YOLO

I’ve wanted a tattoo for a quite a few years. Every time I planned to get one, I ended up not following through because I couldn’t settle on what to get. I wanted a Phoenix, because if it’s significance in rising from the ashes. But it would have to be a reasonably sized tattoo, and I wasn’t sure I could handle something that intricate on my first go.

I thought about getting a butterfly. Once again, for its significance and relation to growth. But butterfly tattoos had gained popularity, and I didn’t want the meaning to get lost in the hype. But I always wanted something to symbolize my freedom.

Then when I got sick, I was told tattoos were a no go. Too much risk of infection, I assume. So I didn’t think about it for awhile, until the other day. I filled out a short get-to-know-you thing out of boredom. One of the questions asked about tattoos, and I wrote no. When my friend saw it, she said we should go and get my tattoo. Admittedly, we were both overly tired and I was not in the best frame of mind. But when I thought about it the next day, I really wanted to do it.

I’ve had to avoid so many things in my life. Can’t get vaccines anymore because my body isn’t strong enough to fight them. Can’t eat high-risk foods, like raw vegetables, because any contamination can make me sick. Can’t be around anyone who may be sick.

But what’s the point if I still get sick anyway? I can’t live in a bubble. I can’t avoid everything that will hurt me. So why deprive myself of something I wanted just because it might make me sick?

Just a day before, I had gone to a buffet — Golden Corral to be exact. They don’t have those where I’m from, so I was a little excited when I saw one here. Buffets are not good for me — not only because of the higher risk of contamination, but because most of the foods there aren’t good for my GI Isaura. But I said fuck it, I want to go. And we did. And I suffered for it, as I expected. But even through the discomfort and pain, there was a sense of joy in doing something I wanted.

So I took another risk. Today, I got my first tattoo. It wasn’t anything ornate or fancy. I didn’t want to take too much of a risk.

I couldn’t think of a more meaningful tattoo. The date I ran away, and birds of freedom. It’s a constant reminder for me, in those times when I do want to give up, to remember how far I’ve come from where I was.

Shelter

I am exhausted. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. Possibly the most exhausted I have ever been.

Social services found me a bed at a homeless shelter today. It’s a temporary shelter — 30 day max stay. It’s on the other side of the county, in an area I don’t really know. But it’s a bed. There wasn’t much else they could do. I don’t qualify for any assistance because I am in the small percentage of people that fall within all the loopholes of disqualifications.

I’m trying to pick up the pieces. I’m trying to catch up with all the school work I got behind in when I was hospitalized. I’m trying to figure out if I’ll ever find a stable place to live. I’m trying to figure out how I’ll pay my bills.

I hadn’t cried until today. I’ve been pretending to be strong, when inside I’ve been a mess. It finally came out when I was sitting at social services and they told me I would be going to a shelter. It finally sunk in that I was homeless and alone.

It’s really hard to see the positive in anything in times of crisis. I could totally see myself having a complete meltdown. I could see myself giving up entirely.

But I have so much support. Friends, some I’ve met and some I’ve only known online, have continued to be supportive throughout these last a several days. Phone calls and emails have helped me get through the day. People have donated money to help me with transportation and food costs. And their messages of hope and gratitude for how I’ve helped them brought me to tears.

To those that have donated and help me in any way, I am incredibly grateful. You have given me hope.

I’ve always been the person who helps everyone. It’s hard for me to be the person in need. It’s hard for me to focus on myself and not caretake for others. When I first came here to the shelter, I donated half of my clothes. Because even in the chaos of my own happenstance, I felt that I had to give back in some way.

I don’t really know what’s going to happen anymore. But all I can do is hope that this experience has some kind of deeper meaning that I just can’t see right now.

Don’t take this the wrong way

I’ve been managing my impulse to isolate quite well, considering my circumstances. I try to get out of the house every day, even if it’s just to walk the dog. Some days, I just can’t do much. I’ll take a walk down the block, and I’ll just know from the dizziness in my head and the pain in my chest that I can’t do anything but rest. There are times when I push myself too much, and I always end up regretting it. But I still get out there the next day.

I could have stayed home on Easter. I could have stayed in bed all day or smoked through a pack of cigarettes in the backyard, which is what I usually do when I’m alone on days like that. But I decided to go. After all, my case worker says I should work on being more social.

