Naming Anorexia: On the Holiday Season

The holidays are a stressful time for many people for many reasons. Buying gifts, navigating complicated family dynamics, all that damn traffic, Christmas carol fatigue, engagement season (to name a few)…and what seems to be a perpetual feast from mid-November through December’s end. And then, the “new year new me” diets begin.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get feast fatigue at some point, but it’s certainly an additional complication to navigate that landscape with anorexic thought patterns. Especially because I also binged when my eating disorder was at its most severe, going into this holiday season felt like reconciling the space between two extremes: the urge to eat as close to nothing as possible, and the urge to eat everything around me even after my hunger was satisfied. To be honest, just thinking about thinking about the start of holiday mealtimes is making my fingers freeze up as I type this.

I am fortunate to have a strong support system of people who want to help and be here for me; the challenge is that the strongest links in that support system haven’t experienced anorexia firsthand, so it can be hard to explain. Most people I know have experienced stress about mealtimes or body image at some point, but describing the thoughts that move beyond the “normal” pressure to look a certain way or eat a certain way is challenging. How do I explain to Boyfriend that mealtime is scary for me? That when I get frustrated that he won’t decide what to do for dinner, it’s not because I’m being difficult? That when I get frustrated that he made a decision about what do do for dinner, it’s not because I’m being difficult? There is often no “right” choice he can select, because no matter what I am terrified of eating, but I know I have to eat.

It’s hard to describe the obsessive fixation on food that defines much of my experience with anorexia, and how it’s different than being stressed about the prospect of overeating or making the decision to go on a diet. Numbers and calculations and compulsions and violent words consume my thoughts until there is literally no other space for anything else. And then the frustration of loving food but not knowing how to exist with it in a way that doesn’t hurt comes in, and there are many times that I excuse myself to the bathroom at a restaurant to cry in the stall for a few minutes to release a bit of the magnitude of what I’m feeling.

The holiday feasting season kind of feels like that restaurant experience, except all the time and you don’t get to go home at the end of the meal because you are home. Add all those other holiday stressors and it can become a feedback loop of feeling out of control, seeking control, and falling into disordered behaviors to cling to the illusion of control. I’ve spent a lot of time researching coping strategies on the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) website…but it is really, really hard to implement them effectively when you’re in a situation. But if recovery was easy there probably wouldn’t be eating disorders, right? These are some of the things I’ve been trying to practice when I’m in those situations where I want to run to the bathroom and cry:

Focus on each bite. This is something my therapist has reiterated to me since I began my recovery process. Especially when my all-or-nothing mental narrative takes over and switches from “restrict” to “binge,” I struggle to enjoy what I’m eating and pay attention to my body’s signals that it’s had enough. I also get trapped in thoughts like “you’ve already overeaten, so you should eat four more rolls” or “you need to make this overindulgence worth it, so keep eating.” Switching from a fixation on things like guilt, calories, and the lies anorexia tells me to a focus on each bite has allowed me to better enjoy the indulgent foods of the holidays and recognize the cues of fullness.

Have a safe person. Honestly, having a safe person may be the most critical thing on this list. I am not yet at a point in my recovery where I can go a full day without disordered thought patterns distracting me and interrupting the flow of my day. It has become easier to refocus, but in high-pressure situations (which for me include restaurants and meals with extended family), I often need a source of support outside the situation to call on so my increased stress does not lead to acting on those compulsions. Like I’ve said, I have the incredible gift of a strong support system so there are many people I can find safety in. A friend from work (who has become one of my closest friends in the just-over-a-year I’ve known her) is exceptionally good at offering herself up to be that “safe” person when I need a minute to escape and release frustration.

Seek control in constructive ways. Anorexia, for me, often comes back to control: a need to have it or a perceived lack of it. I am working on finding constructive ways to regain agency when I am faced with out-of-control situations (because let’s face it, life is kind of one big out-of-control situation). I try to find control through the compulsions in a different way; my disordered thought patterns lie and say control is in the act of restricting, but I can choose to assert my control  by recognizing the lies of anorexia and nourishing my body instead. This is much easier said than done (obviously), but using the desire for control toward a positive outcome helps give my mind the satisfaction of order and agency it craves.

Take it one meal at a time. One of the first thought patterns I found myself developing was the idea of “saving” calories for future meals (or days). Sometimes the anticipation of a larger, indulgent meal will set off a desire to restrict to “balance it out,” and sometimes one unhealthy or overindulgent food choice will set off a desire to binge and “make it count” since I’d already made a perceived misstep. Focusing on each meal on its own has helped me maintain control over my choices by listening to my body in that moment, rather than worrying about future meals or feeling guilty over past ones. It can be really difficult (especially when that holiday bloat sets in…) but this has been helpful in making sure I stay focused on food as fuel instead of food as punishment or reward.

Remember: food does not have a moral value. My “safe” friend shared a post with me several months back that talked about this, and it’s something I try to remember when I get trapped in thought patterns of “good” and “bad” eating. Food itself is neither good nor bad, it’s just food. Framing dietary choices as “good” or “bad” has led me to avoiding entire food groups because they are “bad,” rather than learning how to indulge in moderate amounts and enjoy all types of foods. When my anorexia was at its most severe, I was entirely avoiding bread, pasta, dessert, and cheese unless I was in the middle of a binge (and anyone who knows me knows those are some of my favorite foods). It has been hard to unlearn the good/bad dichotomy set up in my brain surrounding the foods I eat (or don’t eat). Remembering that a cupcake is neither good nor bad, it’s just a food choice, has helped make it easier to enjoy those indulgent moments without leading to a binge.

