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eating disorder

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In the past few months I’ve seen moderate weight loss, thanks to starting karate and my migraine medication that has loss of appetite as a side effect. Plus, I was eating healthier and working out on my own.

I felt good about myself, but as always, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop — it always does. My eating disorder (Binge Eating Disorder) always comes back to find me. This time was no different. I let it overtake me. I stopped feeling full, I started drinking more Diet Coke, which meant less water, and my taste buds craved more sugar.

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I ate cookies, candy, bread, chips and any carb I had denied myself previously. I didn’t even want it, but I did. How many people can relate to that? Was I punishing myself? Trying to escape? Or did I just want to feel good, however temporary it was?

I’ve been avoiding the scale, which I advocate for anyway, but I check my weight occasionally for accountability. I can’t check it now. I’m too ashamed. I was doing so well. I was taking care of myself, and I was so proud of myself for being healthy — not thin or skinny or any of that. Healthy was my goal and being strong.

I was chatting with a girlfriend about it who has the same problem. We check in with ourselves because not a whole lot of people understand BED. I think it’s hard for my friends and family, especially when sometimes I’m at a lower weight. How can I have Binge Eating Disorder at 166 pounds? But just the other day one of my girlfriends said (with tears in her eyes) that she had no idea she had an eating disorder (Binge Eating Disorder) until she read some of my blogs. BED is not talked a lot about, even though it negatively affects your health and decreases your quality of life – BIG TIME.

My previously mentioned friend told me she has had trouble going to the grocery store. That’s why I don’t go — I get my groceries delivered so I can’t pick up junk and suffer from impulse buys. My friend is like me: she uses food for comfort, and even though she has received help and counseling for it, it’s still very difficult to her. ME TOO. Matter of fact, she mentioned how deadly eating disorders can be. According to a 2020 article, Anorexia is named as the mental illness with the highest mortality rate. Five to 10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease and 18 to 20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years. That’s shocking.

Other stats you should know:

  • It is estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder – seven million women and one million men
  • One in 200 American women suffers from anorexia
  • Two to three in 100 American women suffers from bulimia
  • Nearly half of all Americans personally know someone with an eating disorder (Note: One in five Americans suffers from mental illnesses.)
  • An estimated 10 – 15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are males (source: South Carolina State Dept of Mental Health)

I didn’t look much for stats on Binge Eating Disorder but you can look at disability from BED here. How do I say this delicately? It’s not outright deadly, but I can see how long-term it could contribute negatively to your health and subsequently your death.

I work so hard to keep my depression, anxiety and eating disorder from my kids, but let’s face it, I’m not doing a great job. The jig will be up sooner or later. They’re 5 and 7. I can’t just not eat in front of them for the rest of my life.

I’m 38 years old. It’s never going to get easier.

But I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep checking in with my friend. I’ll aim to be healthier every single day of my life. Because that’s what I do.

I can live with my kids seeing that.

If you have an eating disorder and need help, please go here. There’s a hotline and chat line you can call.

You are not alone.

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I don’t know if it’s the motion of repetitive chewing or the first delectable bites that set my taste buds on fire. Sometimes it starts with, “I deserve a treat,” even when I’ve indulged myself multiple times throughout that day. Sometimes it happens because I’m alone (rare), which in my eyes, is always a time to celebrate. Maybe I just need comfort…but at every meal?

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I don’t understand my binge eating. I mean, I do to an extent. I know it’s a behavior I learned that once served a purpose but doesn’t necessarily work for me now. One book I read said that the binge urges come from your “primitive brain,” meaning the lower brain, my limbic system. That part of the brain is supposed to warn you of danger — the part of the brain that would kick off your flight, fight or freeze responses.

Except I’m not being preyed on. But I am in danger. I always am when I binge.

I keep thinking what I need comfort from. My life is good, so good. I still struggle with depression, anxiety, and of course with binge eating. But I have no complaints about the life I’m living. Just the other day I realized how far I’ve come since being hospitalized in 2019. I went to a karate class, for heaven’s sake, when just a few years ago I couldn’t get out of bed or shower.