It started out okay. There were a lot more people there than I thought there was going to be, most unknown to me. I stayed calm, and migrated toward people I was familiar with. I had my knee brace on over my pants (because it’s impossible to wear a full-length knee brace under anything that’s not oversized sweatpants). A friend of the family asked what happened. I told her I had torn my ACL, and wore out all of the cartilage on my knee. I stayed positive about it, though, telling her how I was still getting out and walking around as much as I could. She shared some (very) distantly related story about how her knee hurt her 40 years ago.

And then she said those words, the words that never, ever end well.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but…”

She then proceeded to tell me how my weight was likely the cause of my problems, and how I need to watch myself, and when I feel the urge to take those “third helpings” of food I just need to stop.

As soon as I caught the gist of what she was saying, I had so much shit going on in my head that I couldn’t listen to her anymore. I just sat there quietly, holding back the tears. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. I was just hoping she’d stop. But she didn’t.

When the food was finally served, I stayed in my seat. All I could think about was how fat I was. My friend was encouraging me to get some food, telling me what they had. “You should eat a salad.” Before I could even respond, my friend told her that I didn’t eat that. She then went on to make another suggestion, and by that point, I had enough. I knew I was going to emotionally explode, so I got up and went outside.

I smoked a few cigarettes, let out some tears, and calmed myself down enough to go back inside. I thought I would be okay, but I wasn’t. The sight and smell of the food made me nauseated. The memories replaying in my head made me sick to my stomach. I wanted to run, but all I could do was walk away. I wandered the neighborhood, smoking my last cigarettes, crying, and blasting my music as loud as it would go so I could drown out the voices in my head.

I eventually found my way back, numbed out from all emotion. But I still couldn’t eat. I felt like anything I put in my mouth would be judged by people, would be judged by her. It felt like I was under control again. Instead of you can’t eat this, you don’t deserve it, it was now you can’t eat this, you don’t need it.

I get it. I’m not a thin girl. I never was. But why do people feel the need to tell me what food I should or shouldn’t need, and what I should be eating? I’m on a high sodium diet, recommended by not one, not two, but three cardiologists. I also have to consume a considerable amount of protein to keep my creatinine levels normal. I eat a lot of vegetables — they are my “safe” food, the food I can always eat no matter what, and they help increase my vitamin levels, which have been dangerously low in the past.

I may be fat, but I struggle with an eating disorder. And no, it’s not binge-eating disorder. I’ve been doing well in recovery for the last several months. I’ve been eating two to three meals a day. I haven’t purged. I haven’t obsessed over counting every calorie and weighing myself every morning. I haven’t had to fight at any meals because I haven’t refused to eat. Although a combination of my knee injury and my heart medication has led to a substantial increase in weight over the last few months, I wasn’t letting it get to me.

But now the devil is back on my shoulder. My ED brain woke up from its peaceful nap and is now wreaking havoc. I’m struggling to eat. I’ve started counting every calorie. I let myself get this way, and now I need to fix it. I need to not be fat — a goal which logically, I know is unachievable, but emotionally, I believe is the cure for what ails me.

Don’t take this the wrong way…it’s amazing how just a few words can really fuck up your recovery.

I still don’t know — what other way was I supposed to take that?

Six Months of Stability

Last Friday marked six months of stability for me.

I use the term stability loosely, because in quite a few ways, I am anything but stable. My health is kind of a mess. My eating disorder has hit some pretty low lows. My emotions waver from non-existent to overwhelming. I’ve been spending 30 to 40 hours a week in intensive group therapy. I am not exactly the picture of stability here, and I know that.

But stability is much more than that. For me, stability started the day I found a safe place to live.

I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought that when I ran away from home and moved down here, that was stability. But I mistook freedom as stability when it really wasn’t. It was a change in environment, an improvement in many aspects, but it wasn’t stability. I tried so hard to move forward by going to therapy twice a week, yet I was still struggling. I was stuck because I was spending all of my energy trying to manage the stress in my environment that I had nothing left to put towards managing myself.

It took a long time (and a bit of outside influence) for me to realize that the way I was living wasn’t healthy or stable. So I worked (with help from others) to change that. I changed my environment. Things started looking up; not great, but getting there.

But that didn’t last, because after a month, I ended up broke and homeless. Well, this is great. Now I am the most unstable I have ever been. I was about to give up. But then, a friend stepped up and offered me a place to live. And that’s when the real change started. Because it was way more than just a place to live.

