Every morning before they leave for work, my roommates ask me a variation of the same question: “So what are you going to do today?”
I try to come up with something productive sounding – cleaning my car, grocery shopping, canceling my gym membership, write, paint, anything. Because I can’t just say, “I have absolutely nothing planned and I may do absolutely nothing at all.”
But that’s the truth. I have absolutely nothing planned. Most nights I go to bed with nothing planned for the next day. Maybe a therapy appointment. Maybe a babysitting gig. Maybe the next episode of a new Netflix series. But usually it’s nothing.
I was so anxious for this place. The three weeks I was in Arkansas after treatment, I was so anxious to come back to Oxford. There will be nothing to do. I’ll get so bored. I’ll relapse, I’ll be too lonely. I’m so happy and surrounded by love here in Arkansas. I will have no one and nothing to keep me busy, distracted, or productive in Oxford. The thought of having no one around and nothing planned and no routine was terrifying to me.
I talked to so many people about moving back to Fayetteville – Rebekah, my parents, Sarah, my brothers, anyone who would lend me an ear. I made a lengthy pro and con list, which obviously showed that Fayetteville was the better option. Everyone told me that it was obvious, I should move back to Fayetteville. It basically came down to I want to be somewhere with the most control. I want familiar and comfort. I want distractions and productivity to feel important and successful. I want to be around the people who know me and support me and that I know love me. I wanted to stay in Fayetteville which is full of people I know and places that could keep me busy. I wanted to move back so badly. I wanted to feel safe and like I have accountability. It consumed my thoughts for those few weeks. But for some reason there was something missing. Why don’t I just move back? What is holding me back?
I am a planner. I used to plan out every second of every day. I’d schedule work and friends and coffee and running and church and cleaning back to back to back to back and I’d have to write “Take a shower” and “sleep” in my planner or else I wouldn’t make time for it.
Am I scared to go against my “plan” of being in Oxford? Of my plan of working with this team here? Would going against that make me a failure, yet again? Would I disappoint people?
Last January when I called to make my first therapy appointment with Rebekah, we were talking about when I could come in that week. She said she could do Wednesday at 1:30pm. I said that that was perfect and I could drive straight to her office, 20 minutes away from campus in Springdale, after I got off from my work shift at 1:00.
She said, “Well I don’t want you to have to rush straight here. Let’s leave some time for some self care after work. How about 2:30?”
I agreed to this. But what am I supposed to do with an hour in between? Or really just about 40 minutes because it’ll take time to get out of the HPER since I talk to everyone on my way out. And it’ll take me twenty minutes to drive there. Plus I want to get there early, at least fifteen minutes. Maybe earlier since I’ve never been there before and I may have trouble finding it. That does not leave me much time to do anything productive between work and the appointment and it felt like this small window would just be wasted time.
This concept of “self-care” was foreign to me. The only self-care I knew of was getting my nails done. But that was expensive and I was broke and even if I wasn’t, 30 minutes is not enough time for that. I wished that I would have just insisted on scheduling it directly after work so I wouldn’t have to scramble for something to make of the wasted minutes. Something to keep my mind distracted from the guilt and the grief and the fear in those minutes.
I didn’t realize that simply taking a breath in silence could be self-care. I should have written, “Take a deep breath” more often in my planner.
Today was full of “wasted minutes.” Unplanned, no routine. No meetings or clocked working time, social gatherings, studying, appointments, errands. My planner is blank. Nothing. Just me and my thoughts and feelings sitting here on my couch. Which is actually Beau’s couch because he has occupied this piece of furniture far more than any human has.
The past few weeks, really, have been “wasted minutes.” But are they wasted? Are they pointless, really?
Maybe it is my ever-present guilt about absolutely everything telling me they are wasted. Or my fear of failure, of “bad,” of imperfect and.. ordinary. Rebekah said it makes sense for me to have the constant fear that the bottom will always drop out from under me. Probably a combination of all of the above, I don’t know.
Maybe (definitely) it is my need to be constantly busy and productive. I need to make a plan. I need to follow a plan. I need to be checking off boxes and accomplishing a specific, drawn out, perfectly structured, fail-proof plan.
It is very tempting for me not to feel productive in my usual ways – to starve or binge or control my food. When I look down at the scale in the morning and the number is smaller, I feel like I have achieved something. I feel productive and successful. Working for that number to be smaller makes me feel productive and successful. It gives me something to work for, something to do.