Accept (and celebrate) my humanity. Anyone who is a longtime member of the Keystrokes family knows that accepting my humanity is a huge challenge for me (the curse of being a perfectionist, type-A, anxious mess). It’s easy for me to be compassionate toward others and encourage self-compassion…not so easy to practice. I am still learning how to take it easy on myself when I give in to compulsions to restrict or binge, and even with run-of-the-mill overeating. Rewriting the narrative of control and worth in my head is a big task, but learning to be okay with the fact that I’m a human person who doesn’t make perfect choices is helping release the pressure of living with anorexia.


If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, there are plenty of resources to use! Something that has been helpful for me is the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) website. I used their online screening tool before I began therapy, which was one of the things that encouraged me to seek out support. The NEDA website and toll-free Information and Referral Helpline, 1-800-931-2237, provide extensive resources nationwide.

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Naming Anorexia

The first time I saw “anorexia” on my medical chart, I sat in my car and cried for ten minutes. Even though I had been attending therapy for several months, seeing anorexia written out made it feel more real. Permanent. Because it was on an official medical document and not just in my head. Anorexia had raised eyebrows on some of my blood work because, in a shocking twist, skipping or shrinking meals on a consistent basis visibly affects your physical well-being. Most of the time, I still avoid talking about my eating disorder and when I do I talk about it in euphemism or in ways that aren’t really talking about it at all.

“Oh yeah, I’m just dealing with the eating thing today.”

“You know, my other issue.”

“Meals are just bad for me right now.”

Part of the problem is that naming anorexia terrifies me. Naming anorexia means I can’t pretend that I’m just eating “light meals” or being “health-conscious” or a “picky eater.” Naming anorexia forces me to take ownership of the fact that this mental illness is now a part of who I am, and likely will be for the rest of my life. And that’s a commitment I’ve not been ready to make, even though I don’t really have a choice in the matter. Anorexia made that commitment for me the first time I consciously restricted my calorie intake.

I also worry in the same way many who suffer from mental illness do – the worry that my sickness isn’t “sick” enough to deserve naming. I never intentionally skipped breakfast (though I did skip other meals occasionally and snacks entirely), I was never at an unhealthy weight (though I teeter on the precipice now – but that’s a discussion for another post), I never entered rehab (though I have been in talk therapy for over a year). I can’t be “that sick.” I fear that the reality I experience is not severe enough to warrant the support, compassion, and healing I feel those with this illness deserve. I fear I am not enough to seek my own support, compassion, and healing.

I’m not “that sick.”

I keep waiting to hear “no, you don’t have that,” or “no, your problem isn’t that bad,” or “no, you’re just being dramatic.” Because it still doesn’t feel real to me that I have anorexia. I watched my therapist’s face when I said the word for the first time this week to see if she would contradict me. But she didn’t say “no, you don’t have that.” She didn’t say “no, your problem isn’t that bad.” She didn’t say “no, you’re just being dramatic.” Because I have anorexia.

I am anorexic.

Mental illness and hardship aren’t all-or-nothing contests – they aren’t contests at all. We hear so often that someone’s objectively worse situation does not make our situation less challenging or painful, but it’s so hard to believe in the moment. There’s a perpetual loop of “at least you don’t have it as bad as –” or “at least you haven’t experienced –” or “at least you have –” trying to invalidate my pursuit of healing. It keeps me from owning my truth so I can begin to heal, because until I am honest with myself there’s no work that can be done.

The truth is, I have anorexia. Anorexia doesn’t care that I never skipped breakfast, that my weight has been objectively normal, that my healing process has started through therapy instead of rehab. It’s still here, telling me to skip meals so I can maintain control over this out of control 23-year-old life, so I can better adhere to what society tells me is the “right” way for me to look. So I can have whatever it is eating disorders pretend to promise you so you’ll do what they want without asking why – but cutting out over one thousand calories a day didn’t make me any happier, and neither does missing a meal or a snack when those thought patterns convince me again that this time they’re right. Anorexia hurts the same, no matter how much “luckier” I feel I am with the eating disorder experience I’ve been dealt. Today, I name my anorexia. Because this is not what I want.

I want to heal. And I deserve to heal.


If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, there are plenty of resources to use! Something that has been helpful for me is the National Eating Disorder Association website. I used their online screening tool before I began therapy, which was one of the things that encouraged me to seek out support. The NEDA website and toll-free Information and Referral Helpline, 1-800-931-2237, provide extensive resources nationwide.

I am Strong. I am Capable. I am Enough.

My last couple of posts have been… let’s say “intense.” I’ve been dealing with a lot of heaviness (both internal and external) that has made simply existing difficult, never mind excelling. It’s been a challenge just to survive my circumstances and get myself to the next minute, next hour, next day. Today, I’m feeling a glimmer of something beyond the compulsion to survive and let me tell you: it feels really, really good.

