Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Eating Disorders: Numbers, behavior, and body size aren't the point.

I have never done a post about eating disorder with numbers, but today, I want to. This could backfire. I could be super triggering and make a mess of things. To anyone with an eating disorder, you know that ALL numbers can screw with your head, so maybe stop reading here.

At the same time, to anyone with an eating disorder, I want you to know that just because you don't think you are sick enough, you still are. (And a good sign that you need help, is if you think you are not sick enough to get help. Think about that for a second: If you have to make yourself more sick in order to get help, there's probably definitely a big problem in your head. Or if you are competing with someone to be the closest to death (aka the skinniest), that's a good sign things aren't right. Anyway...)

Every time the news runs a story on eating disorders, they talk about the extremes. They love to tell how little a person eats in a day, and it's usually such small amounts that no one can fathom how that girl (because it's almost always a girl) can still walk around. They love to tell how many hours are spent exercising, and it's usually as much as an Olympic athlete, sometimes more. They like to talk about all of the other extreme behaviors a person can do, and there's a lot. (I'm not listing them here, but if you've ever seen a news piece, you know there's a whole lot more.) They LOVE to show scales and low weights and skeletal bodies.

Those stories are real, but they aren't the only stories out there. In fact, they are probably more rare... That's definitely not what all eating disorders look like. I have been inpatient twice. The first time, I firmly believed I didn't have an eating disorder and I didn't deserve to get treatment for one. Just because it didn't look like the stories on the news... or the women that came to speak at my high school... or the made for TV movies. I wasn't sick enough to deserve help.

The second time was different. I didn't wait until it got so bad that I didn't have any other options. I was sick, and scared, and confused... and somehow still somewhat grounded.

I don't want to dismiss how bad off I was. (That was BJ's fear as I was writing this.) I don't want to glorify or glamorize an eating disorder. (That's a fear in writing this.) I don't want to give people ideas, or give anyone a reason to justify or excuse behavior. (That's my biggest fear in writing this.) I don't want to trigger anyone, or make anyone else's battle with food and weight and eating disorder and shit worse. I just want people to know what the eating disorder looked like for me.

Here goes.

The week before I went inpatient (in 2008), I averaged about 1400 calories/day. There were days I ate less, and days I ate more, but that was my average.

The week before I went inpatient, I was walking about 6 miles/day. Walking. Not running. I also played DDR most days. I don't think I lifted weights the week before I went in, but that was a regular part of my routine up until I knew I was for sure going.

I didn't lose my period. I didn't lose my hair nor did I ever have detectable problems with my heart or other internal organs.

(Although while inpatient my blood pressure started doing funky things and I was dizzy ALL the time. I'm still not sure if the dizziness was because of the eating disorder, or if it was a problem that was already there, or if  it was anxiety related. My guess is it was a combination of all three.)

I kept working both of my jobs, and I was still a good employee. I fulfilled all of my responsibilities. My employers didn't know there was a problem until I told them I needed to take time off to go inpatient.

I was considered underweight. (Fifteen pounds. That's how much I gained while I was inpatient.) I didn't think I was fat. I knew I was thin. I didn't own a scale, and I didn't care to. I wasn't against gaining weight, but... more on that later.

There are diet sites out there that tell people to do exactly what I was doing. These aren't "pro-ana" sites. These are sites that are supposed to be all about healthy living. (Weight watchers, the government website ( and, and others) Most people saw nothing wrong with my behavior. They were still congratulating me on my "will power" and my healthy habits.

None of the above is me trying to say I wasn't sick. I was! That's the point.
If I had kept doing what I was doing, I don't know what would have happened to my body. How long until there were health problems? Or until I couldn't go to work? Weeks? Months? Years? How long could I keep up that behavior without it getting worse? The worst part wasn't what I was doing, it was the fight going on in my mind that was going to kill me. I was in mental and emotional hell.

Food was a constant battle. I felt guilty for every bite I ate. I felt like I was bad. I felt like a good person would eat less. I felt disgusted with myself for eating as much as I did. If I was a good person, I wouldn't need food. I hated myself for spending money on food. I kept track of every penny I spent on myself, and felt guilty for it. I thought I was selfish and needy and out of control, because I spent money on food AND I ate it. I kept track of every bite I ate, and added up every calorie over and over and over again in my mind. It didn't matter how I added it up, it was always too much AND too little. If I was good, I would eat nothing, and if I was good, I wouldn't make people worry about me by not eating. The thinking and the behaviors were just symptoms of a much bigger problem.