When the number is too big, it gives me something to do tomorrow – to be hungry. To weigh myself twelve more times. To run and to distract. To obsess over food and numbers and weight. To purge the guilt away. To plan how to be smaller. To check these boxes. Either way it keeps my head occupied and it makes me feel like I have control over.. something. Anything. I just need that sense of control. The sense of productivity and business. But I know the number will never be small enough. I will become more and more obsessed. It will consume me again. This extreme control will lead me to losing all of the control. Please try to remember this, Olivia.
So I’m trying. I give in to that temptation more than I’d like to admit. I just do not know how to just sit in silence with my own thoughts. Even if I don’t give in to these thoughts to control my weight and how much space I’m taking up, I am still trying to avoid. Instead of binge eating, I binge write, I binge paint, I binge watch a show on Netflix.
I watched the entire season of “You” on Netlix today. But that is mostly because it is completely insane and I had to see how it ended.
I sit in a coffee shop, drinking bottomless black coffee. I look up after finishing two blog posts and realize I’ve been sitting here in this spot for over six hours. I missed lunch. I’m still not hungry. But I eat my “lunch” at 3pm because I am supposed to. I’m not hungry for dinner, I go to bed early.
I sit in my floor, no desk available, and paint from breakfast to when my roommates get home from work and finish their meetings at 8:00 pm or later. With spare time, I find something, anything, to avoid acknowledging the thoughts and feelings that accompany being alone.
I do not know how to do anything else. I do not know hot to not “binge and restrict my emotions” as Liz refers to it. I do not know how to just feel. To sit with it. To accept it instead of avoiding. To let it go instead of hiding. To let go of productivity. To let go of control. How do I let go of control?
I mean, at least I’m painting and writing and doing puzzles and watching netflix and making bracelets right? I’m not hurting or destroying myself.. I’m creating. That’s better, right?
I’m not sure who’s permission I’m asking for to be “okay” or to at least be “better” than I was before. I’m not sure who I want to justify my actions for me. Every second is either feeling like I am failing at my eating disorder or failing at recovery. Failing at being small enough or failing at being normal. Failing at being enough in any which way. Someone please convince me I’m not failing at something. Anything.
I’m just not sure. Am I processing now? Is this me sitting with it? Or am I avoiding again?Am I binge writing, or is this working through thoughts? I feel like I’m always tip-toeing that line.
Today is one of those days. They come and go. In full vulnerability, these days have been coming a lot in the past few weeks. The days I have no idea what I am doing. No idea if I’m doing anything right. Days I wonder if I am sitting here alone in my townhouse simply failing. I am living out my fear of being lonely and unproductive here in Oxford.. with absolutely no plan. A self-fulfilling prophecy, really.
Here we are again, all or nothing. A common destination I find for myself. In an extreme. I have spent the past 5 years, maybe longer, living out plans. Planning plans. Scheduling and rushing around and filling time. Busy, busy, busy. Productive and achieving and accomplished. Doing everything, no rest. And now I’m sitting here, doing.. nothing. I need balance. As usual.
While I was in Austin, Texas, visiting my older brother and his girlfriend for new years, I was practically set on my decision to move back to Fayetteville. I was 99.9% decided. I am moving back. It will be better for me. I have it planned out. I will get a job and be around my favorite people and I will be so happy! I have a plan. But can I go against this plan I’ve set out here in Oxford? The plan that my aftercare coordinator helped me to set up?
I was in a Sprouts grocery store on New Years Day. I was trying to buy some black eyes peas and greens, to ensure Daniel, Julia, and I brought luck into the New Year. An employee let me know that Sprouts had been completely sold out of black eyed peas for a week. I wandered around the store for a bit longer, looking at things I wanted to eat. I’d pick up something to buy and then put it back – too expensive, too sweet, looks too dangerously good, I don’t need it. What if I bought it and I couldn’t stop eating? This game is exhausting to play. And it occurs with every trip to the grocery.
While I was examining a container of white chocolate covered pretzels, I received a text message from an unknown number. I walk away from the pretzels and read the message. Someone I worked with at Ole Miss and went to church with in Oxford gave my number to a family as one of their trusted babysitters. I continued to wander throughout the aisles. She was asking me about how much time I had and what my schedule looked like.
Do I tell her I’m not coming back to Oxford? My gut told me to give it a chance. We set up a time to meet the day after I get home from Texas. Worse case scenario is that I meet them and it isn’t a good fit and I still go back to Fayetteville. I almost hoped it wouldn’t be a good fit, further proof I needed to move.
