Tag Archives: bulimia

archive: the Phoenix with the Blistered Toes Part 2 – Learning to Live Again

Please note: as I explore these thoughts, feelings and share my past, these entries may contain writing that is potentially triggering to anyone who is or has been affected by bipolar disorder, eating disorders, body dysmorphia and the like. It is my goal to share my own experience in an open and honest manner, but wish no one harm in the process.

To read part I, click here.


If made to choose one experience in recovery I was least prepared for, it was learning how to live again.

Television commercials, while conveying a good message, make light of this process: you can learn to ___ without a cigarette; quit smoking. It shows the new former-smoker getting into the backseat of the car, then the passenger side before finally making it to the proper driver’s seat and pulling away. One might laugh and say, “Oh how dumb is that? It’s not like you’re learning to drive without an arm, it’s just without a cigarette. Get over it.”

Well, I can certainly say that as I learned to move throughout my daily life without the rigid rules and restrictions of my disorder, I very well was the driver sitting in the center of the back seat of the car, confused and whispering, “But I just wanted to go for a drive; why is this so hard?” I may as well have been trying to re-learn things without a limb. When so much of your time has been consumed for so long, when an obsession has grown to proportions such that it has taken on a life of it’s own with you as the vehicle, seemingly simple tasks such as getting up and getting dressed can take on epic proportions. Figuring out which pair of jeans makes you feel the least disgusting could take five to ten different try-ons of the exact same pair of pants, followed by another fifteen to twenty minutes of trying on top after top, switching out the underlayer on top for another one, no, the over layer on the top, no back to the other one, only to find oneself crumpled in a ready-to-cry heap that matches the pile of rejected clothing on the floor. Then it’s the dance downstairs in the kitchen, trying to figure out how to make it look as though you took some snacks and food for yourself but knowing you’ll never eat them; you’ll hide them, give them away, pick at them, forget them and ultimately thrown them away.

Recently, a friend asked me what mania is like. The onslaught of mania brought on by bipolar disorder for me is much like the constant whirr of being consumed by eating disorder. The battle may be outwardly shown as though it is against the scale, the mirror, the numeric label on the inside of one’s jeans, but truly the battle is completely and totally within. For me, eating disorder slowly and steadily consumed me: social me, the me in a relationship, the me who was a supportive friend and sister, the me who was her own person, her own self. As disorder consumed me, I had no time for anything outside my obsessing. Little by little, as I slid into the grips of anorexia, all other parts of me were consumed. My illness progressed; I began to identify as EDNOS, or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, the kind way of saying “not black and white anorectic or bulimic.” I sank deeper and deeper into obsessive thoughts and behaviors, letting it consume every waking minute of my days. This progressed till the day I finally had enough and outed myself. But till then, every single day was a grind.

Wake up, grab at hip bones. Feel anything new? Anything puffy? Not enough ribs to hook your fingers into? Yes, the shadow cast by your underwear, suspended over your hipbones was definitely more prevalent yesterday. Go to the bathroom. Weigh self. Weigh self at least two more times. Unhappy with it? Weigh self again. Stare angrily into the mirror and decide if it’s a good day or a bad day, a healthy breakfast day or a binge-purge day, based on this number and what your reflection screams at you. Do the unhappy clothing dance. Do the facade of feeding dance. Imagine it is now seven am and you have just arrived at work completely exhausted from this tireless routine, fueled only by obsessive, dizzying thoughts and the tiny splash of non-dairy milk you allowed yourself in your coffee for “being good” and not eating breakfast. Imagine you have to do this obsessive dance, with more and more required steps, every day while maintaining the exhausting facade that you are fine, that everything is fine, that losing handfuls of hair in the shower and passing out when standing up too quickly is fine. And this all happens daily before nine AM, the remaining hours no easier.

Then one day the routines are playing out without you, completely against your will. Suddenly you are trapped within yourself, fueled by a whirring motor that will not relent, watching as your hands destroy, as your body decays in the mirror. Helpless. As though standing outside yourself, watching as you slowly but surely begin to drain the very life out of your being. Screaming in silence, thrashing and writhing within your own skin, seemingly unable to summon help to rescue you from your own hands. You can see your cracked and yellowing skin, the sickly sunken look in your eyes, how your skin hangs like crepe paper stretched over your xylophone ribs, yet you think you don’t look the part yet, you’re not walking dead, so clearly, of course you don’t have a real problem, you couldn’t have a real problem; you’re but a wannabe. Not yet good enough. Not yet disordered enough to be believable.

Now image suddenly – *poof* – that constant television white noise of obsession in your head is turned down, the roaring din fading slowly and slowly till suddenly where there was once a chaotic noisy battle of fifteen headstrong voices berating at once, there is now nothing. Near silence. Somewhere in the catacombs of the dark, emptied mind, a brave little voice wavers as it calls out, “Today should be a good day, right?”