Today, I spoke up in a breakout session about leadership of probably 60 (or even 70) professionals across the nonprofit and corporate worlds. Me, a 23 year old still defining “success” and growing into my professional identity. A woman who has spent the last several months steeped in self-doubt and confusion. A professional who has felt about as far from “leader” as you can possibly be: one step above “sentient rock.” A human being who has endured voices both between my ears and outside myself telling me who and what I am not. A soul who has started to buy into that narrative of inadequacy and incapability.

Knowing all those things, why the hell did I sign up for the session called “Leading From Where You Are”? Because there are pieces of me that know I am capable of more than I am letting myself believe. Because I know those voices of doubt only have power over me if I continue to buy into them. Because I’m ready to stop my subscription to “you can’t do this” “you will fail” and “you are not enough.” Because I want to give myself permission to be vulnerable and to trust and to grow again. Because I may be healing through severe depression, an eating disorder, and a life that I’m still trying to slow down, but that does not make me less strong. In fact, having the courage to name these pieces of my experience and still show up in the best way I can makes me feel stronger.

I am strong. I am capable. I am enough.

Our reality is almost always at odds with our values, whether that means a world that seems to get more chaotic every day or a coworker we just can’t see eye to eye with. The magnitude of that challenge feels designed to make us feel inadequate: how can we possibly hope to change the narrative of our reality when it is so big and we are so small? No matter where we “are” (What are we feeling, seeing, understanding in our current moment? How are we making sense of it?), we have the ability to be a leader in the face of things that make us feel uneasy or make us question ourselves. We have the ability to listen and trust in the face of doubt to connect and seek answers as we work to adapt.

True leadership is found in the courage to be vulnerable and seek authentic connections. To know that we don’t have all the answers and know that sometimes showing up is the best we can do. To trust our own voice in the face of doubt. To trust the voices of others and recognize the limitations of our own perspectives. To put things at stake and truly grow from our experiences and interactions with each other. To tell those doubting voices, “be quiet and watch what I can do.”

I am strong. I am capable. I am enough.

I am currently sitting adjacent to an active construction zone and it still feels quieter than the voices of doubt I have encountered, both inside and outside myself. I felt them quiet when I found my own voice to speak up and share “where I am” in the middle of that session. I felt a piece of the strength I have when I own my struggles and when I continue to show up despite them. I felt some of the worry of being inadequate because of my imperfections melt away, because I am strong. I am capable. I am enough. And I am ready to let myself believe that.

Episode II: A New Haze

It would be nice if antidepressants promised results in 15 minutes or less like Excedrin. Also, it would be nice to be able to take Excedrin because apparently antidepressants mean major headaches for me. But alas – five weeks, one changed dosage, and one prescription swap later…nothing to show for it but perpetual dry mouth, inconsistent appetite, and a constant undercurrent of fatigued haze (but a different haze than the haze of depression itself…if that makes sense).

I’m still struggling to find the motivation to create. Honestly, about 95% of my mental energy has been going toward existing as some form of passable human – the other 5% must be allocated among being a good partner to Boyfriend, keeping some semblance of order at home, caring for our three pets, being a good friend, being a good daughter, and oh yeah being a full-time professional. It’s basically impossible, and in pretty much every category I feel major shortcomings and failures. But you know what, existing is fucking hard and the fact that I can portray myself as a functional human most of the time is really as much a victory I can hope for most days.

It still sucks.

I make lots of mistakes, whether that’s running myself to the wire with a deadline, getting snippy with Boyfriend (or friends, or family…) without really knowing why, giving in to the loss of appetite my anorexic-voice secretly celebrates, giving in to the cravings my binge-voice pressures me to. I could spend a whole day laying on the couch and still feel like I put myself through a college degree and full marathon. Existing is exhausting. It’s exhausting for everyone, but especially when you have this additional beast/illness dragging you even further into the slump of nonexistence…good lord it makes me wonder how I even made it out of bed in an outfit that matched today. I feel pieces of myself here and there, and while it’s exciting to reconnect with the person I know is buried beneath my dueling hazes…it’s kind of sad. Because I know right now, she’s not here for very long. And then everything hurts again. Sometimes I swear the only thing I know how to feel anymore is hurt.

Even though treatment started relatively recently for me, I know this is something I’ve struggled with for the better part of a year – probably about the same time I started struggling with disordered eating. It was hard for me to seek help because it felt like I was failing since I couldn’t “do it on my own.” What pisses me off about that mindset is that if I wasn’t so damn stubborn, I might have gotten the medical intervention I obviously needed sooner. But what’s important is that I’m getting help now, right? That’s what I’m supposed to say, right? I’m still pissed at myself. Because if it was anyone else, I would have said “get your ass to the doctor so you can start feeling better, because you deserve that.” I’m still learning how to believe that I deserve that, too.