So what is my problem? Is it habit? I’ve read all kinds of books on bingeing, but I couldn’t tell you one thing I really learned because of my bad memory.

I started karate because I thought it would be fun, that I would learn self-discipline and honor my body by making it stronger. Maybe I should start asking myself before I eat if what I’m eating honors my body? But will that work? I seem to lack rationale before a binge, so will I even care if it doesn’t honor my body in the moment?

I hate the way I feel after a binge. My body is so heavy, my belly so full. I’m sluggish, and then the guilt comes in, followed by shame. I watch the numbers go up on the scale, then quickly turn away from the results it shows. I shove that pain down and go about my day then daydream about what I’m going to eat the next couple of meals. Actually, I’m always thinking about what I’m going to eat. I think nonstop of food, which I know isn’t normal. One of my best friends told me she never thinks of food, it’s just fuel to her body. Why can’t I think like that?

I’m hoping that karate will push me to the edge and make me jump far away from binge eating and overeating. I have to be in shape. I can’t keep gaining the same 30 pounds. I want to be strong, for my body to be strong. I want to be example to my kids.

Throwing away the “bad” food in the house isn’t enough. It has to come from inside. But it has to be now — I’m not doing my body any favors by doing this. I don’t want to die young. I want to lead a healthy life.

I want to lead a healthy life.

Looks like I’ll be digging deep with my therapist next week. There’s some reason I’m doing this. If it’s not my depression, it’s my anxiety. If it’s not my anxiety, it’s my eating disorder. Now that I have depression and anxiety taken care of (for the most part), my eating is out of control. I picture myself on a large ship on the sea (for some reason it looks like the ship in The Little Mermaid) and there are multiple holes in the wood. Big, round holes. When I plug one, the others gush, and I’m constantly patching them all day, every day.

I have work to do. It’s daunting, but I can do hard things.

I can do this.

I can be healthy.

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Dear Eating Disorder

by Heather Loeb

Dear Binge Eating Disorder,

I have to let you go. It has served me in the past to have you near, but I can no longer run to you to hide from my emotions. You and I lived together for many years, and I know you started out with good intentions, but I’m becoming another person, and those intentions are now holding me back from who I want and need to be.

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The person I want to become no longer needs a crutch, no longer needs a distraction and to hide from uncomfortable emotions. I have to sit with those feelings and grow into them.

Oddly enough, I appreciate you and everything you’ve done to protect me and help me. I know you tried hard to protect me, to give me comfort when I was in pain. You saw me through depression and anxiety. And so much more.

But things are so different now. You’re hurting me; I’m hurting me. Lately I’ve been turning to you everyday because things have been hard, and I’ve been struggling. It’s easy to turn my higher brain off and plan a binge. And so easy to enjoy the first few bites of food and forget what made me sad or mad in the first place. I love shoving food in my mouth — but wait, it’s not food I’m shoveling in, it’s my emotions. I can’t keep doing that.

I’ll miss the feeling I get when I binge, that high that makes me forget. I’ll miss the anticipation of a binge; the feeling that I’m about to feel happy and full.

But I won’t miss the pain that bingeing brings. The indigestion and guilt. Oh the guilt, is so strong and partnered with shame. I won’t miss the scale going up, up and up even though I’ve had weight loss surgery. I won’t miss hiding food from my family. I definitely won’t miss eating so much that I throw up (because my stomach is surgically smaller, or was).

As I write this, tears are streaming down my cheeks. There’s a huge part of me that doesn’t want to let go. You’ve been a security blanket to me. I always used you to feel safe and comforted and now it feels like I’m losing it all. Like we’re breaking up.

I’m scared. There’s so much fear inside me that I’ll never feel safe and comforted again — that you’re irreplaceable. But my higher brain tells me you’re not.

This is will be hard, and I will likely stumble along the way, but that’s OK. The need to be a new person propels me forward, whether I’m ready or not.

Again, I’m grateful to you because you helped me survive. I’m just not that person anymore. I’ve been surviving; now it’s time to thrive.