I felt panicked if I couldn't exercise. I told myself I was lazy if I sat down, or slept, or stopped walking. I told myself I was lazy for not running... I was angry at myself for only walking and not running. I was constantly worried that I should be exercising more. I hated myself for not going farther or doing more.  That doesn't mean I was always exercising - I just felt like I should be even when I wasn't. My mind never rested. Every time I felt sad or scared or depressed or angry or anxious or happy, I wanted to walk. (In case you missed that, that means, I felt like I should be walking, wanted to be walking, had to be moving 24 hours a day/seven days a week.) Walking was the only way I knew how to feel okay. I'd walk at night. I'd walk in the cold. I felt safer on the streets alone at 2 am than I felt at home... as long as I was moving.

I hated my body. I wasn't trying to lose weight, but I wanted to punish myself and my body.  I thought that the less I ate and the more I exercised, the stronger I was. I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone else that my spirit was stronger than my body. In my mind, the more I punished myself, the better person I was.

I felt suicidal, depressed, miserable, anxious, MISERABLE, sad, self-destructive, and I wasn't getting any better. I couldn't stop what I was doing, because when I stopped walking, I felt the full rush of emotions, flashbacks, and memories, and I didn't know how to handle those. (And I didn't even know what they were. All I knew was that I felt awful whenever I wasn't moving.)

I knew that I should eat more. Exercise less. I didn't care.
I knew what I was doing was harming my body, or it would be soon. I didn't care.
I wanted to die, but didn't feel like I deserved the relief of death.
I wanted to live, but didn't want the life I had led up to that point.
I felt helpless and stuck and alone.

I felt guilty that therapy cost so much. I wondered if it was a waste on me. I thought maybe I was just crazy, and I needed to accept that. I KNEW I was bad, and I didn't deserve to be happy. I felt guilty for using up my therapist's time.

I said brilliant things like, "I just need someone to help teach me how to 'take it' (meaning abuse)," and, "If I were stronger, than I wouldn't need therapy for this. Other people can eat this same amount and they are just fine," and, "What is wrong with me?" (Meaning: I should be able to handle never eating, exercising all the time, never spending money, allowing people to use and abuse me, and be happy.)

I desperately needed help...

I was lucky. There were people around me that were fighting for me to have a better life. There were people who wouldn't let me fall into the oblivion I knew I deserved... And... I am aware that my small body made people pay attention in a way that they wouldn't have if I had been bigger. That made me feel shitty... as if something I can't control (like the genes I was born with) made me more deserving of help than someone else. NO!

There was something inside me that wouldn't let me give up. I knew there was something more and better just out of my reach, and I wanted it. I felt guilty for wanting it, but I WANTED it.

I understood that I could not do the work I needed to do on my own, or even with an outpatient therapist. I asked to go inpatient. My therapist worked with me. The church paid for my time there. My family was supportive. It was the best thing for me. I know I am so lucky that I even had the opportunity to go. Most people don't have that. Most people have to deal with the trauma of abuse and an eating disorder and depression and all of that shit all alone. Still...I don't know how I could have stopped or changed my behaviors AND dealt with the anxiety and trauma without the help of inpatient, therapy, friends, etc.

The staff at CFC pushed me to eat more. They pushed me to gain weight. They watched me closely and helped me to hold myself accountable, so I never exercised. I learned how to deal with emotions without exercise. They challenged me to spend money on myself. They challenged me to rest. (The dizziness I talked about earlier made it so I was a "fall risk". They stuck me in a wheelchair. Even when I was no longer a "fall risk", my therapist wouldn't take me out of the wheelchair until I was comfortable there. He thought it was good for me to just. SIT. All. The fucking. Time.) They challenged me to change my beliefs about food, but even more importantly than the beliefs I had about food... They challenged me to change the beliefs I had about myself, my relationships, and the world around me. They wouldn't let me punish myself, and in time I began accepting myself.

I was hit with memories, flashbacks, depression, anxiety, and all of the other shit that I had been trying to avoid by my constant motion and obsessing about food and exercise. There were people there that supported me: sat with me while I cried, helped me sort through all of the thoughts in my head, gave me a safe place to feel anger, stayed up all night with me when sleep wouldn't come, made me laugh, gave me a place to talk about myself and the struggles. They didn't care how sick I had been or hadn't been. They saw that I was hurting and needed help. It didn't fucking matter if I was skinny or fat or somewhere in between. All that mattered was that I was hurting and I needed help.