I fly back into Memphis around 11:30pm on Saturday night and my roommate picks me up from the airport. It takes about an hour to get back to our townhouse in Oxford. I don’t get to sleep until about 1 or 2 am. I sleep in late and then walk out my front door, down the steps to my car to drive over to this family’s house. My car is completely dead. I left one of my lights on inside for the entire week I was in Texas.
My roommate gives me a ride to their house and I am almost late. I text the woman who contacted me a few days ago that I am there because a sign above the doorbell read, “Do not ring! Sleeping baby!”
She comes to the door and welcomes me in. She is due to have her second baby any day now and her sweet two year old walks into the room and smiles at me. I sit down on the couch and we start to make small talk. This family is so sweet, I remind myself there is no pressure here and I answer their questions about where I grew up, where I went to school.
She begins to tell me what she does. She is a registered dietician who specializes in eating disorders. I freeze. What?
I asked if our mutual friend gave them any information about me when she recommended me as a nanny. “No, not really. She just said you were a trusted babysitter.”
I don’t even think, I just react. “Well I just got out of treatment for an eating disorder about a month ago!” I say, almost excitedly. Did I really just blurt that out? For some reason I felt pressure now. I receded a bit back into my head.
She tells me how she had an eating disorder in college, and even after, she didn’t want to give it up. I don’t know what to say. Is this real? Someone had to have set this up.
Her husband asks me if I want some tea. Maybe he can see me shaking.
He reads me the tea selection from their cabinet and I choose country peach. He begins to prepare the tea for me.
We start talking more about the nannying job. We talk a little more about them and about the babies and what they’ll need. They still want me for this job knowing the information I’ve shared with them. I am quiet, the situation not going as planned.
The husband looks at me and tells me that they are both big advocates for mental health. He works with veteran affairs on campus and does writing classes with veterans and family members. They both assure me that they work with individuals who struggle with PTSD in their fields of work and that everyone struggles with trauma in their own way. “I hope that you know that you are safe here,” her husband confides in me.
I do not say much. I did not expect this. I could feel my plan of moving back to Fayetteville imploding inside of me. What do I want? What is best for me? What should I do? This is not according to plan.
But it feels God-ordained. She tells me that she’s been praying for who would be taking care of her babies since last May. I had been praying about my plans and what to do in this season of uncertainty. Another reminder to let go, there are plans bigger than my own.
I am able to be open with them. They still respect and support me and trust me to care for their babies. I was floored. I could not believe how good this sounded.
So I scrapped the plan. I am staying in Oxford. I will start nannying on Friday for this family that has been praying for me unknowingly for almost a year.
There have been about three weeks since this decision and I keep telling myself, “It’ll get better once I start nannying, once I’m busy and making money, I’ll feel better. I will eat more.” After telling myself the weeks before this, “It’ll be better once I move back to Fayetteville.” Once I take an art class, once I open an Etsy shop, once my lease is up here, once I keep writing.
Liz sent me an email a couple of days after I discharged from Renfrew. She gave me advice that has been stuck in my head today.
Remember to hold onto what makes you happy and not make conditions for what will make you accept yourself; because if happiness isn’t found here now, it won’t be found there then.
If I can’t find happiness and balance and acceptance here now, I won’t find it there then. I will be the same person on Friday at 8:30am when I’m nannying that I am right now in this moment. If I am not happy sitting here as I am I won’t be happy then. I will be distracted and having fun with a sweet two year old who loves books and baby dolls, but it isn’t going to “fix” or change anything about me. I will be making money, I will be able to tell my roommates, “I’m working today,” when they ask what my plans are. But I’ll still be me.
I really do think that one lesson I am supposed to be learning right now is trust. Rest. Don’t plan out every second of every day. Don’t try and build your ten year plan. Just breathe. And be happy. And learn from the resources that have been placed in your life.
Give up control. Give it up, it isn’t your responsibility to bear.
Be happy here now. In this season of unknown. In a place with rest. Don’t wallow in it and let it consume you. But create and be content. And flexible. Forgive yourself. Be nice to yourself.
Give up control of how you look, the stupid number on that scale, the standards that you’ve set for yourself. Give it up. Find peace. Find balance. Find acceptance. Accept this season. Trust that there are plans bigger than your own. You will be taken care of.
Definitely easier said than done. But I am trying.