My goal is to one day be as kind to myself as all my friends and family have been since I started opening up about this. I was terrified that I got “too real” in my last post, but the amount of people who came forward to say “hey, me too, I get this” or “I’m here for you, no matter what that means” or even just “let’s grab coffee sometime”…damn. I’m so good at convincing myself that I’m not worthy of that kind of compassion, that I forget what it feels like to suddenly have this blanket of support wrap you into a cocoon of safety. This constant fight to exist and feel things is hard. Knowing I’m not able to perform at my best in any aspect of my life is hard, too. But having people around you who let you feel all the pain and confusion of trying to exist and be productive and be comfortable with the limitations you’re experiencing, and who continue to love you and ask “how can I help” anyway…that’s are huge. In spite of the fact that you might be a distracted partner, or a too-sensitive daughter, or a confused coworker who needs to be reminded about that little detail again 99% of the time.

I wasn’t going to write until I felt like I had something a little less intense to write about, but then I learned it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Being open about this experience is really difficult for me, because I like to be strong and positive and un-burdensome…and saying “hey I have major depression and I’m going to talk about” seems like the exact opposite of all of those things. But I can tell you that while I feel my lasting progress has been slow so far, challenging myself to be vulnerable and letting people in has made a huge difference. I don’t feel quite so isolated anymore, and if my story can somehow help someone feel that sense of less alone-ness too, than I’m okay with some discomfort.

Haze

I know, I know… I’ve been writing less frequently again. It seems like every time I try to write, I am confronted with the most overwhelming writer’s block imaginable…plus, I was diagnosed with major depression a few weeks ago. While it was a big “oh, that’s what’s going on” moment, it was also a “holy shit, this is real” moment. Kind of like the first time I saw “anorexia” on my health chart. Suffice it to say: it’s hard to be creative when your brain just doesn’t feel up to creating. Or existing in general.

The best way to describe my experience with depression is that it’s like being in the driver’s seat of a car while having absolutely no control over what’s happening behind the wheel. And the windows are hazy like I’ve been a heavy smoker my entire life, even though I’ve never touched a cigarette. Everything is distorted and seems so far away. And the drivers around me are all mad that I’m going too slow, and then too fast, and now I’m floating outside the lines, and I missed the exit, and I missed the exit again, and am I even paying attention at all to what’s going on? But I have no control. I’m just sitting in the driver’s seat with the illusion of control over what’s happening to me.

Don’t ask me how I pulled over, because I have no fucking idea. But now I am watching the other cars from the shoulder and trying to figure out what cleaner will take the haze off the windows, and what will make the steering wheel work again, and how low my gas tank is, and if I need to go to the body shop. And there are so many people who seem to think that one spray of Windex and a new carburetor are all I need to be totally back to normal…but even if that was all I needed to fix my car, I’d still be afraid to merge back into traffic because how can I trust myself to drive well? And what happens if the windows fog up and my steering wheel stops working again? And what if someone isn’t paying attention and hits me when I’m trying to merge back in? And what if this is just how it is now?

What if I am unfixable?

It feels like watching my life through a film, and struggling to connect with anything because nothing really feels real. I cling to the cracks in the film like tar clings to my front bumper. I just wish I could figure out how to make the cracks bigger to dissolve the film entirely.

I Choose

I really struggle with self-validation. My default reaction when faced with even a shred of doubt from an outside source is to take it as truth and feel like a fraud. As my last few blog posts have touched on, I have felt consumed by feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and failure over the past few months. It seems like the more I’ve sought validation, the more it has evaded me – perceived or empirical, it’s felt like the only things coming at me have been doubt or disappointment. So I seek approval even more desperately, and fall short even further.

A very wise cousin of mine once said that others choose what they say and think. You choose how you respond, and whether or not you believe them. Because I tend to reach outward for that “permission to be confident” afforded by outside approval, her mantra is difficult to put in practice. I take anything anyone says to me as truth, and my own experiences or feelings as convoluted falsehood – it can be something as minor as someone telling me my makeup looks awful (when I know it looks great) to something as major as someone telling me I’m unfriendly (when I know if anything I’m too talkative with friends and peers). It’s hard to remember who you are when you’re constantly accepting who everyone else says you are at face value.

But they choose what they say and think. choose how I respond, and whether or not I believe them.

For the past several months, I have chosen non-response. I’ve assumed that accepting others’ judgments (rather than stepping back and evaluating them) was the best way to ensure validation and acceptance – if I just work a little harder to perfect my cat eye, a little harder to be more bubbly and upbeat, everyone will accept me. I will be a valid person if they accept me. My philosophy professors would be so disappointed! Accepting premises without assessing the truth value? Did I learn nothing from my logic and reasoning course?

In a shocking turn of events, this strategy has not yielded any positive results.

I’m lacking a strong sense of self because I have forgotten how to advocate for myself in times of stress or doubt – and as a 23 year old just getting this “adulting” thing down, there are a lot  of times of stress and doubt. I struggle to remember that I am a valid person whether or not I get that validation from others. I am a valid person. Full stop. I’m trying to exercise self-validation in the times when I need it most, and return to a strong sense of who I am and what I’m capable of. I need to know how to find acceptance from within because there is no guarantee that I will receive it from an outside source. I need to be confident in myself and my abilities – I can’t expect someone to be confident for me.

I also need to know that it’s okay if someone’s opinion of me doesn’t match with what I know to be true, because they choose what they say and think. I choose how I respond, and whether or not I believe them. There is no stipulation that says I must believe what someone says to me or about me if I know it’s false – whether it’s a total stranger, a friend, a colleague, a parent, or even the Pope.