These past six months have been some of the hardest, yet some of the best months of my life. For the first time, I am living somewhere stable. I don’t have to hide in my bedroom. I don’t have to sleep outside. I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to eat because there is always food available (whether or not I am willing to eat it is another story, but…progress). I don’t have to worry about getting yelled at, or put down, or hurt. I can make mistakes and still be cared for because care isn’t conditional here.

I’m not used to this life. I’ve never had anyone there to tell me I need to eat, that I need to take my medication because I’m getting sick, that I need to go to the doctor, that I need to go to treatment. It’s a completely different dynamic. Before, I could just self-destruct and it wouldn’t matter because no one would notice, no one would care. That’s just not the case any more. I don’t just affect me; I affect others.

There’s been so much change over these last six months. Even though my health has declined a bit, I’ve managed to cope with it somewhat well. There are still (many) times when I need a push to take my medication or to make a doctor’s appointment, but I do it (eventually). I experienced the loss of the first dog I came to love last weekend and I’ve been able to grieve his death with spiraling out of control. That was a first for me. I also had support, and I was able to support others. Another first.

Even in the hardest times, I’ve managed to find happiness in the smallest things. Playing with the dogs. Going out to dinner with the family. Shopping at Walmart on a Saturday. Watching TV with a friend. Playing cards with the kids. Baking cookies and making dinner for the people I care about. These are the things I try to remind myself of when I want to give up. The brief glimmers of something better. The somethings I was never able to do, let alone enjoy before.

I take pride in the small accomplishments. Making it through the Costco parking lot without freezing from fear. Sitting through dinner at a restaurant without having an anxiety attack. Shopping in the grocery store without running away before I’m done. Eating a meal in its entirety. Going to a party without getting drunk. Trying new foods. Going to places I’ve never been before. Little things that no one really celebrates because it’s normal for them. But it has never been normal for me.

Yea, I’m a mess. I can’t work. I survive off medication. I spend most of my days in therapy.

But I’m not the same mess I was before. I have safety and stability. I have food on the table. I have people who listen to me and help me. I have reasons to not give up.

I guess I’m a little more organized chaos and a little less clusterfuck.

Art

I haven’t been able to write much. There’s a lot going on, both inside and outside of myself. I’m hoping to write soon.

But as I continue working to get words on my screen that make sense, I thought I’d share some artwork (though I’m not sure it qualifies as art) that I’ve done in my time at PHP.

I’m not an artistic person. Sitting in an art class makes me want to flee. But it’s not an option when you’re in group. You have to do something.

The first time I was in art, the therapist asked us to create something surrounding the words “I am”. While most people went right to drawing images, my mind went to writing words. But every word that was popping into my head was negative. It wasn’t that those words were untrue — they were my reality for a very long time. But they weren’t anymore. I didn’t want to ignore those parts of me. They still made up who I was. But I am more than that now. So for each truth of my past, I wrote the reality of my present. The totality of who I am.

That was one art class down. Only dozens more to go. So I decided to do a collage. At first, I chose to do one because it would take up a lot of time. I could spend several (collective) hours just flipping through magazines, killing time so I wouldn’t have to do anything artsy. And that’s exactly what I did. I flipped through at least a dozen magazines, cutting out whatever stood out to me. Words, phrases, pictures. Before I knew it, I had a whole baggie full of magazine clippings.

As I went through what I had cut out, I realized that every thing I chose had a purpose. Words that described me. Phrases that inspired me. Pictures that I liked. This collage is me. Every piece has a meaning. Each section is a story. Past. Present. Future. It’s me.

I may not have been able to write much these last few months. But these are my words; just in a different form.

Don’t you know, I’m cured now.

I feel frustrated.

I feel like no matter how much progress I make, it’s not enough.

I am here, but I guess I have to be over there.

I’m a 31 year-old woman with no husband, no children, no job, no financial stability, who’s currently living in the basement of her former manager’s home. I get that is pathetic in more ways than one.

I also struggle to make decisions. Sometimes I only eat because people tell me to eat. Sometimes I only use my nebulizer because people remind me to. Sometimes I have to call for help when I’m stuck in situations and I can’t make a decision, like the times I end up in the hospital. Sometimes I need someone to go to the doctor with me because I know I won’t be as open as I should. Sometimes I need help getting words out and using my voice because I’m still afraid to say anything more than I’m okay.

And I guess that’s not enough. I’ve been 23 months free now, don’t you think I should be cured? Is 23 months enough time to erase more than 29 years of damage?

