November 11 – 16
As I was talking to my friend on the phone this week, she told me I sounded so much different. She couldn’t really describe it, she just said I sounded stronger. I told her, “I feel like I can finally breathe for the first time in so long.” She said she could hear it in my voice. She compared it to finally feeling like your head is above water.
Before I came into treatment, my head was barely above water. I was almost drowning, unable to breathe. The burdens weighed me down and kept pulling me under. I felt so stuck and hopeless. But this week, the current feels like it is slowing, the water becoming more calm, and I can finally find some footing. The water is only at my chest’s level now. The water is still strong and I can feel the pressure around me, but my head is above the waves. I can finally focus beyond things as simply breathing and surviving. I can actually picture living and maybe even thriving in the distance now. I can see the possibility of a time when I can wade in the shallow water. An island of rest, grace and restoration is in view.
This picture perfectly describes where I was in my 4th week of treatment at Renfrew. I could physically feel the pressure, the anxiety, and the panic as I did before but it was lessening with each day. I was starting to breathe again. I began to speak up a little more in groups. I laughed more. I was engaged and started to do my homework every day for A-Stage. I felt more like myself than I have in a while.
During dinner on Saturday, Nina was sitting across from me and Emma was on my right. I don’t remember what we were talking about but I was in a really great mood. I made a joke and a few of them laughed. Nina said, “This is the most I’ve heard you talk. You’re so quiet and I thought you were just friends with certain people like Sarah and Kelsey. You’re actually really cool.”
“You’re one of my favorite people here so far,” Emma added in, quietly sitting on my right. I had not heard Emma say much of anything since she had been admitted. And I was one of her favorites?! Sometimes the tiniest words of acknowledgment felt huge. Words that meant people see me and they don’t think I’m useless or crazy or disgusting. My good mood continued throughout the next few days.
When I was younger, I spent five years attending Kanakuk camps in Missouri during the summer. Kanakuk is a christian athletic camp and I loved it every year. I would always meet new friends and learn a lot about God. My mom used to always send me with string to make friendship bracelets. I had a book that taught me to do a bunch of different patterns and I would teach my cabin mates how to do it too.
I talked to my mom on the phone last week and she asked me what she could send me in the mail while I was in treatment. I told her that she could send me some of the string I used to use to make bracelets with at camp and some fuzzy socks. My package arrived in the mail and it contained a bag of 105 skeams of craft string. I immediately started making the friendship bracelets again, as if I’d still been making them for the past 12 years. I made one for Sarah, one for Kelsey, and a couple for myself. I asked Liv to pick out colors so I could make one for her. Soon I was inviting everyone to come pick out colors and designs so each girl could have one. I started making them for nurses, practicum students, and for my therapist. I found it was easier to talk during groups when I was keeping my hands busy with bracelet making. My shaky hands always caused me distress, so making bracelets for everyone was therapeutic because I could focus on something else. I also just loved how excited people would look after I gave them the finished product.
Liz connected with my therapist from Arkansas and she said they talked on the phone for 40 minutes, the longest she’s ever spoken to an outpatient therapist. Rebekah emailed Liz all of the writings I had done for her in the past 6 months of therapy. When Liz told me this, I was so happy. I don’t know if I’ve made this clear, but I hate talking. Especially about things that come along with so much emotion and pain. So when Liz was able to read my story and my writing, I felt a huge relief because it meant I had to do less talking. She read a lot of my writing which impressed me because it could have filled a small novel. She told me that it is a good thing that she likes to read because I decided to keep writing to her. And it became so much easier to open up.
Sarah and I were both approved to move to A-Stage this week after our packets were reviewed. We went through our first independent eating meals together and we somehow magically survived. I am so thankful that she moved into the new stages and structures with me, so we could have melt downs together.
