Rudderless

Knowing yourself is hard. It’s even harder to know what you want and need. And without knowing those things, it is impossible to find happiness. How can one orient themselves towards a path that leads to eventual happiness when they don’t even know what matters to them or who they are? 

I have struggled with this a lot lately. Feeling disconnected from myself during the pandemic has highlighted how little I feel I truly know about myself. It feels like there should be these pillars inside you which you can identify and lean on when things become uncertain; a central certainty in the core of your character. 

Buddhism teaches us that there is no self, that the concept of a self in reality is all an illusion – grasping to worldly concepts that don’t exist in absolute reality. I’ve always struggled with this concept. I want there to be certainty in my self. I want there to be a resounding ‘Meagan-ness’ that I can rely on day-in and day-out, no matter what the world throws at me. 

So much of recovery involves trying to find your self, your core characteristics and values, in order to let them lead you to a life worth living. A life you want to live. My core values were that of Joy, Freedom, Connection, Authenticity, and Growth. And I do feel most myself when I am prioritizing these things. 

Lately, Connection has been highlighted in my day to day. For so long, I kept myself separate from others to keep myself from being hurt. If you aren’t vulnerable with others, then they have no grounding, no ammunition, with which to cause you pain. But you also have no ground to cause you joy. Connection lies at the basis of so much joy in my life, and without it, I feel stagnant, lonely, and in a sense, purposeless. Recognizing how much I need meaningful connections, meaningful relationships, at the center of my life has made me rethink some of my practices lately. It’s caused me to open up when my anxiety is telling me to shut down and hide. It’s caused me to be vulnerable with people who aren’t always there for me, and to deal with the pain of that rejection and disappointment. 

It hurts when you are open and honest with someone, and they aren’t able to or interested in being there for that. In reciprocating or being open and vulnerable or even receiving your vulnerability. When you get no reply, or, worse, a disinterested one. It is painful to feel alone. To have your fears that ‘if you open up you will be rejected’ confirmed. But in the end, it weeds out the meaningless connections and strengthens the meaningful ones. And that bit of risk is totally worth it to find who truly cares, who truly is ready and willing to reciprocate your connection. 

I also have been thinking a lot about Freedom. How desperately I want to be and feel independent. How I want to make my life my own, and follow a path I create because it is what I need. How important it is to not be dependent on others (even if I am connected to them). How much it means to me to be dependent on myself. After losing so much autonomy for so many years to my mental illness, the prospect of being completely autonomous feels revolutionary. Radical. Important.

This all leads back to Joy. The question of who am I, what do I want, what path do I need to craft for myself to find happiness. Because in the end, my most significant value is that of happiness. I just want to be happy. I want to feel fulfilled in my relationships, my self, and my job. I want to wake up satisfied with my life and go to sleep feeling actualized. I want to be happy.

And to be happy, I have to acknowledge that I have needs, and that those needs are valid. That they matter. That I matter. I have to set boundaries in my connections and make hard choices about who I have in my life. I have to ask myself what kind of life I want to lead – not just what I can or should, but what I want to. What is going to feel worthwhile and important. What is going to be meaningful. 

I have to feel that I deserve happiness. I have to feel that I’ve fought for it. That I’ve woken up every day asking what is going to make me happy today, tomorrow, and the next day. The next month. The next year. What do I want? What do I need?

I don’t know the best way to do this, and it feels terrible not to know. I feel like I’m having all of these thoughts and pulls towards this concept of happiness, but I’m in a boat with no rudder and all that is leading me is the direction of the current and gusts of the wind. I don’t know how to build my rudder, how to find my needs, how to fight for what I want and demand what I need. 

So for now, we drift. And hope that every wrong turn helps to show the right one.

Pandemapocalypse 2020

There has been a lull on this blog for several months, ever since the start of the pandemic. I never thought that in these modern times I would write those words. It sounds like the beginning of a post-apocalyptic novel rather than a blog in the age of the 20th century. But that is the reality – we are in a pandemic, and it’s made things sort of fall apart.

I have felt totally deflated the past few months. At first, all my energy went into worry and anxiety about what was happening and what was to come. Then, came a period of gratitude for time home to grow and develop myself without the obstacles of life. But quickly this turned into a hopeless depression, in which I felt  the weight of what was going on around me and inside me, and I couldn’t escape. I could feel the reality I had worked so hard to fit into crumbling around me. For so many years, I wasn’t able to participate in the world in the way it expected of me – I couldn’t work, do school, or really succeed in any “productive” way. And that productivity, that contribution to society, is how we were judged. It was a matter of what you were worth in a literal dollar amount, what the value of your time was. That was something I couldn’t be a part of because I was so sick, and as a result I felt immense shame for years. 

