Grieving and Growing

Many researchers have laid out a basic template for experiencing grief, but there’s so much more between the lines.

When hearing the word “grief,” we automatically think of the cliche five stages of emotions in a neat little line, all arising when a loved one dies.

Well, think again.

In my studies in grieving, which already remains abstract when we all interpret and experience grief differently, I’ve found myself resonating with the topic much more than I had anticipated.

I’m blessed to say that at this point, my first major loss was earlier this year, and that was my dog. I have drifted apart from friends, but no immediate loved ones have lost their lives. Again, for that, I am so grateful.

But I believe grief can manifest itself in situations beyond mortal loss. In life, we’re constantly changing, constantly losing and gaining, so inevitably we react to these changes in both positive and negative ways. And just because we’ve felt a certain way toward a particular change doesn’t mean we’ll always experience the same reaction. Again, it’s quite a difficult topic to pin down.

At the end of class the day we discussed grief, we were asked to answer the question, “What is your most vivid experience with grief?” Although prior to this lecture I had never considered answering the way I did, I felt compelled to say my most immediate, emotional encounter with grief was the loss of myself. The loss of the identity that my eating disorder so desperately craves.

I can still remember so clearly the first time my family had an intervention with me. The first time I myself realized I had a problem that I was ignoring and outright denying. I was at a point where I especially could not see myself as I was, malnourishing myself. Constantly thinking about food and my body. Losing a noticeable amount of weight in a short time. 

As I said, I was in denial that my mindset and intended lifestyle were not sustainable. That my “goal weight” and “ideal body” weren’t possible without slowly killing myself to achieve them. 

When realization hit me like a ton of bricks, I cried harder than I had ever had in my life. I remember going downstairs to my bathroom and just sobbing, getting so furious with myself that I had done what I had. That I had spent the last few months completely consumed in a daze of self-harm.

Accepting my reality, the stage I was at, the consequences I’d face if I continued, was my only way to truly begin recovery. Inevitably, I have frequently ebbed and flowed through various points of recovery, but knowing my mental illness and how it looks to me is crucial in responding to its corresponding emotions.

I have often bargained with myself, thinking of denying my eating disorder’s tendencies to become healthier, an internal battle waged that for most people wouldn’t take a second glance at making a decision. Or bargaining that certain behaviors aren’t “that bad,” that my weight isn’t “too low.” Again, acceptance and tenancity to counter these thoughts are key.

So grief is just an aspect of my psyche. I grieve the loss of an identity that has a perfect body, that can do everything with ease, that thrives on being the small, petite one. I grieve for my mind that is genetically always prone to self-harm. I grieve for an unattainable fantasy that I can always be the same size forever, making me feel special and unique.

I don’t hate this grief. It’s welcomed like an old friend. It has made me more mindful, more determined, more empathetic. It’s not some organized process you finish in due time, but a new perspective to value.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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More Fiber?

A heaping spoonful every morning…except I don’t see too dramatic of a change.

In my latest pursuit of finding what works best for me alleviating my digestive woes, my digestive health doctor suggested to me what I did not want to hear….”Eat more fiber.”

You wouldn’t think something as simple as fiber would fire me up, but it does. First off, my first doctor I admitted to struggling with my irritable bowel symptoms told me to eat more fiber. That was his only suggestion. I felt pretty distraught, feeling like I was wading through mud with no true answer in sight.

Again, why so hung up on fiber? I didn’t want to be that stereotypical health nut that told the doctor I live a vegan lifestyle and that I somehow know more about medicine than he or she does. I just wanted to point out that on a daily basis, I eat a very healthy diet, one that already includes plenty of fiber for my daily needs. But obviously, my food consumption wasn’t helping much to ease my digestion.

Here’s some more context on what my digestive health doctor told me to do, both tasks which made me quite nervous. I had to first take magnesium citrate, a laxative, to “clear out my system.” From then on, I would have a heaping spoonful of fiber supplement each morning to get myself back on a regular schedule. He never actually used the term “irritable bowel syndrome,” but instead described my digestion like a blocked dam that, when “about to burst,” would do just that.

Since my doctor specializes in digestion and not mental health, he probably didn’t even consider my thoughts on laxatives. They aren’t fun no matter which way you slice it, but when in a constant state of anorexia recovery, I was especially hesitant. But I put my trust in the formula.

From that day (or night of sitting on the toilet) onward, I have had a spoonful of Citrucel in a cold glass of water every morning. I’m still giving it time since I’m not about to expect a sudden miracle or anything, but since it’s been a few weeks on this new routine, I can say it at least has made my schedule somewhat more predictable, although I still have many of my symptoms at play, especially the uncomfortable gas and bloating.

Jumping back to my experience with anorexia. Taking each day at a time and still facing fears that leave me on edge, like eating a meal at a restaurant, mixing fiber in the process has felt more like a setback than anything. Whether I actually end up achieving it or not, I really want to become more intuitive and mindful with how I eat. My hunger cues at this point have relied heavily on the clock, as it seems most of my life does. There are certain times of the day that I generally eat, and that’s when I get hungry. It’d be nice to say my stomach is the one in charge, not my overthinking brain, I still say I’m just a creature of habit.

I didn’t expect the fiber to change much of this situation, but it has admittedly thrown off my established norm. At least when first starting out, I don’t know if I actually felt hungry. It was such a weird sensation, knowing that you normally would be craving some food but instead are just…fine. It’s hard to describe, even in writing. My fiber supplement isn’t one of those appetite suppressants because that’s the last thing I need, but I still immediately felt those effects in the normal Citrucel formula.