Tuesday, I had a session with my dietician during my morning break. I told her that over the weekend I actually felt hunger before dinner, which kind of freaked me out since I’ve been so out of touch with my hunger cues for so long. She asked me if I got a snack at the optional snack time since I was hungry. When I told her no, she looked back and made the realization that I had not eaten a single snack in the four weeks I have been here. She asked me why I never did an optional snack. “I just don’t need to. I already eat a lot at meals.”
We went back and forth about it. I just do not agree that I should be eating more. If anything I need to be eating less than the huge portions at meals. They were probably feeding me 2500 calories a day and I was not about to add on to that with snacks.. It would make me gain weight and it was just purely unnecessary. I also just do not trust myself with snack foods. I would buy snack foods and eat the entire package in one sitting – entire boxes of granola bars, mini packages of pretzels or cookies or chips. She told me that it was not going to hurt me and that snacks are completely normal. There was no way I’d lose control because I would only be given one snack.
So she told me that I’m going to have a snack this week. We scheduled it for today at 2:00 and decided what I would get. I left her office feeling panicked, frustrated, and out of control. I was a little late to A-Stage group, walking in after it had started. Leila was one of the counselors for this group which made me feel better but I was still shaking when I sat own. I turned to the page we would be covering in our packet and the shaking got worse.
During this group, we were to have a snack and practice mindful eating. Leila and Dana, another therapist, brought a tray over to the group that had a box of vanilla wafers and some milk with cups. They told us to come up and grab our snack, portioning it out however we wished. We were allowed to get one cookie or even six cookies. We could get no milk, half a cup, or even grab the container. There were no guidelines on portions. But everyone there was paying attention and watching. I continued to shake. I went up and grabbed two vanilla wafers, and poured some milk because my mouth felt bone dry.
We went around the group and talked about how we were feeling before we started the mindful eating activity. I told them all how Janel had just informed me that I had to have a snack today so I was already anxious and shaking. I told them my thoughts, “I should not be eating snacks and now I’m going to have to eat two today. I can’t believe this is right before lunch. I do not need them. These are sugary and unnecessary and I am going to gain weight. I feel disgusting. I was not expecting this. No one told me that we’d have a snack today.” I told them about my physical sensations which were feeling like my mouth was dry, my entire body was shaking and tears were coming to my eyes. I felt hot, flushed, and like my heart was beating faster. My thoughts were racing and I felt like I was going to crawl out of my skin.
I’m feeling all of these things all over again writing about it in this coffee shop in Oxford because I remember it so vividly. I had to step away from this writing and come back later because I was starting to get dizzy from the panic.
Dana asked if I had any urges and I told her that I really did not want to have this snack now. I wanted to skip my snack later or push it to tomorrow. I wanted to hide because everyone was looking at me and would see me eat these cookies. I wanted to get up and go wash my hands because they felt grainy and covered in crumbs and I felt just so gross.
Everyone else talked about how they were feeling and we started the activity. We had to look at the cookies closely, paying attention to all of their golden brown and grainy details. We smelled the cookies and smelled the vanilla. I put the cookie in my mouth because that is what I was supposed to do. I started chewing, feeling like there was cement in my mouth. I took a drink of milk so I could swallow. I was unable to be mindful any more. I was panicking now. I couldn’t stop shaking. I looked down and started crying, feeling so stupid and out of control over two tiny cookies.
I rushed out of the room as soon as I could and Sarah followed me because she knew something was up. I looked at her and the tears continued. “This is the most ridiculous thing ever. I am having a panic attack right now over TWO COOKIES. This is completely ridiculous.” She told me that she knows. She had a panic attack over fake spaghetti yesterday in group. “What a pair we are.” I laughed.
We walked over to the dining hall and waited outside. I saw Janel and told her I had a snack in group. “That means I don’t have to have one later, right?” I asked her only half joking. Dana came up behind me and said, “NO. That does not count as her snack. Don’t let her fool you, Janel.”
