Setting Boundaries: Instagram and Eating Disorder Recovery

Written by: Natalie Dormady, contributing writer.  Follow more of her story on her Instagram, @littlearthlings.  

I followed a link on Pinterest the other day to find a post titled, “Toxic relationships and Setting Healthy Boundaries in Recovery.” I was intrigued – something in me knew I had to read this article. When sitting down to write this post, I intended to write about taking small steps towards trusting myself and celebrating the tiny victories. But after reading the post from Pinterest, I decided to switch gears a little. The article I found on Pinterest talked about setting healthy boundaries in relationships. This resonated with me as I’ve been learning how to trust myself in knowing when a boundary needs to be enforced, but specifically in the virtual world – the Instagram world.

When I was engaging in disordered behaviours, it was hard to see that some relationships were unhealthy and quite toxic to my recovery. At first, I refused to view them as toxic. And yet these relationships were not benefiting me in recovery and instead were triggering my disordered voice. Recognizing they were, in fact, toxic, and I could consciously choose to let them go, marked a first step towards bettering myself and my mental health. Trusting that I was capable, and allowed to, set a boundary was scary and tough. Some relationships I had on Instagram were also relationships I had in the real world. I followed friends from high school, college and family members whose accounts did not allow me to have a safe virtual space. I was more worried about their perception of me than putting my recovery, and myself, first.

My relationship with Instagram has been a bit messy. When I was struggling with my eating disorder, I used Instagram as a place of comfort. Or more accurately, my disorder used it as a place of comfort. I used to follow a lot of accounts that were fitness and diet oriented and accounts also struggling with their disorders. I found a false sense of comfort in seeing that I wasn’t alone. When I would scroll through my feed, I saw and read the very things that fed my disorder. Look this way and eat this way and she’s doing this and why am I not at the gym and they had a bad day so it’s fine if I do…the thoughts were never-ending. My virtual environment was not a safe space for me. For my disorder, yes, but not for me. Once I realized my relationship with Instagram was hindering my recovery, I accepted that I had to, and more importantly, was allowed to, make changes.

To set boundaries on Instagram, I asked myself, why do I follow these accounts? Do I like their posts? How do they make ME feel, rather than how do they make my disorder feel? I trusted that I had my recovery in mind. I trusted myself to know that I deserve a safe space. I let go of one triggering account and swapped it for a really funny, cute dog account. I like dogs, and animals, and nature, so if I’m going to go on social media, why not watch and see and read posts that I actually enjoy? The next day I remember unfollowing every account that made me feel invalid or like I needed to change something about myself in order to be accepted. It felt like a rock was lifted from my chest. When I scroll through my feed now, I see videos of dogs doing strange things, wonderful paintings and doodles, mountains and oceans. I’m reading captions that inspire me, rather than the disorder. My virtual space has become a safe place for me.

“Boundaries are part of self-care. They are healthy, normal, and necessary.”

-Doreen Virtue

We are not obligated to follow anyone. It took me some time to realize this, and I’m still reminding myself and working on it. That’s okay. Unfollowing someone doesn’t make you a bad or mean person, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t like them. You have every right to curate your feed with images and captions that make you feel inspired and happy. Your mental health is so important, you are so important.

 

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Rediscovering Trust in Eating Disorder Recovery

Written by: Zoe Speirs, contributing writer.  Follow more of her journey on her Instagram, @boporecoverywarrior.   

“None of us knows what might happen even the next minute, yet still we go forward. Because we trust. Because we have Faith.”

– Paulo Coelho

When I first embarked on my recovery from an eating disorder, I remember thinking I could never trust myself around food: to know when to eat, when to stop, how much to have, what to eat, what times to eat, and so on. The constant torment that I no longer knew how to do something so many knew how to innately terrified me. I wanted to rewind to when I was a child and could fully trust my body to know what it needed and when. I was terrified that I would never get back to that. That even in recovery, I would always have one foot stuck in this need to control, never knowing if I could trust my body again.

Sound familiar?