There will always be reasons to find doubt in myself, but there are equally as many reasons to find strength and self-acceptance. My power is in the choice to respond and believe (or not) when faced with situations that make me feel insecure. I can choose to respond by affirming my own validity in spite of those insecurities, and I can choose not to believe things said or done that don’t match what I know to be true. Slowly, I am finding ways to choose to believe that I am strong. I am enough.

I know who I am, and I choose validity.

So….I took the week off running.

Anyone who’s even remotely acquainted with me has heard about my left shin splint by now. Guys, it’s bad. As in I-probably-should-have-rested-it-several-weeks-ago-and-now-it’s-trying-to-kill-me bad. Last time I trained for a half-marathon I developed an overuse injury in my right knee around when I increased to 9 miles. The doctor told me to take a prescription-strength NSAID and rest for two weeks to give my body time to heal…which sucked enough as a crazy goal-oriented runner with a race coming up. But this time I have a whole different set of disordered thought patterns which made it really hard to listen to my body’s “YOU NEED TO REST” signals.

I’ve been treating symptoms and pain as it happens (normally after long runs) with ice baths, ibuprofen, and foam-rolling…but unfortunately shin splints also need ample rest if you really want to treat the cause and not just the symptoms. This past week, walking became something that was uncomfortable and I finally decided that, rather than risk tearing/breaking/straining/irreparably damaging something, I should probably bite the bullet and actually rest. I enlisted Boyfriend as my accountability buddy because I know myself too well to think I can make it through the week without at least fantasizing about lacing up my Brooks and going for a “short four miles.”

But when your legs look like this before every run (and you’re STILL feeling slight pains in your leg), it’s probably an indication that your body is past its limits:

In an effort to lighten things up a bit since I’ve been talking a lot about mental health struggles and just heavy stuff in general (and also a bid to keep myself accountable…and keep myself from going nuts), I’m going to document my Week Without Running. Here are the conditions I set for myself:

  • The only exercise allowed is yoga, 3 days MAX – and this is not allowed if it causes pain.
  • Wrap and ice shin/knee – yes at work, YES even though it’s awkward.
  • Consistent ibuprofen – start with two pills, only use max strength if necessary.
  • Only swimming on the weekend – NO RUNNING. No, not even a short one.
  • NO RUNNING. I mean it.
  • What if I have an indulgent day or worse, go on a binge?  NO RUNNING. I MEAN IT.

Monday

Monday wasn’t too difficult because it’s normally my rest day anyway. I decided after getting to work to add the icing condition, so I couldn’t start icing until Tuesday because I didn’t have a wrap bandage to keep an ice pack in place. For the most part, it felt like any other rest day (except for the looming realization that tomorrow was another rest day).

Tuesday

Tuesday was a hard day for me. I woke up and felt strange not preparing to go out and run, and felt kind of lethargic and generally unfocused because my routine was different. I did my best to ice my shin, but it was difficult to find a good way to keep the ice packs in place (especially since I’m up and down a lot throughout the day). My bags of ice also seemed to be especially prone to breaking under the pressure from the bandage, so I spent most of the day with ice water dripping down my leg.

Boyfriend and I were originally thinking of doing bar trivia, but decided against it because he was so out of it after a late night at work. We ended up going to a local bar near home for dinner anyway, and I made a series of poor dining decisions that led to a binge. I spent the rest of the night trying to pretend I wasn’t in a funk and already thinking about how I could “make up” for it the next day since I couldn’t run.

I felt so frustrated (especially since it was only Tuesday) but I definitely noticed less pain in my leg at rest which at least reassured me I was doing the right thing. I contemplated asking Boyfriend to hide my running shoes, but decided against it because I wanted to prove to myself I could prioritize my health over my disordered thoughts.

Wednesday

Wednesday was somehow more of a challenge than Tuesday – mostly because I woke up carrying the frustration and baggage of the night before. I couldn’t run to recenter myself like I normally would, and actually ended up sleeping through my alarm so I didn’t have time for a yoga flow either. I had trouble focusing the entire day between the guilt of not being able to work out, anxiety over failing to prevent disordered thoughts from becoming actions, and the overwhelming desire to restrict and “balance out” the previous day since I couldn’t run. Unfortunately, I did end up restricting for most of the day but felt a little more on track come dinner time. Boyfriend tried to play-chase me around the kitchen island, and when I put pressure on my left leg as if to “run,” I got some really sharp pains and had to ice.

Ugh, is this going to get any better?

Thursday

I waited until close to the end of the (work) day to post because I wanted to see how things went. Overall, I’m feeling so sluggish and bloated! I don’t know how much of my unfocused-ness and tiredness has to do with staying largely sedentary this week and how much has to do with just generally feeling tired and unfocused, but it sucks. Regular ibuprofen hasn’t been doing much for me today (in fact, the pain actually feels worse and my whole leg is just grumpy and stiff), so I took a prescription-grade dose after lunch and I feel awful. High dose pain medication has never played nice with my system.