Goodbye, old friend. I wish you no ill will.

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Truth Hurts.

by Heather Loeb

Last week I received an award from NAMI Texas for portraying and advocating for mental illness. It was a huge honor of me, and I felt very validated. I think it was probably the best award I’ve ever received in all my life. But just days after winning, I was sobbing in my therapist’s office.

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I feel like I have overcome something — being suicidal and getting help for my terrible depression and anxiety. I feel like I give good advice in my columns and blogs. I feel like my hard work has been noticed and that people are listening. But I’m a far cry from the “badass” in my columns or the rockstar everyone in NAMI thinks I am. I don’t mean to sound conceited or like I’m bragging; I only mean to highlight the dichotomy between healthy me and not-so-healthy me.

I’ve never claimed that I’m totally fixed or anything. As a matter of fact, I talk about how another depressive episode is likely and that I’ll never be “cured.” But surely I can take my own advice as I’m penning my innermost thoughts. No, I definitely don’t practice what I preach.

You see, today, as I was sobbing in my therapist’s office, we determined it was because I wasn’t being honest with myself. It was like I’d never met the Heather in the paper and on my blog. Red flags warning of relapse were flying by me, but I couldn’t have told you one healthy thing to do to fix it. Except go to my therapist’s, so I guess that counts.

Giving into my eating disorder is me lying to myself. Taking too much anxiety medication is me lying to myself. Cutting, sleeping too much, isolating — it’s all a big fat lie I tell myself to get by. And it never works.

It’s just so goddamn painful being me sometimes that I will find any way I can to escape. So I do. But in the end it only hurts me and subsequently my friends and family.

My therapist says I have to sit with my feelings, in addition to being honest. I can’t just get uncomfortable and run (or overeat or get high). I have to sit there and explore what those feelings mean and find out who I really am. As I’m writing this, I’ve daydreaming of my next meal, or rather, what I can binge eat. That’ll make me feel good…for about five minutes.

I feel like a fraud. I feel like I’ve portrayed myself as a well-adjusted, healthy woman, but that’s just not the case. My journey with mental illness is far from over. Right now it’s very turbulent, and I might puke. It feels like I’ll never stop battling my demons.

I don’t know why it’s so painful being me, but I suspect it’s because I have a core belief that I’m not good enough, that I’m a bad person, and that fuels my compulsions and bad habits. I don’t know how to fix that though. I tell myself that I’m a good, worthy person, but it never seems to stick.

I’ve really got to dig deep right now and give myself some grace. I’m going to try meditating about my core beliefs. I’m going to try to dispel all the negative core beliefs and come up with new ones.

I can do this. I feel so close to a breakthrough, and it’ll be a long time coming. Before when I struggled with my anxiety and depression, I just accepted it and didn’t try to get better, not really. I would ignore all the demons in my head and pay the price of binge eating, abusing meds, etc. I’d cut myself, get new tattoos and compulsively shop. One months the credit card bill was over $10,000. Ludicrous.

It’s time I grow up, experience negative emotions and not ignore them. I have to get this right.

Because now it’s all wrong.

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Redemption in (BED) Recovery

by Heather Loeb

Recently I talked about entering into recovery for my binge eating disorder. I knew there would be bumps in the road, but I was doing well. Until last night.

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Yesterday I had a bad day. Nothing really happened, I was just short-fused and irritable. I snapped at the kids and my husband. I didn’t like the way I felt so I took the maximum (prescribed) dose of my anxiety meds. It turned out to be a mistake, I think. While it did take the edge off, it also numbed me a bit. I started eating snacks around 4 p.m. and was still eating at 9 p.m. One snack after another. I was uncomfortably full, but I kept going.

I binged. Big time. I ate candy, cookies, popcorn, Chinese food for dinner, more cookies and more popcorn. I usually don’t keep that in the house, but I indulged. I don’t like to restrict myself from foods (because I’ll rebel) but I don’t like to set myself up for a binge either. I have to find that fine balance.