It can feel impossible to actually let yourself trust your body and trust yourself around food. I KNOW how hard it is. It can feel like you’re stuck in this cycle of not being able to let go of the control. So here are three tips that have helped me rebuild my relationship with food and rediscover my brain-body connection:

1. No food is out of bounds. You need to break down those rigid rules that your eating disorder had in place for you. There is no such thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food – food holds no moral value. It doesn’t dictate whether you’re a good person or worthy purely because you ate kale. Nothing bad will happen to you if you let yourself enjoy all food groups. Yes, that includes those homemade cookies your eating disorder has deprived you of.

2. Once you’ve established that you can eat anything, you might feel the need to eat everything you’ve deprived yourself of for so long. I honestly thought I would never stop having the urge to eat peanut butter and brownies. But if you let yourself eat what you crave and however much you need, these intense cravings will start to die down, and you’ll start craving things like broccoli too! You’ve spent so long denying yourself of what you want and need, that your body is trying to get everything it’s not allowed before it’s taken away again. It takes time for your body to realise that these foods won’t be denied anymore. This part is scary, and I completely understand. I was terrified. But if you trust yourself enough to let your brain-body connection rebuild, I promise you things will settle.

3.  So you’ve started rebuilding your relationship with food and letting the brain-body connection re-establish. But what about your weight? This can be really scary, especially in eating disorder recovery. I urge you to throw away your scales and just let your body do what it needs to do. Your weight will settle at your set point – it will be exactly where it needs to be. Here’s one of my favourite affirmations that helped me accept changes in my weight: ‘My body may become bigger in the future, and it may become smaller, but whatever it is right now, is exactly how it has to be’. Your body is just a vessel to carry you, so let it decide what’s best for it.

Trusting yourself around food is hard, but it is so worth it to finally let go and be able to live. However, it’s important to remember that with all this in mind, you need to trust that you are capable of recovery. That although recovery is hard, scary and will involve a lot of hard work, that you are worthy of it. You are worthy of reclaiming your life. You are worthy of practising self-care and setting boundaries to help you through these tough times (and any time really!). Trust yourself to do what’s right for you.

Look after yourselves beautiful people – the road might be bumpy, but with trust, we can move forward.

 

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Gratitude in a Jar

Written by: Natalie Dormady, contributing writer.  Follow more of her story on her Instagram, @littlearthlings.  

“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.” 

-Brene Brown.

It’s around 10 in the morning. I’m sitting at my computer desk, attempting to write my first blog post on gratitude. There’s a slight breeze coming from the window to my right, and I can hear a bird chirping somewhere down my street. The suns out today, there’s a patch of it hitting my arm. I can feel its warmth, which is deceiving because it’s still a bit cool outside. But spring is on the way and I’m excited about that. Right above my computer, on a shelf, is a little mason jar with pink pieces of paper in it. Written on almost all of those pieces of paper is a moment that has brought me contentment, that has filled me with happiness. Essentially, gratitude in a jar.

I was completing an outpatient program when I was first introduced to this jar, to this concept of gratitude. Around this time last year I was deep into disordered thoughts and behaviors, so gratitude, the idea of being thankful, was not something I was practicing. In fact, I never thought I had the choice to practice gratitude. One day during the program, both myself and the others in the group were handed these little pieces of paper and were instructed to write down something, or someone, we were grateful for, subsequently placing these reminders in a jar – the jar that now sits on my shelf. I stared at my piece of paper, asking myself over and over: what am I grateful for?

Gratitude, or practicing gratitude, hadn’t crossed my mind for quite some time. Sitting with those slips of paper, I started to search for some grand event, some big thing in my life that happened that I could point to and say, now this, I am grateful for. But I couldn’t think of anything worth writing down. Nothing felt like it was enough, so I folded up the pink slip in my hand and put it back in the jar. Maybe next week I would have something worth writing. Over the course of the next seven days, I thought about what I could write down on those slips of paper.  I thought about gratitude and being grateful and what brings me joy.

Believe it or not, I started to look forward to writing on that little pink piece of paper and putting it into my jar. It was like a vault for my happiness – something that the disorder had taken away from me for such a long time. The act of practicing gratitude slowly started to bring me away from the negative thoughts of not being worthy, of not being enough or having enough. I began to realize that I do have a choice. That I can, and I am allowed to, choose gratitude.