I kind of feel like running in the morning is something that helps kickstart my energy for the day – you don’t realize how much you’ll miss a piece of your routine until it’s gone! I didn’t realize how much more confident and sexy I feel when I have time to exercise. It’s not even about the calorie burn (most days), it’s more about the sense of accomplishment and strength I feel when I complete a really good run or finish a challenging yoga flow. Even yoga has made me nervous because stretching at my desk has hurt, so I’ve completely backed off from even low-impact exercise. Boyfriend suggested a bath yesterday and to be honest I’m in such a body-negative place I couldn’t even deal with the thought of laying in my naked body for more than about 30 seconds.

This week has shown me a lot of the places in which I can employ greater compassion toward my body (even in times when it needs to rest for several days). I haven’t done well in honoring my body beyond (trying to) care for my injury, and it’s definitely manifested in my overall mentality. Luckily, the week isn’t over! I’m hoping I’ll feel comfortable enough to at least try a short yoga flow tonight, and maybe a longer one tomorrow. From here I’m going to try to modify my mental approach to this (very necessary) challenge and focus on the following:

  • Focus on the healthy decisions I can make (like nourishing meals, getting enough sleep, practicing effective self-care), rather than the ones I can’t (like exercising)
  • Understand that there’s no right way to have a body, and they’re pretty malleable things (so feeling bloated and more aware of the physical space my body takes up is most likely a temporary phenomenon – and even if it’s not, that’s okay too)
  • Appreciate my body for what it can do instead of being frustrated at its limitations while I’m healing
  • Remember that in the long run this will help me exercise smarter and more effectively (which is important for a sustainable practice)
  • Be okay with feeling frustrated and address it in a productive way instead of falling into harmful coping techniques (like Tuesday’s binge)

I will be back on Sunday to share my final thoughts on my Week Without Running!

You Know Something’s Wrong When You’re Crying to Flo Rida (The Other Serenity Prayer)

July was a really tough month for me. As in total-anxiety-and-depression-relapse-and-out-of-control-disordered-eating-patterns tough. There were a lot of reasons for that – some tangible like major deadlines at work, struggling to take care of our pets and home, not sticking to my half-marathon training schedule well, etc… and some not-so-tangible because mental illness is annoying and stupid. The more I sunk into my anxiety cocoon and turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms like disordered eating, the more disheartened I felt – and the further I sunk into my anxiety cocoon and turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms (again, mental illness is annoying and stupid).

It’s frustrating to feel like you’re losing the foundation of wellness you’ve begun to build (especially when it seems like you just started building it), and (at least for me) it’s hard to take it easy on yourself when you’ve binged for the third day in a row and have shin splints so bad there is absolutely no way you can do a distance run to “atone” for it tomorrow. Also when there are five loads of laundry waiting to be done and a dishwasher to be unloaded and carpet to be vacuumed and grocery shopping to be done and the dog barking at some unknown villain again and you really just want to not have to clean pee off the floor again or watch Netflix by yourself because Boyfriend is working the night shift. Also did I mention you’re probably going to get fat if you eat another one of those goddamn Oreos?

I’ve felt trapped in this shell of disappointment, and somehow felt simultaneously incapable of doing anything correctly while being responsible for everything. I haven’t prioritized my own wellness or been clear about my needs (to be fair, I am still struggling with being assertive enough to articulate what I need unless practically forced to – which is another issue we’ll talk about some other time). I’ve focused on how I need to “punish” myself for the missteps I’ve made in caring for myself – which isn’t a great mentality for exercising self-compassion.

I wasn’t going to write a post this week because I have had absolutely no emotional energy to do anything besides feel anxious and confused (and cry in my car to Flo Rida on my way to and from work). But then one of my Facebook friends posted this picture:

and (you guessed it) I cried some more.

Guys, forgiving yourself for being human is so fucking hard. Last week I talked about how hard prioritizing your own wellness is, and it is – but forgiving yourself when you fail to exercise self-compassion or fall back into destructive habits is harder. Telling yourself “I love you, it’s okay” instead of “You’re so fucking disgusting and I hate you and you’re a failure” after going on a binge is almost impossible. Telling yourself “It’s okay, try again” instead of “You can’t do anything right and you’re a terrible employee and you suck at everything” after going back to the drawing board to reimagine work you know was not your best is more work than the work itself. Telling yourself “You are not perfect, and that’s okay” instead of “You are not perfect and you are terrible because of that” during times of insecurity so often feels like a lie (even though it’s not).

Telling a friend, parent, or partner “I am hurting and I need you” instead of “It’s fine, I don’t want to bother you, I’ll take care of everything on my own” when you need support and companionship feels like asking the world – especially when you’re busy counteracting all those voices that refuse to let you put down that unhealthy decision, that panic attack, that botched deadline. Especially when the people you love are coping with struggles and stresses of their own. I haven’t asked for help because I have felt like I deserve to be isolated in my perceived failures. I treat myself like a footnote in my own life, so it’s hard to know how to ask to be a priority in someone else’s. There is a reason why even Flo freakin’ Rida has been making me cry – and it’s because I have been forcing myself to carry the entire burden of my emotional stress, professional stress, personal stress, and mental health stress without letting the support of others in.

Low is not a sad song, and normal people do not cry to it.

This week I’m going to try being more assertive in prioritizing myself and being clear about what I need – and do Flo Rida justice so I can go back to rapping along (or trying to) on my commute instead of acting like I’m in a 90’s emo pop music video. I will try more times than I will succeed, but I hope I will succeed more times than I fail.