I worked hard since beginning recovery to reverse that – to work hard to meet that expectation. I saw “being an adult” as my goal post that I struggled every day to meet, going to school full time and working while trying to maintain my health, home, and recovery. Even with going to outpatient appointments 5 days a week, I worked hard to meet all the markers of “success” that I could. And I was so proud of that. It made me feel like I was finally enough, that I could finally do enough. 

Now, suddenly, the whole world has been rocked and this paradigm has been shattered. Suddenly “doing the right thing” consisted of staying home and being alone. The life I used to lead, the one that used to be a marker of sickness and depression, was suddenly the standard and was encouraged in order to protect others from this terrible illness. 

On the plus side, I no longer had to feel badly about not having the energy, physical or mental, to go out and be social and do things on top of the daily struggle of getting through and “being productive.” But on the other, every depression-induced habit I had that was integral to keeping me sick was suddenly the only way of life. 

I fell into this deep depression for a solid month, in which some days I could literally not get out of bed. During this time, life felt hopeless. My whole paradigm for which I had suffered so much, held so much shame around, and worked so hard to succeed at, was suddenly shattered. The world was uncertainty. There was nothing to ground myself to, nothing to hold on to. 

I feel I actually handled it really well. Even the deep depression, I recognized for what it was and did my best to cope through. I was flexible with my expectations of myself, and understanding and compassionate around what I was feeling and experiencing. But even so, this didn’t make it any easier. It may have made it more bearable, it may have reminded me that time will pass and I will get through. But it hurt just as much.

This is something that I think often gets passed over when we talk about coping skills. We act like these skills will make it better – that the higher you go on the tolerance pyramid, you can always use your skills to bring you back down to a grounded state. But grounded does not mean a lack of suffering. It doesn’t mean the pain goes away. It just means you can handle it. 

You still have to feel it. You still have to be vulnerable with your pain. You still hurt and suffer. You just have the strength to get through.

Since the depression has passed, I have just felt spacey. Unable to concentrate on or even remember what I care about, unable to focus in on my wants and desires. Numb. Distant. Far away. Dissociation is one of my most common coping mechanisms, and I think right now it’s something a lot of people are using to get through the reality of a global pandemic. 

But it feels like I’ve been silenced. Creatively, intuitively, emotionally. Like everything I am feeling and wanting and needing is locked in a box somewhere deep inside me, cold and alone and starving for attention. I feel deflated, like the balloon you get for your birthday and then sits there for six months because you don’t want to lose the joy it represents although the reality is its empty, those moments gone. Just a carcass of a memory that once was so fresh and real. 

I can’t paint or draw, write or sing. It feels like every time I try to take a step towards creativity that I am wearing iron boots in quicksand, being pulled down down down until I’m too exhausted to even try to move. Motivation is non-existent even though time is ample, and this results in feeling like a failure for not adequately and productively using my pandemic time. 

I love to plan. It makes me feel centered and grounded, as though I have a grip on the constantly changing world around me. But in this new world you can’t plan, not even a month ahead, because reality is changing just that quickly and in just that intense of a way. Everything is fluid, nothing is real, and I’m floating in limbo.

“Isn’t this a recovery blog?” You might be asking. “Shouldn’t she be writing about her ED?” Well the truth is that I don’t feel particularly dominated by ED anymore. The mindset is gone, the behaviors squelched, and recovery feels pretty solid. That doesn’t mean I don’t have trouble eating. I’ve been so anxious that it, combined with the vast amounts of Vyvanse I am on to make my ADD riddled brain functional, makes it very difficult to eat at times. In fact, lately its been often I’ve struggled to get food in. I’ve been working with a special doctor to help with my various physical ailments, and part of that is eating a pretty restrictive diet, on which I have felt amazing. No pain, way better GI symptoms, significantly less brain fog. But even with all the amazing foods I am trying to put into my body to nourish it back to health, it doesn’t always happen. And that is okay. The important part is that ED is not dominating my mind, that I don’t feel terrible about myself and my body, and that I am trying my hardest to get down what my body needs.