Looking through the gratitude jar now, I can see that the little pink pieces of paper act as a timeline. They start out with bigger events or moments that I’m grateful for, but at some point, there’s a shift.  The pieces of paper, instead, begin to focus on little moments – a conversation or the warmth from the sun. By writing in the jar each week, I learned that what I already have is enough. Who I am is enough. These little details bring me just as much, or more joy and contentment, as the extraordinary ones. This jar was, and still is, a way for me to express my gratitude, and by practicing, by choosing, I am learning more and more every day that I am enough. What I have and do is enough.

Gratitude is a choice, and we can absolutely choose to be grateful. I found it hard to make the choice at first, but think of practicing gratitude as a muscle – the more you use (or practice) it, the stronger (or easier) it becomes. And it will become stronger. There are plenty of ways to practice gratitude, as well.  For example, you can write in a journal, say ‘thank you’ aloud, put your gratitude into a jar or even in a note on your phone. Expressing gratitude in a way you connect with is essential for continuing your practice. I found that writing in a journal didn’t work as well for me as tearing up pieces of paper and putting them in a jar. I hope you are able to find a way that connects with you.

So, friends, I will leave you with this gentle reminder. You are allowed to choose gratitude. What you have and what you do is enough. YOU are enough.

 

Featured image by Jody Summers

A Grateful Heart

Written by: Marcela Sabía, contributing writer.  Follow more of her journey at marcelailustra.com, or on her Instagram, @marcelailustra.

The other day I posted on my Instagram story, welcoming hundreds of new followers. I was moved and inspired. Three years ago I had less than 1,000 followers and was starting over in nearly every area of my life. I no longer had a relationship, my business, or the stability I was accustomed to. Going to therapy in the midst of this uncertainty allowed me to reconnect with an old hobby: drawing. This reconnection led me to the decision to share and invest in my art.  When I first chose an illustration to post on my Instagram, I wondered if anyone would like my artwork or would even consider paying for any of my pieces. When people asked me what my job was, I stuttered – illustrator? With insecurity mounting, I couldn’t bring myself to believe I had the talent or experience to consider myself a professional.

Today, as I write this post and reflect on the number of people who follow along with my journey and the countless clients I have worked for, my heart is flooded with gratitude. Gratitude for life, for my love of art, for my ability to share and connect with others, for having met so many wonderful people who saw in me some kind of inspiration and supported the work I do with such dedication. After a lot of difficulties and uncertainties, I shared and achieved and dared to be vulnerable. Now, I am able to use my illustrations to inspire and connect.  For all this, I will be eternally grateful.

And while I am grateful for this part of my journey, I also believe gratitude must be present in our daily actions, in the little things. Even though we have not yet arrived where we want to be, we need to appreciate all the hands that are extended to us and all the little joys we find along the way. We always have reasons to be grateful, and it is an exercise rooted in happiness and self-love.

Thank you universe – for what has already passed and for what is yet to come.

 

To check out Marcela’s artwork, visit her website at marcelailustra.com.  

Featured image source.

Putting Patience into Practice

Written by: Megan Lawrence, contributing writer.  Follow more of her journey at HealingHopefuls.com or on her Instagram, @in.my.own.words.   

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Patience is a skill that most people struggle with.  Next time you are sitting in traffic, just look at the people around you and take note of the ones that are visibly upset at something that is ultimately out of their control.  When we find ourselves in a situation where we cannot change the outcome, we tend to get uncomfortable – it is only human nature to look for the quickest way out of what is causing us discomfort.  Patience requires effort and intentionality – it is a skill that does not come easily.

The purpose of this word took on a whole new level of meaning for me once I found myself in recovery. It has been through nearly three years of intense introspection that I have been able to recognize when I am overwhelmed by what is out of my control and which moments I need to focus on being patient the most. It is through self-awareness that we can identify times where we need to put patience into practice, and by doing so, we can begin to change the way we react to specific situations.