And when I do fail, I will tell myself:

I love you, it’s okay.

It’s okay, try again.

You are not perfect, and that’s okay.

23 is Hard: The Shamrock on the Office Ledge

Most English-speakers are familiar with the canary in the coal mine idiom, based on a practice that (up until very recently) helped alert miners to danger so they could have time to escape. The idea is that the canary will die before toxic gases like carbon monoxide can harm the humans in the mine. Obviously, working in an office setting doesn’t necessitate a bird to keep me from inhaling harmful substances (plus I’m pretty sure we have automated carbon monoxide monitors now). The physical risks of my day-to-day life are pretty low (unless we’re talking about shin splints, in which case the physical risk is very, very high….). What I struggle with is knowing when my mental health requires me to slow down and recharge. Can birds sense emotional well-being and respond accordingly?

This is post-watering, but still not doing so hot…

I don’t know about birds, but plants can.

The past couple of weeks have been a huge challenge for me. I’ve been on a major deadline at work (and suffering from major creative block until very recently) and I’ve been struggling to find balance in life outside the office – plus, it’s just hard for both Boyfriend and I that our work schedules don’t allow for much time together. Fitting wellness into that equation has felt impossible – whether that’s physical or mental. Even running – which is often one of the only things I have during the week that’s purely for myself – has been a challenge because I’ve had such severe shin splints! My mom came for lunch yesterday for a much-needed break in the action and noticed my shamrock plant was pretty much on its last leg stem.

And that’s when I realized I hadn’t watered it in 4 days.

Shamrocks are very thirsty plants, and I generally have to water mine every day – but since I’ve been so distracted by my overwhelmed mental state, I have paid almost no attention to the plants that sit on my window ledge. I pride myself on being a green thumb like my parents, but my inability to recognize how much I needed to stop and take care of myself made me equally incapable of caring for anything else. It’s lucky Tigger, Romy, and Michele can meow and bark at me or I may have been too distracted to remember mealtimes and walks.

I can’t tell you how many self-care articles repeat the adage that “you can’t take care of anyone else until you take care of yourself,” and of course, duh, that’s right…but I don’t know if it’s the Marton, Lindstrom, woman, or human in me that keeps screaming over that saying, “Taking care of yourself is so selfish and lame. Who cares if you’re overwhelmed because you still have 20 things on your to-do list.” I know I talk a lot about that tension, but it’s one of the most difficult parts of my mindset to work with and surmount in times of challenge.

Self-care feels so “optional” when I’m looking at the big picture of my day, and it’s the first thing to fall off when I have a lot on my plate. It feels “lazy” or “selfish” to swap out mopping the floor or attending a club meeting with something like a warm bath or just time to relax on the couch with our fur babies – but without those times to relax, you start forget the basics (like watering your shamrock regularly…). Boyfriend is better at recognizing my need for rest (probably because a mentally maxed-out Katlyn is a grumpy Katlyn) and makes sure to encourage that slow-down time – but when we hardly have a chance to see each other (awake), I need to find my own voice of reason when I don’t have his to keep me balanced.

Finding a way to reconcile my own human needs with the needs of everyone else around me (and learning when my needs should come first) is something I will always struggle with. And then, after mentally recognizing that maybe I need a day of rest instead of jetting off to another after-work commitment, acting on that recognition and actually saying “my needs in this moment come first.” Even if what I need is doing “nothing.” “Nothing” is something, too. This process is easier than it was two years ago and even a month ago, but it’s still a mental battle most days to even get myself on my list (and following through is a whole other story).

I hope one day I won’t need a shamrock on a ledge to tell me when my mental health needs my attention if I want to function properly (or at least I hope they can make an automated version like they can for carbon monoxide so my plants don’t have to suffer!). An overwhelmed mental space might not kill me like an overdose of carbon monoxide, but that doesn’t make it less toxic.

Lots of people forget (or don’t recognize at all) the ways in which poor mental health affects your ability to function at your best (or function at all) – in many ways it’s no different than being exposed to a physical toxin, but it’s often a knee-jerk reaction to advise someone to just “snap out” of their “bad mood” or “stop being so dramatic.” But mental health isn’t about just a “bad mood” or being dramatic for drama’s sake – it’s just as real as physical health, and just as important to take care of. I still need those tangible reminders to guide me back to treating my mental well-being as what it is – a health priority. For now, remembering that is often the best I can do, and that’s okay. Recognizing the issue is the first step to addressing it and finding a solution.

And don’t worry, I watered my shamrock.

23 is Hard: The Long Arc

Training for a half marathon is generally one of two options for me: the most empowering thing I’m doing…

…or the most disheartening.

Last weekend, I upped my distance to 9 miles. My run on Saturday was phenomenal. I ran all 9 miles without stopping for a walk break and shaved 30 seconds off my average split time. My split time dropped by a minute on Sunday’s run, but running distance two days in a row is hard enough without expecting yourself to keep up the same pace. I ran straight through again so I still counted it as a progress win.