This post has been all over the place, but I feel like its nature reflects the state of the world and myself at this moment. I feel scattered in an uncertain world, and life just keeps throwing more shit onto my back. “Can’t catch a break” has become my mantra. But I am trying. I am trying to remember what makes me happy. I am trying to remember what I want and need. I am trying to reconnect with myself and my expression and my voice. And I feel like in this crazy world we are all living in, trying is all you can do.

an unpopular opinion

I debated for over a month whether or not to post this. But I committed to vulnerability when beginning this endeavor, and this is how I honestly felt at this time. I don’t want to hide my beliefs in shame simply because it may not jive with my readers, or may put me in a bad light in the face of my recovery fam. So please remember, this is my experience. This is MY recovery. And this is ultimate vulnerability.

____________________________________________________________________________

6/15/2020

The truth is, this world is not tolerant. It’s bias. There is thin privilege. Clear skin privilege. Beautiful privilege. In recovery, they tell you that all bodies are good bodies. And while that may be true, not all bodies are accepted bodies. Not all bodies are privileged bodies. Though many of us work hard to change that, and that is important, valid work, the reality is we live in a world that doesn’t think in a recovery minded way. 

I feel like there needs to be some bridge between embracing your body and embracing the societal constraints of our world. Because embracing one and denying the other is a dichotomy that is impossible to swallow. When you are trying to tell yourself your body is good when the world is constantly telling you it’s bad, how can you truly accept it? How can you, a being spending all their time and energy trying to get better, be expected to fight the world tooth and nail, day in and day out? It’s not fair, and it’s not realistic. It makes us want to give up and go back to our behaviors just to cope with the fight. 

I don’t think it should have to be a fight. And I think the ED recovery world is doing us a disservice by making it one. 

Fighting our EDs is enough. We can’t take on the world too. 

It’s important to accept the world we live in, even if we want to fight to change it. Acceptance of reality is the only way we CAN change it, as without recognizing how the world currently is you can’t know how and in what ways you want it to change. 

The reality is, I don’t want to fight the world. I want to thrive in it. That is what I deserve, I deserve peace, I deserve life, I deserve everything my ED took from me for so long. I don’t need to feel bad about my body, because it is in essence a good body. But I can recognize there are ways I want to fit with the world no matter how unfair it can be. I can recognize that my health (and mental health) is more important than meeting the standards of my team or the accepted view of doing recovery right. I can recognize the my recovery can withstand the constraints of the world I live in. 

So I am on accutane. My skin is dry and flaking. My lips crack in 8 places. My nose is drier than the Sahara. It’s given me depression and anxiety. And it’s totally worth it. Why? Because acne is painful and overwhelming and damaging. It ruins your self esteem and breaks your resiliency. It reminds you it’s there everyday by aching in it painful, deep spots. It keeps you from wanting to leave the house of show your face, let alone hold your head up high. 

So I am on accutane. Because all the side effects in the world are worth clear skin. Because with clear skin come privilege, and life is easier in a privileged world. 

I get false lashes and hair extensions, I wear makeup and heels, because conforming to traditional and accepted standards of beauty gives me privilege. And life is easier in a privileged world. 

And most significantly, I am working to lose weight. Not because of thin privilege, but because my doctors say I need to and I agree with them. Because my body hurts, and my asthma is worse, and my joints creak. Because I hurt every day and my cholesterol is high and I feel unhealthy. But with that will come thin privilege. And my life will be easier because of it. 

I didn’t make these rules. But I do live with in their construct. And sometimes you have to play by the rules to get by. 

But also, sometimes you have to break the rules to thrive. I’m breaking the rules of recovery, and I am doing so because I need to. For my health. For my wellbeing. I don’t agree that once we go into recovery, all the rules are null and void. That we can eat whatever we want and our bodies can be in whatever state and it won’t effect us negatively because we are loving ourselves. Because we are giving our body what it needs. I don’t believe I can eat sugar everyday, and gorge myself on carbs, and be healthy. Because when I do, I don’t feel healthy. I feel bad. And that’s not allowed in recovery. You’re not allowed to pick and choose what’s best for you if that means excluding foods or losing weight. And I don’t agree with that. 

I think our dieticians are doing is wrong. I think it’s wrong to allow us to become obese because we are looking for our set point. To encourage us to eat increasingly unhealthily because they are too afraid to say anything that would trigger the ED. And most importantly, to act like ED is forever and that we constantly have to watch for it, even when we are past it and doing well. 