For me, being patient with myself has allowed me to forgive the mistakes I have made, accept the cards I have been dealt, and focus on what is most important to move forward. It is crucial to understand that we are only able to do so much at one time and to expect so much from ourselves can be detrimental to our growth as a person. By taking a step back, and realizing when we are reacting out of frustration, we are able to address an area or a situation that causes us to feel overwhelmed. To be patient with ourselves, we must know that we are going to be faced with challenges, but how we choose to be impacted by those challenges is our choice to make.

As humans, we are a constant work in progress, constantly having to seek ways to improve ourselves, because that is just one of the many responsibilities we are given. It is also a responsibility that we should be okay with. We should always want to get better, especially since there is no “finish line” when it comes to being the best that we can be. There is always room to strive for more, and that is why patience is so important. We cannot be so unwilling to wait for what is to come, because, at the end of the day, we have no say in how quickly we progress in this life; we only have control over how hard we work to get to where we want to be. To be patient with the world, we must first be patient with ourselves.

Practice! Practice! Practice! No one ever became a bad person from having too much patience. When we stop giving power to circumstances out of our hands, we can focus our energy on much more productive tasks and positive thoughts. Do not get me wrong, there have many times where I want to throw my arms up and hope for easier times, and straighter paths, but nine times out of ten, we hit speed bumps and take detours. The sooner we are able to appreciate the slowness of our true progress, we can begin to find the beauty of patience and appreciate the lessons that this skill is teaching us along the way.

Thank you for reading.  I appreciate you.

Life is a Process

Written by: Marcela Sabía, contributing writer.  Follow more of her journey on her Instagram, @marcelailustra.

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Recently I was deeply saddened by something that happened and decided that I needed a change in my life once and for all. My problem was that I was living in a desperate search for total control in my life, and I needed to accept that this was an illusion – we have no control over anything except our attitudes. I needed to accept that my need was bringing me pain and frustration. I needed to start building new thoughts inside of me.

Since then patience has been a key word in my life. I have exercised daily the act of being patient with life, with people and especially with myself – which has proved to be one of the most difficult things. Most of us tend to be very hard on ourselves and I am no different, as I have always been in the habit of speaking to myself negatively. Changing this inner dialogue is something that requires much self-love and understanding. I say that because we are human, and we are going to fail. We are going to mess up, go back to the old habits, be angry with ourselves and doubt our own capacity – but even with all this, love and patience will not let us give up.

The sooner we understand that everything in life is a process, the more patient we are, especially with ourselves. To change, overcome, conquer, forget, learn or anything else you want: it takes time.

And the change will hardly be linear, we will always have ups and downs in search of what we want. So be patient with yourself, live one day at a time, cherish every little victory and everything will be lighter. One step and we are no longer in the same place.

 


 

As a suggestion, something that has helped me be more patient with myself was watching the new version of Queer Eye.  Even though the show is about turning men into their best versions, the advice is valid for all of us and the five boys on the show teach precious lessons that include being patient with yourself. It’s very therapeutic for me.  For those interested, it’s available on Netflix.

Not a Narrative

Written by: Madeline McCallum, contributing writer and blogger at http://madelinesmusing.blogspot.com/?m=1

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“So a continual and deep risk for us, if we are to feel the presence and friendship of all there is, is to humbly lift the veils we drape ourselves in, the veils that insulate us as the self-creators of everything we experience.

“Whether we accept it or not, we are asked to let life, in all its unseeable elements, touch us.”

-Mark Nepo from “The Exquisite Risk: Daring to Live an Authentic Life

I feel really frustrated when I wake up and find myself in a Bad Day again.

I would actually consider myself pretty in line with social researcher Hugh Mackay’s concept of happiness – or, rather, his attack on the concept. He says that “the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness” has led to a “contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness.” If there is one thing I am not afraid of anymore, it is my range of emotions. I think that my capacity for deep feelings, for sentiments strong enough to carve ravines into the canyons of my memory, is actually a beautiful thing that makes me uniquely me. Not everyone has access to such a wide spectrum of being – and I’ve grown to appreciate it as a gift.

