make, or write, or read. And sometimes this helps. But the truth is, there are no guarantees. There are no automatic wins, foolproof do-this-and-you-will-never-be-anxious-again-s. There is no certainty. We just have to keep trying, and try to remember why we’re doing it.

I fight because I deserve to live. So tomorrow, I will try. And the next day. And the next. Because when it comes down to it, there just isn’t any other option. I choose to live.