Then I had to take two days off because, shockinglyrunning long distances is really hard on your body. Especially your legs. (Seriously, if anyone wants to book me a massage I am so down). I wasn’t able to run again until yesterday morning, and my time went from Saturday’s peak at 9:30 min/mile to almost 11:00…and I only did 4.5 miles.

When you have a really good run like I did on Saturday, it’s easy to remember that training is about long-term trends of strength and endurance rather than isolated instances because you’re reaping the benefits of your hard work – when you’re struggling to complete half the distance you did three days ago at a pace that’s almost a minute and a half slower, not so much. Bad runs are one of the biggest challenges I experience when I’m training for a race, because it’s hard to refocus your mental energy toward your overall trends rather than that really, really shitty run you just completed.

Recovering from an eating disorder is similar. Healthy, nourishing decisions can be so easy during one meal/day/week and then seem impossible the next. Some weeks, I feel like I completely regress back to my disordered behaviors of restricting or binging in excess. The past couple of weeks have been like that, if I’m being honest, and it’s been a challenge to remember the long arc of my recovery when the short moments have felt so disheartening. But the long arc does bend toward healthier decisions and growth – it’s just hard to see when the individual moments fluctuate.

At first I was just going to write about the parallels between running and recovery, but I realized that there are a lot of instances in which it’s important to remember that small moments are part of a compilation and not stand-alone indicators of your progress or position. It’s hard not to equate “bad run” with “bad runner” and “unhealthy decision” with “unhealthy person,” because bad moments often seem so much larger when you’re in the middle of them. Not even just “bad” moments – sometimes it’s just a life step you’ve not yet taken that everyone else around you seems to be taking.

Up until recently, I was frustrated by this seemingly unspoken rule that if you’re graduated from college and in a long-term relationship, you should be engaged or married right now. My social media channels have been a constant barrage of white lace, flowers, and bridal showers and it has been a huge emotional suck feeling like there’s something wrong with me because I can’t (yet?) call Boyfriend “Fiancé.” I thought I was stressed about it because I really, really wanted to be engaged or married…but once I managed to dissect where exactly my feelings were coming from, much of the stress I felt was coming from buying into this idea of what my life is “supposed to” look like right now. I love Boyfriend and he’s stuck with me forever, but I realized I am definitely not ready for the financial and legal commitment of marriage. I am just getting my footing being financially independent and figuring out my own professional and personal goals – I’m not in much rush to become Mrs. Boyfriend for a while, if that ends up being the right decision for our partnership at all.

It’s a huge challenge to avoid playing the comparison game with your peers (and even yourself) – whether it’s in distance running, eating disorder recovery, or just navigating the confusing time that is your mid-20s. Feelings of frustration and inadequacy tend to speak much louder than feelings of fulfillment and confidence, so unfortunately those two really good runs or five days of healthy decision-making often get drowned out by one bad run or one bad day (or even meal). In life, the times when you feel like you’re progressing “wrong” can make you forget about the pieces of your long arc that bend you in the right direction – things like strong partnership, professional competency, creative drive, and compassion.

Boyfriend is really good at separating from the negative noise of comparison or the expectation of his peers – a skill I am still learning. Often I (like most people) am my own worst enemy. I look at longer run times and days when the temptation to binge wins and say to myself “You’re a failure. You can’t do anything right. You’re never going to run that race, you’ll never beat that disorder. Why even try?” I see the shiny highlight reels of other peoples’ mid-20s and say “What’s wrong with you? Why doesn’t Boyfriend want to marry you yet? Why don’t you want to be married yet? Why haven’t you been promoted at work? Why aren’t you taking cool trips with your friends or going out every weekend? Why doesn’t your life look like hers? It’s because you suck. You suck at your 20s.”

My internal voice can be a real asshole. She buys into all the bad moments, she pays attention to the steps everyone else is showcasing, she forgets that highlight reels don’t show the messy struggles everyone experiences (mid-20s and otherwise).

She forgets that I’m a human being.

She can be really, really mean.

A big part of recovery in particular has been seeking out my internal voice’s compassionate side more actively – seekingself-compassion in moments when I feel weak or inadequate, seeking permission to be proud when I accomplish something. Seeking permission to be fulfilled with the bend of my arc despite the natural fluctuations in my small increments. Seeking permission to love myself, even in the moments when I feel I fall short of where I “should” be.

Stepping out of the rush of a “bad” moment is one of the most challenging parts of my life right now, but it’s in those moments that it’s most important to remember my long arc. To remember the trend of my choices and experiences is often more important than the small pieces that make up that trend – that neither a bad run, nor a binge, nor a restricting day, nor those “highlight reels” of my peers make me less valuable as a person or less capable of creating a future I am proud of.

My asshole inner voice is committed to casting shadows on the small increments that make me feel fulfilled and joyous: a job that challenges me, a loving partnership, a strong support network of friends and family, a drive to create, a compassionate heart, a commitment to being my best. Those small increments have so much more weight than the increments of bad runs, feelings of inadequacy, moments when recovery strategies are hard to put in practice. But what’s important is that it’s okay to have moments when everything feels like it’s falling apart, because that’s what happens when you’re growing. The key is remembering that those moments don’t define who you are – all they are is an indicator of your experience in the moment.

Sometimes, feeling “not okay” is the only way to grow past whatever you’re struggling with. And that’s okay too.