It’s not. At least not for me. And I realize that can be as frustrating for other people as it is for me. Trust me, I wish I was an independent woman right now, in great health, with a successful career and a family. But I am not. I still need help. I still need direction. I am still learning how to be a normal person.

And I am still trying. Even as my health continues to decline, I am still trying to live whatever life I can. I am still trying to have experiences I never got to have. I am still trying to try.

But I’m not sure it’s enough for some people. They don’t understand why I’m not recovered yet. They can’t comprehend why I’m still not okay. They tell me I haven’t made enough progress. It’s like throwing a 2 year-old orphan out into the world and expecting her to figure out how to get through life on her own before preschool starts.

I had to start from scratch when I escaped 23 months ago. I had to learn a whole new way of life. And admittedly, I didn’t have the very best start with that, either. But I am working on it now. I am in a much better place physically. I have a support system, however small it may be. I am talking about my feelings and things that are bothering me instead of instantly shutting down.

But I still shut down. I’m still not cured. I’m still not at 31 year-old adult level. I’m still a burden on people who I should never have to be a burden to.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m not cured. I’m sorry I haven’t made enough therapeutic progress. I’m sorry I’m not healed. I’m sorry I still fuck shit up. I’m sorry I still need to ask for help.

I’m sorry I’m not where you think I should be. How can I be a role model when no one was ever a role model for me?

I am tired of never being good enough for anyone. I thought that was over now.

Strength

I am strong.

My strength has gotten me through life, and allowed me to continue beating impossible odds.

My strength allowed me to get through my childhood, broken but still alive.

My strength got me to get out of bed every morning, even when I knew the day would inevitably bring me  pain.

My strength carried me through to the day I finally escaped — the day that I needed all of the strength in the world to bring me to freedom.

Strength helped me walk away, run away, far away.

And my strength helps me still today, as I continue to choose to live rather than to die.

I’m not sure where my strength came from. Is it something inside me? Is it in my heart or in my head? Or does it flow through my body like a life force within me? I don’t know where it came from, or even where it is right now. But I know it’s there, helping me fight, helping me stand up when it is so much easier to just lay down and concede.

I share this strength with others every day. I share my story with the world; the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. Because my strength isn’t always so easy to see. But they can see it, sometimes more than I can see it myself. When I feel weak, I am reminded of the strength it took for me to get away. Incredible strength, that not everyone has, but I have it. I always had it. And now my strength gives others hope that they can be strong, too — that they can survive even when it seems impossible.

I used to hate the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” because I believed my experiences showed weakness, not strength. I was standing, breathing, bleeding, but I was dead inside. That wasn’t strength. Strong people don’t feel the way I felt for so long. Strong people don’t feel at all.

But I was strong. My experiences may have knocked me down, but they did not kill me. They made me come back to life stronger than ever, with a will to live and the ability to share that will with the world, to change lives for the better.

My strength gives me hope, even when everything seems hopeless.

Strength is not about winning the battle. It’s about fighting, even when the odds are against you.

I wrote this in group today. I’m not even sure where it came from. I stared at the paper for a while before I even started to write, completely at a loss for words.

What specific attribute, quality, or skill distinguishes you from everyone else? How did you come to develop it? What positive things has it brought to your life? How are you able to share it with others?

What distinguishes me? Nothing. My thoughts automatically went to thinking that I was less than human. Unworthy. How could an unworthy person have anything special about them?

After 10 minutes or so, I started to think of things other people told me about me. I recalled many people speaking of my strength. Oddly, in those moments, I never saw myself as strong. I’d nod my head in agreement, yet inside my head, I was discrediting everything they were saying. I struggle with accepting positive things because I became so accustomed to hearing the negative that positive seems like a foreign concept to me.

I wrote down I am strong. Then it was like something clicked in me. I kept on writing without even thinking of what was coming out on paper. And I ended up with this.

Even after it was done, part of me wanted to rip it up. It doesn’t make any sense. No one will understand this. It’s horrible. I hesitated sharing it with the group because I believed the same thoughts I was having in my head were thoughts that they were going to have as well. Part of me was ashamed.

But I tried to stop the judgments. I took a breath and read it out loud. Even as my voice trembled and my legs and hands shook from anxiety, I read it through until the end. There was something different about reading the words out loud. I wanted to cry, but I held it in. This was my truth, spoken out loud. I made myself vulnerable. I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to share.

But I did, and that alone is an example of strength.