My gut was probably happy for something new, but my mind sure wasn’t. I felt like I was trying to manage one chronic illness while taking steps backwards in my mental health. Recovering from any eating disorder is long, hard process. For some, it doesn’t take but a few months to get back on track, but for others like me, it’s a lifelong battle. With my goal of some semblance of intuitive eating seemingly put on the back burner, I feared it was too big of a dream, too unrealistic for my body.

The connection between the gut and mind is a powerful one. They often work in sync with one another, so when one’s off-kilter, so is the other. That’s been my biggest obstacle these past few months. Piling on IBS to my chronic mental illnesses toppled the process I’ve been making. The last few weeks have especially been brutal, feeling like I’m on the verge of a mental breakdown at any time.

Luckily, however, I think my digestion is finally starting to readjust itself. The hunger cues are slowly coming back to me through still consistently eating when I usually do, acting like nothing is off. That would be my suggestion to anybody else who might be facing a situation where they feel discouraged and off: if you have an established routine already that works well for you, who says you have to completely disregard it? It takes time for our bodies to balance themselves out, and impatience only prolongs the process. With the close relationship between the body and mind, a positive mindset can work wonders for your health.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by one health treatment simultaneously working for you but throwing off your mojo? What did you do to overcome that obstacle? I’m sure plenty of people out there have walked in these shoes and would really benefit from others’ perspectives.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Not Pretty

We filter ourselves to ensure nobody questions our strength and resilience, but how many of us are having these same thoughts in the harmful game of comparison?

Most of the time, we’re viewing our world through a filter, however that might look. 

Reality might deter drastically from that filter. We choose to see what we want and expect. We know suffering is inevitable in life, but even then, it’s easy to acknowledge that and just keep moving along.

But perhaps there’s even more beneath the surface of what isn’t innately suffering. Pass by any pleasant person on the street, exchange a kind greeting or a smile, and that’s that. If we don’t immediately see something concerning, we’ll just continue about our day and not think otherwise.

We all have or currently are in a time of struggle and challenge. Chances are, that won’t be made blatantly obvious to many. Anyone out of the loop automatically assumes all is fine, but is it really?

We don’t like to appear weak, helpless. We avoid vulnerability because it doesn’t coincide with the productivity and “success” we seek. So we fasten the masks on our faces and go about our days as if life is stable and nonchalant.

This is Mental Health Awareness Week. Whether we have seen or felt mental illness directly or not, we all have mental health. But thanks to stigma, how we discuss and address mental health falls in the cracks. It doesn’t fit into our societal standards of constant progress, so we often must disguise and beautify mental illness into some trend, as if then we’ll actually care.

How ironic it is that during this week, I’m personally in a time of major depression. My illness is chronic and comes in phases, alternating between better spans of time and downward spirals. With treatment, the goal is to minimize the frequency and length of these lower moods, but you cannot completely prevent them, especially depending on your current circumstances.

Let me tell you, the last thing I want to do is pretend my depression is just some brooding persona to match cooler weather. It deserves no bedazzling or embellishment. It’s not a choice consciously made to seem cool and trendy. 

Too often I have adorned myself with a mask to get through every day with mental illness. I push aside my reality into the deep recesses of my mind until it becomes unbearable, unavoidable. A ton of bricks smacking you all at once.

But I refuse to play that game any longer. In today’s case, I fully acknowledge my mental state and the mood I’m in. With that awareness, I can know what is manageable in the day and push myself where I can. In areas and times that I know I simply need to rest and accept what my mind needs, I have days when I might hopefully brush my hair and accomplish at least one thing, even if that’s a basic function like showering or putting food in the microwave. 

Mental illness isn’t pretty. It’s dissociating and having the urge to cry in public for no reason. It’s aching in your body and head when you’ve barely managed to get out of bed. It’s not just feeling numb, but having no motivation to feel anything else. It’s staring up at your ceiling before going to bed super early because you’re done with that day but still have racing existential questions spinning in your mind. It’s every little task turned into the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced. 

That’s just major depression. Let’s not forget anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia, everything that constitutes support and awareness. We often only talk about mental illness if we’re retweeting some “relatable” post, or making an ironic joke about how “depressing” something is, or chuckling about being so “OCD” about organizing your agenda. 

True awareness is researching and learning. It’s standing in solidarity with those directly affected, and using your voice to speak the truth. We can share a Buzzfeed video on our Facebook timelines about mental health all we want, but awareness also implies action, proactively advocating for transparent, widespread treatment options and universal acceptance. 

I don’t suggest everyone becoming as vulnerable online as I have about my struggles. Express yourself in whatever way you feel most comfortable, even if that’s just opening up to close loved ones. A million shouting voices evokes clutter, but a few strong messages that lead to proactive change are what will make a sustainable difference. 

I fight for recognition. I fight for a healthcare system that equally serves all aspects of my well-being. I fight for those who have lost their own battles and those in the midst of mental warfare. And I fight because it’s simply the the right thing to do. When 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness in a given year, we can no longer put up a filter and pretend it’s not there. 

Beyond this week, realize that it’s okay to not be okay. Support those who you know may be struggling. Please seek help when you need it. Reach out to your loved ones. Take each day at a time. Be gentle with yourself. You are not alone. You are a warrior. You will win this battle.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie