Friday, February 28, 2014

EDA Week 2014: Sock it to Eating Disorders #5

Today my socks are indescribable. Seriously, I can't describe them. I guess I can say that they have white toes with white and brown stripes on the bottom of the feet and a white and brown pattern on the top of the feet.

They are...a little out of control. A little hodgepodge. And that's what makes this so relevant. 

I mentioned back in my first post that we aren't in control. Not after a while anyway. And I can't describe the feeling. It's just...out of control.

But I will try and describe my view point. I think there is this stigma on eating disorders (and all mental illnesses) because people don't understand that they aren't something that can just be switched on and off. But you can't. 

Some people may take offense to this, but eating disorders are a lot like cancer. We don't want them, we didn't ask for them, and we can't just make them go away. I dare you to ask someone with cancer why they don't just get rid of it as people are want to do with those who have an eating disorder. It won't go down well with them just as it doesn't go down well with us. 

I was a slave to my eating disorder. I really was. I just couldn't eat. After a while, I wasn't the one deciding...anything. It spiraled and it spiraled fast. 

And even now I have to monitor myself. Even now I sometimes look in the mirror and think awful, awful things about myself. I even relapsed last year between September and January and limited all of my food intake trying to get back to perfect.

What I'm trying to say is that...we can't help it. So don't say insensitive things that imply that we do. Because it makes me at least think that I've failed and that just makes everything worse.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

EDA Week 2014: Sock it to Eating Disorders #4

The socks I donned today were my white ones with brown polka dots.

Before I say anything else let me just say, polka dots are awesome. If you don't own an article of clothing with polka dots please do yourself a favour and go buy something spotty and dotty. You won't regret it.

Anyway, today's socks are simple to explain. They represent everyone out there who is struggling or has struggled with an eating disorder. 

How? Easy.

When you're struggling with those feelings, however they may present themselves, you feel utterly alone. "But Erin, your socks have lots of polka dots!" Yes they do, but you didn't let me finish. Even though you feel totally alone, there are hundreds, thousands of people out there who are feeling the same or similar feelings as you. 

I think one of the best ways we can preven future eating disorders is to let people know that they are not alone. That there is someone out there dealing with the same things they are. That there is someone to talk to who will understand when things get rough.

So...I'm here for you.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

EDA Week 2014: Sock It To Eating Disorders #3

My socks for today: mix matched argyle socks. One blue & green and another yellow & grey.

I don't fully know why I chose these socks for today. I've had them for years. Both pairs have giant holes in the heels and a couple in the toes. It's so bad actually that I have to wear extra socks under them to protect my feet and hide the fact that they are torn.

Oh hold on. I think I maye just found a reason.

In high school I had a nickname: Ella. After I was diagnosed I started taking measures to make sure I didn't fall back into habits. One of these measures was to have meetings with the school counsellor during lunch. Then I could talk about my day and she would eat lunch with me. I don't know if I can thank her enough for taking her lunch time to sit and eat with me. It helped a lot in the beginning and kept helping when I was going through rough times. 

Anyway, one day she said to me that she was surprised that it was me. She said I seemed so confident about who I was that she never would have guessed it would have been me. At that point she paused and said "It's like you're two different people. Ella an Erin." 

I thought about that for a while. And, while I don't really think I'm two different people, it did make me realise how good I was at hiding. 

No one knew that I took diet pills from ages 12-13. No one knew that I went home and didn't eat. 

I hid that I was broken. Much like I hide that these socks are broken. 

Most people hide their eating disorders. We don't flaunt them. Part of that is because it's embarrassing. There is such a stigma attached to eating disorders that speaking up and saying "I have a mental disorder." is hard. Part of it is because of ignorance. Heck, I don't want to deal with some of the ignorant things that people say to me. But I think most of it is because we don't want help. We don't want people to realise we are different and try to change it. It's like an abusive relationship. You know it's wrong, you know you should leave, but you don't want people to find out because they'll voice what you already know and make it impossible to pretend that everything is alright.

I'm not hiding anymore. This is me stopping. I know who I am, and I'm just not going to hide who that is anymore. 

I guess I should rid of these socks. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

EDA Week 2014: Sock it to Eating Disorders #2

Today's socks are my "I heart my Labrador" socks. They are white with black labs all over them. I bought these socks nearly 4 years ago in San Fransisco. I know what you might be thinking; "Why does this person know exactly when she bought a pair of socks?" Well, I know because I bought them about a week after I returned my very first Guide Dog Puppy for her formal training. Freya is a sweet, spunky, little, black lab. She is a special dog in so many ways that I can't even describe. 

People ask me all the time why I continue to raise Guide Dogs when it hurts to say good-bye so much. I always give a cookie cutter response of "Yeah, it hurts. But it's so worth it." And that's totally true. I feel a great sense of satisfaction whenever one of my pups reaches the end of their in training phase (even my broken forever girl, Hilly). And it's the best feeling ever to know that in some small way you've helped someone regain their independence. But that's not the whole story. 