I believe Ed is a mental disorder, not a physical one. And I believe it can be recovered from. I believe we are more than our EDs, that it doesn’t stain us forever but that we can wash ourselves clean of it. I don’t hear its voice anymore in my head. I don’t feel it’s pressure. And I think THAT is recovery. It has nothing to do with my body. It has to do with how I see my body. And I see my body as good. And I want it to be healthy. And so I’m gonna do what I need to to give it what it deserves. 

I don’t believe in one size fits all recovery. I don’t believe in hiding our weight from ourselves for fear of triggering. I don’t believe in living in fear of my ED for the rest of my life. I believe in empowering myself and realizing that no matter what happens, I can come back. That I am in control, not my ED. That I am supported and confident and capable. I believe in full recovery. And I believe in health. And I believe that neither of those can happen if you are fighting the world everyday. I want to be a part of the world. Not an outsider fighting it. I’ve been an outsider all my life. I’m ready to belong. 

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.

‘Pressure’, a poem

I have been struggling lately. I always do this time of year. I don’t know why, but the Spring has always been a destabilizing force in my life. Perhaps its the timing, right after the holidays and in-between semesters. A lack of structure and routine. Perhaps its the lack of sunlight — some sort of seasonal depressive thing. I don’t know, but this has always been when I struggle most.

I began this blog on the first, and I instantly felt a lot of pressure. Pressure about what it would be. If it would be good enough. Pressure to manipulate the narrative of my life — to present as this recovered, positive force that can support others through my own victories.

Naturally, this immediately prevented me from writing. Because that is not the nature of recovery, and that is not who I am or where I am at. One of my most important values is Authenticity, something I am sure I will write about in the future ( I determined this through the use of Value Sort Cards, which are talked about on my resources page). And pretending to be something I’m not, of curating my image — that is the opposite of Authentic. That is so pre-recovery — so ED.

It is scary to be authentic and vulnerable publicly. To show your struggle to the world. Especially with an eating disorder, but really for anyone. In this day and age, everything is altered and manipulated to show our “best selves” — a version of ourselves so far from the actual human beings we are so as to project a true image of ‘perfection’. It is easy to present this facade when you can dictate every word and angle of your life being shown. But it isn’t real. It is a sickness of its own.

The reason? Because not being yourself, pretending to be perfect — its a trap.

Projecting a facade prevents you from ever being able to actually belong. Belonging only comes with vulnerability, authenticity — living as your true self. That is the only way you can find who you are and where you most intimately fit. Where, and who, your home is. By presenting perfection, you are disallowing yourself from the opportunity to ever find that. No wonder depression and anxiety rates are skyrocketing. No one is happy! And everyone thinks everyone else is happy, that its just them, that they are wrong and bad and broken. Its a toxic cycle that I don’t soon see being broken, sadly.

So we have to fight it ourselves. We had to be real and authentic and vulnerable, even when it is so scary and painful.

I have felt paralyzed by my fears of being imperfect. of being or sharing the wrong thing. Of people not liking what I post, or of my recovery being somehow wrong. And most importantly, that I am not doing as well as everyone believes.

But the truth is, I’m not. And keeping it bottled inside while pretending everything is alright is not helping. It is just adding to the pressure. And preventing me from being seen. Which keeps me from getting the support I need. And on and on the cycle goes.

This blog is not a how-to on being recovered. It is a documentation of my journey. And the struggle is the journey.


PRESSURE

I feel like I’m vibrating.
my skin stretches over a void
of nerves and frustration;
of uncertainty trapped
in an unstable casing.

I feel this stifled expression,
a silence infiltrating

every corner of my being
until I am silently waiting
until sleep will take over
so I can be in my dreams
the only place I exist

without wanting to scream.

I am bottled up
tight
feeling ready to explode
if I don’t find a way to vent soon I’ll implode

The cracks in this facade that I’ve created to convince
myself that i’m better,
that ED won’t win,
that we don’t have to worry,
that everything’s fine —
but the truth is I’m drowning.
this life is on borrowed time.

i’m lonely and broken
i’m lost without a care
of whether I’ve spoken
on this winding despair
because I seem to be improving
to all who look
,

“we don’t think of your struggle
when you’re doing so well.”
“you are so strong”
“come so far”
but I am alone,
in my deepest hell.

they can’t see my struggle
the bubbling
deep
and dark

it seeps through my pores
and out my open mouth
it silences my resolve
and keeps me from breathing

its drowning me
and no one can see it.

I scream a silent scream
but hear not a whisper.
my voice is choked back
my insides are dampened
my face is cleansed
of any need or weakness
of any cry for help

i will be your strength.
i will fight alone.
the darkness has consumed me.
but you will never know.