This morning when I woke up I didn’t feel so angry and blue. I remembered that today is a new day, and I can do better. I’m grateful for that because that’s what recovery is about — you can keep starting over as many times as it takes to reduce the problem. I’m still reading a book on BED recovery, and that has helped. I just need to apply what I learn to my daily life.

I also asked my friends and family what they do to cheer themselves up after a bad day, and I got a lot of good ideas for the next time I’m not feeling up to par. My favorites were pray, sew, walk, go outside, eat chocolate, take a hot bath, meditate, count blessings and journal. I think those are really good ideas, and I sometimes employ similar coping methods when I’m depressed, but yesterday was just so hard. It was hard to get to the point where I wanted to take care of myself instead of just numbing myself where I didn’t feel anything at all.

Today is different. I’m grateful for my friends and family and everything I have. I will take care of myself, and I will listen to my body and mind.

I will show up for myself, and I will tell myself I’m enough. Because I am.

Today I pray for an attitude adjustment and patience. I am grateful for a new day, and there’s no need for me to look back.

I’m more than my mistakes. So much more.

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading about my binge eating disorder, and I can finally say that I’m moving into recovery for the first time ever. That doesn’t mean I won’t binge anymore, but now I’m actively trying to stop. If it does happen, I’ll practice self-compassion and jump back on the horse.

I’ve read one great book on BED recovery, and now I’m reading a second. The takeaways are amazing, even though there are differing thoughts on what causes the disorder. For instance, the first book says that a BED episode is triggered from emotions or stress — that bingeing is a learned. way to self-soothe and feel better when there’s a lot going on. I agree with that; I also have the urge to binge when I’m stressed or unhappy about something.

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“It is often an inherent drive to survive and feel safe by disconnecting from fear and shame.”

The other book says that binges are triggered by urges sent from the “lower brain,” or primal brain, also known as the limbic system (pleasure center). The limbic system has three objectives: to survive, to seek pleasure and to avoid pain, both emotional and physical. The book says the reward system is activated by healthy, life-promoting activities, such as eating and sex. But also destructive habits that have become connected to reward and reinforced over time, especially habits that involve pleasurable substances like drugs and large amounts of binge foods.

The book says that people can learn to “override” the primal or lower brain with their higher brain, the prefrontal cortex that’s responsible for rational thinking. It’s very interesting, and I have a lot more reading to do on that book.

I recommend both to anyone with BED. The first book is Binge Eating Disorder: The Journey to Recovery and Beyond by Amy Pershing and Chevese Turner. The second is The Brain Over Binge Recovery Guide by Kathryn Hansen.

A couple things that the books agree on is that restricting calories and having a list (even unspoken) of “bad” foods is detrimental to recovery. I completely agree. I think the best thing to do is eating healthy foods but allow all foods in moderation. There should be no shame tied to eating a particular food. I’ve lost 19 pounds recently, and I eat all kinds of foods. If I want donuts, I eat donuts, but usually I’ll try to have protein for every meal (because I’ve had gastric sleeve, I need protein the most).

Last weekend was my kids’ birthday party and I ate cake and didn’t feel guilty at all. In the past, I would’ve obsessed about the cake, trying to avoid it, then eventually break and eat too much. The book also says that those with BED, binge eating can be an act of rebellion, which I agree with too. If I know a certain food is “off-limits” then I will purposely eat food. I don’t know why I’m like that but apparently it’s common.

Both books point out that BED is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. by fivefold. Most struggling with BED are female but it’s suggested that 40 percent of people with the diagnosis are male. That surprised me. Also, of those with BED, 60 percent struggle with at least one other diagnosable mental health issue, including PTSD, depression and anxiety disorders. That’s me.

What strikes me about those high numbers is the fact that so many are struggling with BED yet nobody talks about it, at least in my little world. I don’t know if it’s the stigma, keeping people from speaking up or maybe it’s because an eating disorder is so public, for lack of a better word. When I’m bingeing consistently, my weight goes up dramatically. There’s no getting around the fact that my body is changing and everyone is so obsessed with being thin, so I feel powerful bouts of shame and self-hate. It’s a very public failure, rooted in deep-seated shame. Mostly shame that I’m not good enough.