I'm indebted to Guide Dogs. I'm indebted to that little, black lab they placed into my arms on December 20, 2008. Freya saved me. 

Raising a Guide Dog Puppy takes a lot work. You're in charge of this thing that depends on you for everything. And before you can take care if it you have to be ok. It requires you to take care of yourself. And I needed that. I needed Freya. 

I love her. She gave me confidence. She made me want to be healthy so that I could be there for her. So, these socks are for her. They are Freya's socks. A tribute to my first, black labby girl. And to my second sweet, broken, black lab who makes me want to continue to be healthy. 

To GDB I will always be grateful for giving me a chance. For helping find my passion in life. For giving me my Freya to whom I will always owe a debt of gratitude. 

Also, for giving me all of my pups. They have all meant and been something special to me. Freya just had the luck to be the one to see me through the realization that I was sick and my first round of meds. Love you sweet girl!

EDA Week 2014: Sock it to Eating Disorders #1

My over the knee, bright, purple socks.

Hopefully you all will excuse the fact that this is a day late. I ended up spending quite a lot of time last night in a ton of pain and then a good 6 hours at the emergency room. Fun right? I'm fine, but it did mean that I missed tae kwon-do training and got very little sleep. And of course, was not actively able to focus on anything except for the fact that I was definitely dying.

Anyway, long story short. You'll get 2 socks today!

These were my pair of choice for the very first day of EDA Week 2014. They may not seem like much. Simple over the knee, bright purple socks. But, I chose them for a couple of reasons.

Reason the First: They are super practical for Aberdeen weather. They're thick and keep my knees and everything below nice a warm.

Reason the Second: They look awesome with my boots. Let's be honest, they look awesome with everything.

Reason the Third: I like purple. Purple is pretty.

These all may seem like silly reasons. Reasons that have nothing to do with Eating Disorders. But take a closer look for a moment.

Do you see it yet?

If you don't bear with me. The first reason I mention that they keep me warm. When you suffer from an eating disorder you often don't think about what's best for you. You aren't consciously thing, "Hm, what can I do today to be unhealthy?" but there is certainly something blocking you from eating or stopping when somewhere, deep down, you know you should. You know that it would be healthy to do so. But you're not in the driver's seat. In the past 6 years I have learned a lot about listening to my body and giving it what it needs. I can now actively think about eating. Sure, I still have to remind myself to eat on occasion, but I listen to those hunger pains now and give my body what it needs to remain happy and healthy.

Now, what does them being just generally awesome socks have to do with eating disorders? They are awesome. I was wearing them. By extension I was awesome. Self-image is a huge problem when it comes to eating disorders and it has taken me such a long time to say, "I'm awesome!" Cause I really am. Sure, some days I don't remember this. Some days I fall back into old ways of thinking. But a majority of the time I can honestly say that I'm a pretty cool person and that is a HUGE step for me.

Besides the fact that purple is one of the most awesome colours on this planet and everyone who doesn't like it should go and have their head checked (I am aware of the irony of that statement), one of the hardest things I have ever had to do is become comfortable with who I am. I'm still working on it really, but I am now comfortable with most of who I am. And part of who I am is purple. I honestly LOVE purple. Everything about it makes me happy. (I also like green, but I don't have green sock in this style.)

So these socks celebrate some of the accomplishments I have achieved in the past 6 years of recovery. They celebrate my learned ability to keep myself healthy, my understanding of the fact that I am awesome, and my acceptance of me. They're pretty cool socks when you think about it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Hello Blogging World! I know I’ve been MIA for a while. The main reason for this is because Blogger was in a poopy mood through all of my winter break and wouldn’t let me post anything and then when I got back to Aberdeen I had exams to worry about (I passed both, one with flying colours thank you for asking). But, I also wanted my first post back to be big. You know, something that you all could really sink your teeth into. So, here we go:

Today starts Eating Disorder Awareness week here in the UK.

It’s a subject that is close to my very being. And it’s a topic that I don’t think is discussed enough. There is still this shroud of mystery around eating disorders and a lot of people have skewed ideas of what they actually are. I don’t know if this romantic idea of eating disorder is because those who are survivors of eating disorders (yes, survivors) are embarrassed to speak out and share their stories or if it’s something else entirely. But, I don’t think that there is enough information out there on this particular subject. My theory is this; the more people talk about it and “come out” (so to speak) about their eating disorders the more people will come to accept and, hopefully, understand them. And, as it’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I’d like to do my part to spread awareness.

So, here’s my story.

I started cutting my meals when I was just 10 years old. I don’t quite remember why. I guess I matured a
little quicker than the other 5th graders and someone said something about it and I must have taken it to heart. Anyway, by the time I was going through middle school I was taking in an average of 500-900 calories a day (trust me…I counted). I was (and still am) an active child which meant that I was burning more than taking in. And yet, I still felt ugly. By the time I left middle school I was basically starving myself because the thinner I was the more perfect I was.  