That tiny little voice was the warrior woman within me. She had never truly left me; had she not been there, I never would have been able to fight. The fight to live, to win against my own demons, against the moldings of society and brainwashing I’d been subjected to – it was in my all along, untapped, laying in wait. As I regained strength – relearned how to feel hunger and how to snack, learned to fear mirrors not, that I didn’t need validation from the scale – the warrior woman within me grew stronger too. Slowly I held myself taller. Laughed more. Learned how to be playful with my then fiancee, now husband. To be in the moment, to enjoy, to live life and not be a prisoner of my own head. Every day has it’s own challenges but I am now a strong enough sailor to weather these seas.

Here, eighteen months down the line, the hiccups are fewer. The bad days and moments when The Thoughts seem to be creeping back in are lesser. All the time formerly occupied with keeping myself ill may have been filled my seemingly mundane things – laundry, workouts, cooking with my husband, playing with our dogs – but these things are in truth huge, things four-years-ago me could not and would not have approached the same way. Just this Saturday, I was at a workshop at my gym about “Good Practices,” and as soon as a woman raised her hand and began to speak about a “diet” I felt my heart rate raise. My palms began to sweat. Her words were triggering, unknowingly ignorant – they made me want to burst out in a scolding tone, “Just stop right there. No one should diet. Diets are dangerous. I went from thinking I would diet down a bit to lose excess weight to being a full-blown, out of control bulimic! 1200 isn’t a magic number! You have to eat to lose!” My rant was stifled by a trainer, who I could tell had also tensed up. Thankfully he calmed me as well as he managed to keep his tone level and calm, stating the good facts: that the ‘diet’ she had described was for her friend, not for her. That every body is different. That no change should be measured, be it boot camp or intake change, until at last 90 days had passed. And most importantly that we should not be seeking out diets: if anything, we should be seeking out lasting lifestyle changes.

I know I was likely sitting in a very different position than most other attendees on Saturday, not needing to learn how to eat healthy to remove weight or break plateaus. However, I do hope that the reassurance I took away from it helped someone else, helped someone on the brink of obsessive disorder.

Truly, while I love my family, have incredible love for my husband, great hope for our future and our life together, in the end when I chose to recover, I had to do it for myself. Re-learning how to live again, how to grow and thrive, has proven a difficult and worthwhile process that I would not give up for the world – and I hope that in sharing my story, I can in turn help someone else find the fight within themselves to choose to thrive, and to win.

Fight the good fight. You’re not alone. Together, we will win.


Originally posted on 3.25.2013 on a since-retired blog. All writing is my own.


archive: the Phoenix with the Blistered Toes Part 1 – the Day I Chose to Live

Please note: as I explore these thoughts, feelings and share my past, these entries may contain writing that is potentially triggering to anyone who is or has been affected by bipolar disorder, eating disorders, body dysmorphia and the like. It is my goal to share my own experience in an open and honest manner, but wish no one harm in the process.

The most difficult part of sharing my story is the act itself: the truth of the matter is we are about to embark on a journey to explore places I have never publicly shared, to open up in the ways I have always wanted to. To convey an idea of difficulty, these are things I have barely shared with my own husband, who has been a huge anchor of support in my life. With both my mother’s and father’s sides as examples, one can definitely construe that I come from a long line of mentally, emotionally, generally strong women. It has been a point of pride of sorts for me, perhaps to my own detriment. My entire life I was the one to lean on: the listening ear to friends with boy troubles (which I never had, really, but that’s another story.) The one who is healthy and happy and does well in school. The one who is okay.

The truth was that I was not okay.

The signs of bipolar disorder set in but none of us knew what they were at the time; I remember being told I was essentially a dramatic, hormonal teenager, that it was normal, that I was fine. Deep down I knew something was bigger, something was wrong; a ‘normal’ seventeen year old girl doesn’t fear the darkness of her bedroom. She doesn’t fear that as darkness falls and she lays alone she will cry and cry for absolutely no reason at all other than that it feels as though her body, her heart, her very being is an empty void of heavy nothingness. Sometimes in the cool silence of night, when the shadows begin to close in, the feeling returns in the pit of my stomach. The tears no longer come, but the memory is still clear.

Some memories stay luminous as the moment they occurred, so fresh and so near that I can practically feel the unforgiving finished cement floor under my knees, the cool kiss of porcelain on my cheek. The whirring din of the overhead fan of the unisex bathroom had drowned out my sorrowful song, the echo of it in the empty bathroom loud upon my ears. All day I had been a bundle of nerves, a complete wreck; a coworker even told me that I looked green. I caved. Before I knew it, the unisex bathroom door was locked behind me and I was on my knees. It was there, face pressed to the rim of the toilet, staring at my sticky, spit-laden fingers that I promised myself it was the last time. That this was no life, this was not living, that being controlled by numbers, mirrors, calories, bathroom locations, meals, anxiety and general disarray was not a lasting formula. That I was ready to give everything and anything to fight and win.