They took care of almost everything else, so that I could focus my energy on healing all of the shit inside. That healing and that work didn't end when I left CFC. Really... it was just beginning, but they gave me a great start. They saved my life, and then gave me tools to create a better life.

Recovery doesn't look like I thought it would either. I eat a lot more than what the government recommends. WAY more protein than the little pyramid shows. Exercise is just doing the things I love: riding, fishing, hiking, and occasionally a walk. (I would like to add some weight lifting in there, but I haven't done it yet.)

Nobody congratulates me on my will-power anymore. Strangers don't give me accolades for my healthy habits. In fact, I have had people tell me I should eat healthier, eat less fat, exercise more. AND, I have energy and a will to live. The mental battle is (mostly) over. I don't battle with food at all. I still have to battle the beliefs about myself and what I deserve, and I'm fighting every single day to change those.

My "before" picture (2008). Me at my sickest. I felt so much shame. I wore big jackets. I hid. I kept myself covered. I didn't allow people to take pictures of me, and the only pictures that exist are ones like this one: taken when I wasn't looking. I smiled, but I didn't FEEL a smile. The smile was nothing but a mask.
My "after". There is a small difference in my weight, but... that's not really the point. I look at this picture, and I see ME.
I'm NOT ashamed of my body. I like getting my picture taken. My smile is real and comes from deep inside. I love life (most of the time, and I have no problem saying I hate it when I hate it.) I am real and honest and ME.
I also recognize I'm still small. It makes me angry that we live in a world that values and/or hates small women. WTF? Being small doesn't mean I did recovery right... or better... or worse...

Eating disorders ARE physical. They do manifest themselves with food and the body, but they are far more mental and emotional. I wish the news (and professionals, and recovered people, and anyone willing to talk about it) could help people see and understand that part... but I guess showing a skeletal body does the trick. People immediately understand that THAT person is hurting. It's one of the reasons eating disorders exist.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Just showing up the guys.

Generally speaking, I don't think of myself as a very competitive person. I am ambitious. I am tenacious. But I don't need to "win".

Unless I am the only girl going fishing with the guys, and then something changes.
It never fails. I have almost always been the only girl on the fishing trip. Surrounded by guys, I feel like I have to prove myself. I have to show that I deserve to be on the reservoir... Which somehow translates to, "I have to be the BEST!"

I'm not the best. I'm pretty good... for a beginner.
Today, there were four of us. Once again, I was the only girl... And once again I felt the intense desire to "show up the guys".

I laughed at myself. (What else do you do when you know you are thinking silly, but it feels so intense? I laugh.) Once I got all geared up and started fishing, I (mostly) forgot my desire. It helped that two of them were across the reservoir, so they wouldn't have known if I was catching tons of fish or not.

It was an okay (catching) day for me. I had several fish nibble on my fly. A few takes that got off, and I landed two in the hour we were out there. (We like to go fishing for a couple hours before work.) The other two guys were planning on making a day of it, so we were surprised to see them go in and load their boats up. We started towards the boat ramp to see what was up... but I wasn't done fishing yet, so although I was paddling fast and not really paying attention to my fly, I left it in the water... "Just in case a fish wants it."

We got about twenty feet from the shore, when a big old rainbow trout came up out of the water with my fly in his mouth. Flipped around, and then dove down to the bottom. I had to play him for a while. (I don't know how long. I know my arm got tired.)

On the shore, the two guys were laughing and hooting and I heard, "Way to show us all up Jen! That's awesome!"

Unfortunately, you can't tell that he is huge...

BJ caught a few. Woody caught nothing. Dave caught nothing. Jen caught a few AND the biggest fish of the day AND I did it right in front of them all.

Friday, April 19, 2013

So we went riding.

I am in a relationship with someone who is a lot like me. We both love horses and fishing and the outdoors. We enjoy reading and talking about things. We like a lot of the same TV shows and movies. We both love Mexican food. And Rubio's tacos.

Our similarities make it really nice. I barely ever have to ask for what I want, because he just does what he wants and most of the time it's what I want too.

Our similarities also make it so I get out of practice. Or I don't think about what I want and just go with the flow. Until suddenly I'm feeling all out of whack and I can't figure out why.

I love fishing. Fishing is fun.
I LOVE horseback riding. It feels like it is a key part of ME. I am home on the back of a horse.
We haven't been riding for almost six weeks, because it's been muddy and the fishing has been good. Six weeks without getting out with the horses in the mountains is like an eternity. (I've been in the pasture with Sunny, and I take him out in the foothills by my house, but we haven't GONE anywhere.)