I kept up this pattern for starvation for years. I went into high school only eating one meal a day which generally wasn’t over 100 calories. Those pangs of hunger became just as much a part of me as my smile or personality. They were actually more a part of me for a time. They were a constant reminder of what I was doing. And what I was doing was good. After the first couple of months I was good at ignoring them. Giving in would mean I was weak.

Of course, eventually, starving myself wasn’t enough. I couldn’t see myself getting thinner anymore (not that I would ever be thin enough mind you). So, I started spending my allowance on diet pills. You’re supposed to be 18 to buy diet pills, but it was surprisingly easy to get past that little barrier. I would bike to the grocery store, get my little basket, and fill it with cheap useless stuff though would hide my secret stash of diet pills. Then I went to self check out. I don’t know if the early self check outs weren’t all that advanced or if my local grocery store just didn’t care, but I was never stopped and asked my age. I tried to stop plenty of times, but I was always so close to my goal weight (which lowered every time I reached it). The only thing that stopped me was the fact that the grocery store got rid of self check outs. But, by that time I was taking laxatives which my father bought since I was “constipated”.

At my lowest weight I was just under 100 pounds.

Eventually, I had some stomach problems. I had horrible cramps that I couldn’t ignore which was weird since I had gotten so good at ignoring those pesky hunger pains. But these were different. It felt like someone had taken knife and plunged it into my lower abdomen and was constantly twisting it. I think I may have fainted as well. I don’t really remember. I know that occasionally I would wake up in my room in random positions not really remembering ever deciding to take a nap, but I ignored that for a while. Until these pains started. So, I went to the doctors. He poked and prodded and squeezed and squished my stomach. He looked at me with concern when my weight was taken. Took some x-rays. Really, it was kind of a blur. The short story is that my bowels weren’t working. They were essentially shutting down.

It was scary.

It was about that time that I decided that there was something wrong. That it wasn’t normal to look in the mirror and see yourself as fat when you were under 100lbs. That it wasn’t normal to take your weight every hour. That it wasn’t normal to feel hungry all the time. That I wasn’t normal.

I started speaking to my psychologist. I was shy and reserved and had a lot of trouble adjusting when my parents got divorced so I had been seeing her for a while. I think she knew before I said anything. Either way, she referred me to a child psychiatrist since I was still a minor. I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa (AN) which my psychiatrist believed was due to an underlying anxiety disorder which may have been caused by obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). We talked about my options and for a while, I tried to just deal with it. When that didn’t go so well I made the decision to go onto anti-anxiety medication and really start getting better.

So, here I am today. 6 years after diagnosis, 4 years in…remission I guess, 3 years off of medication, 1 relapse last year. I’m finally at a healthy weight. After 6 years, my body is more or less healthy again. 6 years is a long time...

There are a couple of things that I want to highlight about my story before I finish with this post.

I read a commit somewhere online a while ago. I don’t really remember where or by whom, but I remember it going something like this:

I don’t get anorexics. Why don’t they grow up and just eat a fucking cheeseburger?

As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, this upset me for two reasons. First, how insensitive is that comment? I mean seriously? But that brings me to reason the second. Look at how ignorant he/she was. I’m here to tell everyone that eating disorders are NOT about the food. There is always an underlying reason for it. For me, it was control and perfectionism. I could talk a lot about my dysfunctional household growing up or the image of women today’s society is blasting from all directions, but instead I’ll say that not eating made me feel like I had some sort of control over my life. Not eating made me feel like I could be perfect. I couldn’t just “grow up and eat a fucking cheeseburger.” Because food wasn’t the problem. My brain was. Eating Disorders are, at their core, mental disorders. To me, that comment is the same as telling someone with Schizophrenia to grow up and stop having manic episodes.

Keeping in mind that Eating Disorders are mental problems, those of us who experience them don’t have any more control over their onset than a cancer patient. Every time I hear someone even imply that I actively chose to starve myself all I can think is, “Oh, you mean I should have eaten the food?! Now why didn’t I fucking think of that!? That’s a brilliant idea!” Seriously people, we know that we should “eat” the food, or not eat the food depending on the eating disorder, but it’s like someone or something else had taken over your body. I have often referred to myself as a slave to my eating disorder. I did what it told me to do while the logical, smart Erin was locked up in a cage somewhere in my mind shouting, “Eat!” over and over.

Sorry, I got a little angry there.

Anyway, as I must quickly dress and rush out of the house for a poster presentation which I am freaking out over I’ll tell you all what you can expect from me during EDA Week 2014. For the next week I’ll be participating in “Sock It” to Eating Disorders started be beat. Basically I’ll be wearing silly socks all week to bring awareness to eating disorders.   Hopefully people will notice and ask and I’ll be able to talk a little about it. Which means that every day I’ll be posting a picture of my awesome socks and explain why I chose them. So, you all have that to look forward to! Hopefully I’ll give some more information about eating disorders as well.