There I was, face first in the toilet the day before we embarked on the first annual Ragnar Relay Napa Valley, and it was there that I made the decision to live.

Every year, my workplace puts on a company challenge: this last year’s was Tough Mudder, in years past it has been century rides and triathalons. When the challenge for 2011 was announced as Ragnar Relay and I learned what it was – running, no cycling or swimming – I lit up. For the first time in my history of being employed, I was finally feeling able bodied enough to say yes, I want to participate and actually see it through. I had finally talked to my husband, told him I had a problem, that I needed help. Had my regular family doctor not been so overwhelmingly supportive, I highly doubt I would have continued on my mission for health. While the psychiatrist I was referred to was sadly little help whatsoever – admittedly he was easy to lie to about my eating disordered ways, despite my having gone to him with a bulimic diagnosis – as he focused instead on trying to get my bipolar disorder under medication lockdown.

My story isn’t exactly what one may expect or want to hear, but this is how it went down for my person, and I must say, I feel quite fortunate in the results. We struggled, the doctor and I, and in the end I bid him adieu and went my own way. After years and years of destroying myself, from meeting diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa to bulimia nervosa and every EDNOS space in between, I wanted to live. I was finally asking for professional help, yet I found more knowledge, support and encouragement from a place that had once helped keep me ill: online communities. The men, women, teenage boys and girls I met there knew my plight first hand and sent up a rallying cry: that I could beat this, that one day at a time was okay, that I was inspiring them. Inspiring them. The day I got an email from a gal saying she had talked to her parents and was leaving for treatment I cried tears of joy: not only was I working hard to save myself, I was helping others too. There was no looking back. Ragnar Relay became my proving ground, my goal to show myself that I was indeed going to recover, no matter how long it took or how hard it was. It was during training that I began to really, truly fall in love with running. Sweat therapy was empowering and cleansing. It was just what I needed to fall in love with the amazing body that was indeed my own. My body gave me a second chance at treating it right, one I may never get again. It was time to heal and grow.

My daily prescription was clouds of dirt kicked up on the trail or miles of pavement under my soles. Stretching and hydration took the place of peering in mirrors and weighing; food become craved fuel, a source of joy and nutrition. It may sound small to some, but finally being able to walk through every aisle of the grocery store sans the fear that foodstuffs were going to jump off the shelves and attack me was huge. I began to smile more. To laugh more. Some days of course were a struggle, where all I could think about was how many grams of sugar were in the protein bar I just ate, or where I couldn’t go near mirrors because I was so sure I’d gained loads of weight by simply eating regularly again, but no road to recovery is without it’s bumps, potholes and alternative routes. The finish line of the Ragnar Relay was in my mind’s eye and there was nothing that was going to stop me.

Fast forward to the wee morning hours of September 15, 2011. There we two teams from work stood in front of our respective painted vans and shivered in excitement together. We were briefed, we showed we knew how to wear our safety gear; the butterflies became flying beetles in my stomach, crashing about in a flurry. All of my training, every mile I had pushed myself through mentally when my legs begged me to stop, every small victory I had celebrated along the way had lead to this: the gun rang out in the velveteen sky and my teammates were off and running.

What occurred over the next twenty four hours I feel I cannot properly form into words. Kudos had been given to me as I was passed; in turn I passed this encouragement on to others in my wake. We may have been many teams running against one another, but as individuals on the course, many of us were really running together: the quiet pact of runners, who in the end, are simply happy to share something they all love. A gent and I joked as we pulled into the home stretch of our third and final leg – how wonderful a cold beer would taste, would there be pizza, oh so much pizza – and I cracked a manic smile as he started striding towards the finish. “I’m coming for you!” I happily yelled as I kicked out my own stride; I heard him laugh as he pushed a bit harder. Through the last exchange, this man whom I had barely even met and I, raced through the fluttering plastic tape chute to hand off our batons (reflective slap bracelets.) It must’ve been a sight, a solid six-foot-something man running like a big dog chased by little yappy me. As we both hunched into heaps afterwards, we high-fived. I told him the first beer would be on me.

As I sat in the dry hundred-plus degree heat at the finish, only partially shaded from the overhead sun with my teammates, I swilled red wine from my finisher glass and smiled. As the rush of it all settled, my heart sang. Exhausted, ready for a real meal after a day of bars, nuts and other lighter fare. I was covered in dirt and sweat and probably a touch of blood in my socks. Some blisters and blackened toes teamed with my hefty bottle-opener as badges of honor. I had made it. I had run each of my three legs at a pace nearly two minutes faster than anticipated; I had been fueled by cheers from strangers in the middle of the night as I ran alone, covered in reflective and lights; I had bonded with seven coworkers and spent the best dollar of my life to sleep on the hard floor of a high school gym for a few hours.

Out there on the road, my whole life had changed. I was going to live. I was going to thrive.

Originally posted on 3.06.2013 on a since-retired blog. All writing is my own.