However, when it comes to recovery and those feelings and urges that don’t have an explanation and don’t make any sense, I still get taken aback when they seem to crop up out of nowhere.

And this isn’t just waking up on the wrong side of the bed.

This is like somehow I managed to crawl inside one of my night terrors while I was sleeping and when I woke up I didn’t blink out of it – instead I see darkness, I feel heavy, my brain is like smog and my heart is drowning and I want to press the Off button and hope that tomorrow I can reboot.

I struggle to see how the presence of this kind of experience in my life can still mean that I am on some sort of road to recovery.

And as I write that, I am thinking that maybe it isn’t about a road to recovery, or really a road at all. A road seems to imply an end, a final destination. But maybe recovery is really just a wave, a tide that ebbs and flows but always feeds back out into the vast ocean of self.

I recently came across a Margaret Atwood quote that I think captures the essence of this wonderfully:

“When you are in the middle of a story, it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or someone else.”

The story of my journey isn’t a story yet – it can’t be neatly tied up into a beginning, middle, and end. And thank goodness for that, really – that gives me room to grow, to experiment, to fail, to try again.

Recovery means staying On even through the Bad Days. Just that, just the getting through, is recovery. It’s been crucial for me to recognize that there isn’t an alternate universe that I’m striving for where every day is full of happiness and fulfilment and great strides forward.

My day to day life is full of so much glory that I am constantly floored by the magic and mystery of it all, and it is also full of dips and clouds and moments when I feel like a puddle on the floor.

Being patient with myself means recognizing that all of me, the night terrors and the wonder, the eyes that see beauty in every crack and crevice as well as the soul that stores pain like throbbing wounds in the muscles between my shoulder blades, is part of my story. Even if it’s not clear to me yet, even if it never will be clear. It is valid and it is my truth.

Maybe I Don’t Know

Written by: Emily Blair, Director of Operations

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Riding home on the L from my karate class this week, Jon Bellion’s song “Maybe IDK” came on shuffle.  The song states a variety of “I wonder why statements…”. Here are some that Bellion mentions in the song:

I wonder why I say yes to everyone in my life.

I wonder why I can’t run that fast in my dreams.

I wonder why I miss everyone and I still don’t call.

As I sat listening to the song on the train, I thought about how I would finish those “I wonder why…” statements.  The theme of the song touches on questioning why something is the way that it is or why something happened – something we all have probably done.  Sitting on the train car, I started to think of my mental health journey and started to finish those “I wonder why” statements in this framework.

I wonder why I still get anxious when I go to karate.

I wonder why I still have difficulty setting boundaries and saying no.

I wonder why my depression still creeps in.

I wonder why I’m not as bold and confident and sure of myself as her.

I wonder why I put up walls when I know vulnerability is so important.

I wonder why I even struggle with anxiety, depression, and body image issues in the first place.

This list could go on and on and on and on.  That would be an uplifting post, wouldn’t it?  

The truth is, I think that in our journeys’ with mental illness and recovery, we often get bogged down with figuring out everything from A to Z.  What is the root cause of my anxiety and depression, what are strategies to saying no, how can I stop comparing myself to other people, etc., etc.  We create plans, attend groups, take our medication, and when we still have a panic attack or when we still struggle with that one fear food, our head becomes filled with “I wonder why” statements.  This cycle is so dangerous because mental illness will always be an “I wonder why.” I wonder why people have to struggle with it to begin with, so where do we get ourselves if we just keep asking why?

The song is not solely about questioning why certain things are the way that they are.  The pre-chorus and chorus say this:

Although I guess if I knew tomorrow

I guess I wouldn’t need faith

I guess if I never fell, I guess I wouldn’t need grace

I guess if I knew His plans, I guess He wouldn’t be God

So maybe I don’t know, maybe I don’t know…

But maybe that’s okay.

I can’t help but sit back and marvel at how true these statements are.  Now, I believe in a higher power, a God whose fingerprint is always at work in our lives.  In fact, spirituality is a core value of Unpolished Journey. In recognizing this, I think there are some things we may not understand for a long time or possibly never understand in our journey with mental illness and recovery.  And if we constantly question why we are still struggling, we’ll be left walking in circles, because, while there may be some behaviors someone is partaking in that are feeding his or her mental illness, the truth of the matter is we will never really know – we’ll never know why he struggles with bulimia or she turns to alcohol or he has manic episodes.  