But I am. And so are you.

If you think you might have Binge Eating Disorder, take a look at the clinical definition that’s now part of the DSM-V.

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating occurring at least once a week for three months
  • Eating a larger amount of food than would be considered “normal”
  • Feeling out of control/unable to stop the binge episode

Binge eating episodes are also associated with three or more of the following:

  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating alone out of embarrassment over quantity eaten
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed, ashamed or guilty after overeating

I still have a long way to go; you can’t undo decades’ worth of bingeing overnight, but I have hope for the first time ever. I can do this, and I feel like I have to if I want to give Isla and Eli any kind of support or advice if they go through the same. And I sure as hell hope they don’t.

For more information on eating disorders, go here.

Stay in the light, friends.

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I feel my skin touch in places it didn’t used to touch, like my back when I move and turn certain ways. I can tell there’s more fat around my neck, as I feel it almost choking me when I look down or lie down. There’s more of me everywhere, it seems.

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I blogged a few weeks ago about gaining about 15 pounds, but now I fear that number is closer to 20. I haven’t brought myself to get on the scale in fear or a full-blown depressive episode.

Obviously, it’s a hard time — for everyone — because of the pandemic. My thoughts shift from thinking, “Do what you need to survive” to “You need to make healthy decisions,” and survival always plays out. When you have depression, there are some days you do need to just do what you can do to survive, but when you have depression AND an eating disorder, some times directives get confusing.

For some reason, “just surviving” has turned into eating junk food to make me feel good, and in that moment, I think it honestly will make me feel good. But alas, as I’ve said before, those feelings are temporary. So I keep shoveling in the unhealthy snacks to chase that good feeling. Because let’s face it, there’s not much good going on right now. And now, I’ve 20 pounds heavier, unhappy and even embarrassed. I’m probably about the same weight as I was before I had gastric sleeve surgery. So, why did I go through all that pain for NOTHING? God, it’s disappointing and shameful. But also, laughable. How am I this stupid? Or is it stubborn? Whatever it is, I’ve got it in spades.

It would be one thing if I had gained just a few pounds and started to change my habits, but I’ve done so much damage, I’m physically uncomfortable. It’s hard to breathe at times. I’m not in a good place. And you’d think that would spur change, and I hope it does, but I’ve lost confidence in myself.

My only hope (at the moment) is that I’m getting another ECT on Friday. I’m hoping it’s a hard reset this time. Usually, I dread getting them, as I hate going under anesthesia, but I’m really looking forward to this one.

The thing is, that sometimes the ECTs are a good reset, but often times, it doesn’t feel that much different. In my opinion, I shouldn’t have to rely on a hard reset from the ECTs to make a change. Damnit, I should employ the coping skills that I’ve been learning since going to The Menninger Clinic.

Why the fuck is it so hard to take care of myself?

Maybe it’s low self-esteem, the effects of trauma, a terrible case of treatment-resistant depression, my dumbass personality disorder, etc. Maybe I don’t like myself.

Maybe it doesn’t matter why I don’t do it that matters. Hell, maybe I should go to therapy more often.

Maybe I’m missing the point.

Maybe we all are.

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I Hate My Brain

by Heather Loeb

Ever have a long day and think to yourself you deserve a treat? So you get ice cream and start to feel better? That sounds normal to me. My problem is that I think I deserve a treat multiple times a day. I constantly want to feel good. To feel happy. I compulsively eat to get that high and, enjoy that “treat.” Then I feel sick. After I’ve recovered, I look for another treat, forgetting how sick I felt earlier. It’s a vicious cycle.

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I do this a lot but especially when the kids are away at my mother-in-law’s. I tell myself that I need to relax, enjoy the quiet and that I need to feel good. Last night, even after I had a big dinner, I sat there thinking of what I could eat that would make me feel good. And I even tried many things, despite being uncomfortably full already. M&Ms didn’t work. Neither did peanut butter crackers, ice cream or SweeTARTS.