This morning as I was leaving for work, I looked out at the horses, and I wanted to cry. At first I thought it was because up until last week, I worked from home. All day long, I'd work and watch the horses grazing. My new view isn't bad - a field and mountains, but Sunny isn't in the field.

BJ asked me if I was okay. I said yes. No. I don't know.

I want to go riding. I want you to go, not because you want to go, but just because I want to go. I want to go in the mountains - even if it's cold or muddy or not ideal conditions. I just want to go riding!

So we went riding.

It seemed so much scarier... and more complicated... in my head.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

SLUT walk 2013

"I love the cause. I hate the name."
That's what BJ said when I told him I was going to Slutwalk, SLC this year.

I was scared.

Do I even have a right to call myself a survivor?
Nobody blamed the way I dressed for the way Larry treated me... It was just his right as my husband.
That old belief. That old fucked up idea. That stupid thing repeated to me by well-meaning (and ignorant) people just keeps hanging around. Even though I know it's stupid, fucked up, irrational, and NOT TRUE, it comes back to haunt me regularly.

Being there, with other survivors and supporters and advocates, was an incredibly emotional experience. It also showed me that although I am better off than I ever dreamed possible, I am not yet where I want to be.

Seeing her. I wanted to cry. Pretty damn good way of displaying the voicelessness I have felt.
The sign behind me: awesome.

Sign making.

I couldn't bring myself to make a sign. I know what I wanted it to say, but I felt too scared to write that and then carry it around. I borrowed someone else's sign.

This is a very powerful project. Victims of abuse: sexual, physical, and emotional as well as secondary survivors (those who know someone who is a survivor of abuse) made T-shirts. Seemed like it could be a very healing thing.

This was my favorite shirt. I HEALED! I will be silent no more!

The Clothesline Project

I wondered if these little girls understood what they were protesting. To some extent, they did. "My body is mine. No one has a right to touch it without MY permission. And if they do, it isn't my fault!"

There were a lot of men and secondary survivors there. I felt grateful for the secondary survivors in my life: The ones that wouldn't give up on me and KNEW I could heal from the abuse.

Some of the signs. It seemed like a very healing thing for a lot of people. Maybe next year I'll be ready to hold up a sign.

This sign broke my heart. PLEASE, let's change things, so no more children have to deal with this.

In memory of those who didn't survive.

There were a LOT of people walking.

I'm still not a "proud survivor", but I would like to be some day.

There were several business where the people came out and clapped and cheered as we walked by. I didn't expect that... I still feel a lot of shame. It was good to see that not everyone believes it was my fault, or that I should keep silent. Some people cheer for the survivors who won't be silent anymore.

I couldn't bring myself to make a sign, so I just signed the poster. I got an eyebrow raise from BJ, "'What you did was not okay!'? NO!!! What he did was fucking SICK, but if that's all your ready to put out there, then that is enough."

Friday, April 5, 2013

"It'd sure be nice if I caught a fish right now"

I have not been fishing all winter. I have gone with BJ while he fished... I guess I pulled out my rod a few times, but it was so cold, I was done after just twenty minutes... it has just been too cold for me to even want to go fishing.

I've enjoyed hiking, snowshoeing, and taking pictures. (I've LOVED taking pictures!)
Yesterday, it was finally warm enough that I WANTED to go fishing. So we did.
We fished the river, and when we ran out of flies for the river, we moved up to the reservoir. I caught a couple on the river. I spent a long time watching a rainbow feeding on the bugs on the bottom of the river. He didn't want any fly I offered him, but I was fascinated just watching him.
I caught a few on the reservoir, and just as we were leaving, BJ pulled out the camera.

I kind of laughed and said, "It'd sure be nice to catch a fish right now... since you've got the camera out... and the day is about over..." and BAM! There was a fish. Couldn't have been more perfect.

Sure be nice if I caught a fish right now...

Check that out!

That's a fish! On my line!!

Fish on! (I'm SO loving this!)
Nice little rainbow.

Posing for the picture.

Once I let that little guy go, BJ decided he needed to fish in one last hole. I pulled out my camera, and BAM! He had a beautiful (and big for that area) rainbow on the end of his rod.

BJ's turn.
Fish on!

And just like that...

NICE fish!

Check him out! (I love the "fish on" giggle and smile.)

It felt SO good to be outside, in the sunshine, fishing with a good friend.
SO glad that spring is finally here and summer is on its way!