I think of it this way.  Say someone gets a cancer diagnosis.  The doctor may explain the diagnosis at a scientific level – maybe it was genetic or maybe the individual smoked a lot.  But the question is a deeper why.  Why that person, that individual, that human being.  

And the same goes for mental illness. We will never know why [insert what you struggle with] has to be an issue for us.  We may never really uncover the exact root cause of our depression that we are so intent on finding or read enough self-help books to create a perfect, foolproof plan for recovery.  

I want to take a moment to say that taking medication, attending groups, reading books, creating coping ahead plans, and everything that you do to help your mental illness is beyond necessary, in the same way that someone with a cancer diagnosis needs to get radiation and chemotherapy or whatever the treatment might be. The point of this post is not to discredit any of those things.  The point of this post is to remind us that even while doing those things, we may never fully understand parts of our journey.  And that’s okay. If we let these “I wonder why” statements cloud our thoughts, we will never fully experience recovery.

As I see it, Bellion reminds us that without these struggles, without these hardships, we wouldn’t truly appreciate faith and grace and all of the beautiful things that exist in this world.  So, while we’ll never fully understand our journey, we can be patient, watch it unfold, and appreciate faith and grace in the process.

P.S. I highly recommend listening to the song.  Click here to do so.

Kenzie’s #myunpolishedjourney Story

#myunpolishedjourney stories are stories individuals share about their journey with mental illness and recovery.  Interested in sharing?  Email us at info@unpolishedjourney.org.  

Tell us a little about yourself. 

Hi, I’m Kenzie! I’m 21 and a senior Spanish and Social Work student at Loyola University Chicago.  I’m originally from California but absolutely LOVE the Midwest. I adore penguins, dogs, coffee, and travelling. I’m a firm believer that people need other people and am aspiring to work in clinical mental health to promote hope and help.

What has your mental health journey been like?

I have struggled with mental illness for most of my life but never prioritized mental health until college. I didn’t grow up understanding mental illness and wasn’t aware of treatment or resources that were available. Untreated depression, anxiety, PTSD, disordered eating, and more had been building on each other and getting worse until the beginning of my junior year of college I was hospitalized for a suicide attempt. In my two-week hospital stay I knew I was ready to do whatever I could to prioritize myself and my health. I became super outspoken about mental health and my current mental health journey. I joined a therapy group at the wellness center on my campus and met with multiple therapists and psychiatrists until I found some that seemed to fit.

During this time, I had many different diagnoses and medication plans thrown around, and I was overwhelmed and confused. Things didn’t feel like they were getting any better, and I didn’t know what to do. Second semester of my junior year I realized I needed a higher level of care than I was getting and started an intensive outpatient program (IOP) to focus on trauma and substance abuse. I balanced IOP, individual therapy, work, volunteer and school for four months until the semester ended. School was not something I was willing to take a break from unless it was completely necessary and IOP was the most that I could do while still in school so when summer started I started a partial hospitalization program because I needed a higher level of treatment than I had been getting. I took half the summer to completely dedicate my entire days to recovery, while still maintaining freedom at night, which was exactly what I needed. I came into senior year much more grounded and rooted in my mental health than ever before.

I have a therapist I love and trust who pushes me to go deeper and grow more than ever before. I have a psychiatrist who I feel genuinely listens to me and isn’t quick to overmedicate or misdiagnose. I am part of therapy/recovery groups on my campus that help me feel belonging, while allowing me to continue to learn and use skills. I have community that supports and encourages me and my mental health journey. My mental health is still a struggle.  Most days are a lot better than before but to be honest there are still some that really suck. These are so much easier to get through with the resources I am connected with and by knowing how strong and resilient I have been and will continue to be. For so long I felt silenced, isolated, powerless, and alone because of mental illness.  Now, I try to combat those feelings not only for myself but for others too, by sharing my experiences and journey.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in pursuing recovery? 