But there is nothing I can eat that will make me truly happy.

Now, I’m trying to give myself a break because I am in need of an ECT treatment, which is scheduled for Friday. Usually the week before treatment I run out of gas, and I try to cope however I can. BUT this doesn’t just happen in the weeks leading up to treatment. This happens all the time, even when I’ve just had an ECT.

So I pose this question, “Why do I feel the need to be happy all the time?” Honestly, that question was asked by my therapist last week. She following up with, “Can’t we sit with other emotions? Nobody is happy every minute of the day.”

And she’s right. We don’t need to be happy every minute. I think my problem is that I HATE being uncomfortable, so I’ll do anything to push those negative emotions aside. Emotions like anxiety, stress, anger or sadness. It’s clearly not working for me to ignore these problems, and even if overeating has helped in the past, it sure as hell is not working now.

This may sound strange, but I think I need to acknowledge and honor whatever feelings I’m having. Maybe I need to grab my journal whenever I’m feeling negative emotion, talk about what’s going on and then release that feeling. I don’t know.

All I know if that I need to stop coping by bingeing. It’s made me gain a bunch of weight and really, aren’t I just eating my emotions?

Sometimes I really hate my brain, which I hold responsible for my debilitating-at-times depression and anxiety. I hate that it doesn’t respond to other treatments. I hate that my mental health is so precarious, and I resent that I have to be so careful as to not disturb it. I hate that happiness seems so fleeting at times. I’m not a big fan of my eating disorder either.

I don’t like to say hate; It forces a dichotomy with the idea that I should love and respect myself. I’m trying really hard to love myself, even almost 30 pounds heavier and a handful of mental disorders. But I feel betrayed by my brain. I know I need to reconcile those ideas. I know there is more benefit in loving all of me. I’ll get there. Despite everything that my brain has thrown at me, I’ve only become stronger. Take that, asshole.

And there are times that I think God made me this way because He thought I could handle it. I can, and I will. I remember this quote: “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” I don’t mean to sound haughty, but maybe He knew I would use my voice and (hopefully) help others through my writing. That’s why I can’t stop blogging so much about mental health; there are so many who feel alone and haven’t found their voice yet. I certainly don’t mind lending mine in the meantime.

I guess my brain is just as much a blessing as a curse.

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I’ve Gained 26 Pounds

by Heather Loeb

Last Friday I had an ECT treatment. I hadn’t been there in four weeks, so they asked to weight me (to calculate how much anesthesia I get). Usually, I avoid the scale. The number shouldn’t matter to me, but it does. Big time. I looked down after I stepped on the scale, and I was shocked. I’ve gained 26 pounds since the pandemic — 26 POUNDS! I’m almost 200 pounds, which I swore to myself I’d never be again. I mean, who has weight loss surgery and doesn’t lose the weight? Me, apparently.

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I have all the reasons in the world to lose weight and be healthy, mainly my kids. I want them to see me be healthy so that they can be healthy. I want to lose the weight because I want to live a long time. It would benefit my mental health greatly if I maintained a healthy lifestyle. But I don’t.

Even after my ECT, while feeling happy and more stable, I had the intense urge to overeat and binge. And I did. The ECT is supposed to reset my brain. Last week, I was so depressed and even had suicidal ideation, so I needed the ECT. But the ECT can only take me so far. I’m responsible for making health decisions for myself. And I need to hold myself accountable. At some point, I have to make the effort to be healthy without expecting something or someone else to help me.

I don’t know what drives me to overeat or binge. It sort of makes sense when there’s conflict in my life, and I feel the need to be comforted by food. But right now, there’s no conflict in my life. There’s no logical reason for me to shove food in my face. It bothers me so much that I don’t know why I binge, and I’m not sure it would even help if I did know. It’s just frustrating. And I know it’s a hard time because of the pandemic, but we’re not getting back to any kind of “normal” I know any time soon. So, it has to be now. I have to make changes now. But honestly, I don’t know if I will. I don’t know what it will take.

