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.

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.