To be completely honest, the biggest practical obstacle has been insurance/financial situations. My insurance plan cut out halfway through my planned time in PHP, which wasn’t the first time it stopped covering treatment. I say this not to scare you away from getting treatment for financial reasons but to encourage you to find the resources. I want to affirm that mental health coverage in the United States is often less than desirable but there are tons of resources our there if you search for them (or ask for help to find more). My current therapist and I have a sliding scale agreement that is totally doable for a self-supporting college student.

The biggest personal obstacle for me has been shame/honesty. I spent a long time wearing inspirational t-shirts from To Write Love on Her Arms and talking about wanting to work in mental health without being open about my own struggles. I felt ashamed not only because I was struggling with mental health but because I never felt like I was far enough in my recovery. I struggled to know how open and honest I could be with myself, my treatment team, and people in general. As someone who wants to work in mental health, it’s easy for people to say that I’m not capable if I’m not “recovered” and that makes it really easy to want to stay silent about struggles and pretend to be okay all the time.

What helps you maintain recovery?  

COMMUNITY. Recovery is choosing every day (or every hour) to heal and grow and without people supporting me it would be so easy to give up. People, especially other people in recovery, are huge part of my personal recovery because they show me that recovery is possible and important. Honesty and authenticity are also huge parts of keeping on track with recovery. Having people with whom I can be unfiltered and honest about the authentic highs and lows of life is essential.

On a more practical level I love using various creative outlets as self-care activities. Some of my current favorites are: coloring (mindful coloring books and swear word coloring pages are amazing), watercolor painting, collage making, tie dye, and dancing. I’m not very creative but I love looking up different projects on Pinterest or Tumblr that can allow me to be artistic without feeling pressured to come up with something new myself.

What advice do you have for someone in the early stages of recovery?

Be gentle with yourself.

Know there are resources.

Ask for help when you need it. Please never feel like you’re asking for too much or too often because you are deserving of recovery no matter what.

Find support systems and treatment teams that fit you. It’s always okay to switch therapists, psychiatrists, and friend groups.

Know you are someone loved and worthy even when you feel you do not deserve to be.

Only Human

Written by: Casey Urban, contributing writer.  Connect with her on Instagram (@caseyurban) or on her blog www.caseyurban.com/blog/.

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Me: “I hate that I’m like this.”

Kyle: “What, human?”

This conversation followed a panic attack I had after getting an unexpected call to work a 14-hour flight to India in the middle of the night. I panicked because I had trouble eating lunch earlier that day and I knew the flight could possibly push me into relapse, or at least somewhere close. Disordered thoughts about relapsing into restricting, binging and purging flooded my head as I sat across the table from my boyfriend while he ate lunch at a local Cuban restaurant. I’m a reserve flight attendant in recovery from bulimia and the thought of working at 14-hour flight sent me into a state of panic. Working international flights without much warning have historically caused me to binge. almost. every. time.

I’ve been in recovery from bulimia for 3 years. However, my job as a flight attendant has caused me some anxiety which has caused me to revert back to my old friend – food. I haven’t purged but I have binged countless times since I’ve started working as a flight attendant over the past couple of years. It’s no where near the amount of binging I used to do when I was in the throes of my bulimia, but thoughts of relapse over the past 6 months or so have raised quite the cause for concern. My bulimia bottom was binging and purging for 10 hours a day, and I refuse to go back to that mental space.

I tend to be extremely hard on myself. It’s hard for me to forgive myself after I’ve made a mistake. I have even recently confused struggles with mental health as “mistakes.” However, I will say I’m better than I was 5 years ago and in five years, I’ll be even better about this than I am now. My boyfriend’s reaction to my negative self talk was exactly the thing I needed to hear. I am human. Yes, I am in recovery and yes, I also struggle sometimes with thoughts of binging and purging. For someone in recovery and dealing with a lot of stress, this is normal. Fifteen years of mowing down neural pathways associated with bulimia will not change over night. Recovery takes time, professional help, a lot of support from friends and family, and above all, patience.