I bought a treadmill that will be delivered this week. I bought a food journal to help me track my water and meals. I have a brand new pair of running shoes to use for exercise. Conditions are favorable for change. My brain, my stubborn brain, is the only thing holding me back. Even now, as I’m typing this, I want to eat, to be comforted. To lose myself in the taste and texture of something delicious. I fear my urge to escape the real world will be permanent, as it manifests in other ways, too like abusing my anxiety meds. And again, I don’t know why or what I’m trying to escape. I have a great life — better than most — and I’m so grateful for everyone in my life and everything I have. So, I really can’t tell you why I want to escape.

At one time, I thought it was emotional pain that was holding back — trauma from my past. But I feel like I’ve dealt with that. I’ve talked to my therapist about it extensively. I wrote a blog about it that I will never share. I got if off my chest, but still the pain resides. At least, I think so. Why else would I be trying to fill this unrelenting void?

I so want to be able to wake up in the morning and not immediately think about what I’m going to eat. To plan my next meal, as I’m licking off my current meal’s crumbs from my lips. I live meal to meal, snack to snack, and I hate it.

I hope this week I can make changes to my daily life and incorporate healthy habits. I pray for strength and guidance. I pray for what feels like a miracle.

Next week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. It may not seem like a big deal, but there are 30 million Americans who suffer with an eating disorder. There are so many people suffering right now, who are suffering more because of the pandemic. Only 1/3 of people receive help for their eating disorder. Eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with nearly one person dying every hour as a direct result of their eating disorder.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please know that you are not alone. It’s a challenging time for us, but it’ll be OK.

We will be OK.

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avpd-6679063

In 2019 I went to a psychiatric hospital (The Menninger Clinic) after battling suicidal thoughts, abusing my anxiety meds and hitting a low I didn’t know was possible. For six weeks, I was away from my family, which is almost as painful as fighting depression and anxiety.

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While I was there, I was assigned a psychiatrist, social worker, therapist and a psychologist. I underwent many psychiatric tests and was taken off all my psychiatric medications. It was rough.

I knew I had major depressive disorder, because I’ve struggled with depression for almost two decades. I knew I had anxiety, because of the crippling panic attacks and intrusive thoughts – thoughts telling me I should kill myself or that my family was going to die.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the diagnosis of Avoidant Personality Disorder. I had never even heard of it. Avoidant Personality Disorder, which affects about 1 percent of the general population, is described as having feelings of extreme social inhibition, inadequacy and sensitivity to negative criticism or rejection. It’s more than being shy or awkward in social situations (which I am). It makes it hard for those suffering with the disorder to interact with others and maintain relationships. It’s also common for “us” to avoid work or school, mostly because of extreme low self-esteem.

It was hard hearing this new diagnosis. For one, I already felt saddled by depression and anxiety. I wasn’t fond of the idea that I had this disorder, another albatross around my neck. And yet, I couldn’t deny it. Reading about the disorder was like reading from my memoir; I knew the symptoms and behavior well. I’ve always been social awkward. I avoided school like the plague, and later when I worked, I avoided that, too. I haven’t worked outside the home since 2013.

There was no denying the diagnosis. And, even though I’d probably been dealing with it since adolescence, I felt more broken because my many flaws were well documented and it was “official.”

But that’s bullshit. I was broken but not because of the diagnosis. I was broken because I had kept my struggles to myself and hadn’t reached out until it was almost too late. I was stifled by the stigma that surrounds depression and other mental disorders. The stigma and keeping my struggles to myself almost killed me.

Having depression, anxiety, a personality disorder and binge eating disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. That’s what I have – not who I am.

Now, I blog about my troubles and speak freely to others about anything and everything mental health related. I’m no longer afraid of being judged. The weight of others’ opinions is far too heavy to bear.

Now, I’m free.

Reject the stigma. Be proud of the fighter that you are. Seek help if you need it. By doing so, we help eradicate the judgement and stigma. Be free with me.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, go to the nearest emergency room or call a trusted friend. You are not alone.

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