The lunch room opened and I went inside. I got in line and realized that we were having pizza for lunch. The shaking got worse again and I went out into the hall and started to hyperventilate. Dana followed me out and she tried to comfort me. “Why can’t I breathe right now?” I asked her frantically. “Because you’re anxious.” She replied. She was not the most comforting person I had ever interacted with but she was able to talk me back up to go into the dining hall. I later found out the she told my therapist I had seemed angry and aggressive, which is literally the first time those words have ever been used to describe me. I was just panicked and desperate for relief.
I went in and ate the ridiculously cheesy piece of pizza through tears. This is so stupid. Two cookies. A piece of pizza. A simple snack. I am insane. The girls lifted me up during after meal and told me kind things. Then I was able to have my snack with one of my favorite people, my aftercare coordinator who is also the art therapist.
We started really planning what I was going to do when I discharged since it would be relatively soon. We began looking at resources in the Oxford area and we kept coming up short. It was impossible to find therapists, nutritionists, and psychiatrists. There were no Eating Disorder Anonymous groups or anything similar in my area. There were no PHP or IOP programs near me. I sat there in silence completely freaking out. She looked at me and comforted me and said that we are going to make sure I have a team to go back to. I would not be discharging to nothing and she would find me resources. But I still left thinking of the worst case scenarios.
She asked me what I looked forward most to going home. I said my dog. She laughed and said sometimes she feels bad for all of the parents and families because patients always want to see their dog first.
I left her office and went back downstairs. I vented all my frustrations and struggles from the day out into group, something I never would have done five weeks ago. We had a group afterwards with a new therapist named Kate. She had us go through a worksheet where we identified a few of our biggest fears for after we leave treatment. I filled the sheet quickly.
Then we went through and we reappraised the fear and wrote a comforting, positive thought to remind ourselves of when we are feeling fears. I thoroughly enjoyed and greatly needed this exercise. I wrote down my fear of not having a team or support when I go back to Oxford. I feared the stress of not having a job or a plan. I feared having to continue to be vulnerable with new people in the outside world who don’t get it and could never understand. I feared the freedom.
I went through and identified re-appraisals. My aftercare coordinator would find me a team. They would not send me home with nothing. Getting a job and having a plan are not first priority – my health and wellbeing is right now. A job will come along when I am ready. Vulnerability will continue to build connections and help me heal. It will help me overcome and make me stronger. I can handle the freedom.
To end the group, Kate had us turn our worksheet over and write a letter to our fears.
You’ve been a close friend to me for so long. You accompanied me to sleep at night. You attended parties and sleepovers with me, latched on to me while at school and at band performances. You’ve been constant and consistent and I knew you would always be there for me.
You kept me safe. You provided me with comfort. You reminded me not to take up too much space, to always be good, to follow the rules. You whispered into my ears that people could hurt me, that things could go wrong. You teamed up with Anxiety to prepare me fully for the future. I understand where you came from. I understand how you’ve helped me. I understand how you’ve been functional. I understand how you’ve kept me safe and comfortable.
But, Fear, you’ve taken a little bit too much control now. You have been holding so much power over me. Every time I’d close my eyes, every time I took a breath, you’d be there. You held on tightly. You took away my breath and my mind. With every single relationship, you whispered, “This is going to hurt. Don’t trust. Hide.” You stood between every human being I had contact with. You wouldn’t let me leave my house, leave my bed. You starved me. You stole. You robbed me. You took control until I was this empty shell. Just full of nothing but you, nothing but fear.
So I am writing this letter to you, Fear, to say goodbye, to start cutting ties. I don’t want to be held back by you anymore. Thank you for your safety and your comfort, for your momentary control and your consistency. But I want to be free. I want relationships. I want to break down the walls that you and I have built. I want to make clear, open spaces for opportunity and for love. I want to embrace faith, I want to choose openness and trust. And I cannot do this with your overwhelming presence.
I know you’ll still be there. I know I’ll hear you loudly for a long time. But I am going to start calling the shots now. I am not going to let you dictate my actions. I am not going to act or hide out of Fear any more. I want to be more than an empty shell, afraid of everything.
Thank you for your function throughout my life, but I want more. And I am going to chase after it now.