A Week

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There aren’t really any pre-eating disorder Kate photos in my possession–very few exist–but this isn’t long after it started.

[The eating disorder content note on this post is so loud it tapdances in sequined tights. Skip the latter half if that seems bad for you.]

It’s a Friday. 12:42 in the morning. And I’ve done something for the first time in seven years. I have fed myself properly for a week.

Twenty-one meals in a row.

I have eaten seven breakfasts and seven lunches and seven dinners, one each day, and the last time I can point to and say, “that happened” was when I was fourteen.

It has always made me feel like a child, in the helpless, immature, possibly-unfair-to-children way. Accomplish all manner of things, come of age, go to college, hold a job, spend years working on recovering, and you still can’t feed yourself for a week, can you?

I am twenty one years old, and I have spent one third my life depriving and counting and adding and crying over calorie totals. I have binged and exercised obsessively and hallucinated and measured and feared
and
and

And I did it.

I haven’t beaten the parts of my brain that want this to be a loss–who think failure is eating when you are hungry. But they’re a little quieter, a little cowed. And that’s enough.

Seven years ago, I wore braces. I hadn’t been kissed, and Kate Donovan certainly didn’t exist. I wanted to be a ballet dancer. Was one, actually. And nearly the happiest I could be was starving.

There was this sharp piece in the New Yorker two months ago. We write about anorexia too positively, the author claimed. And she wasn’t wrong. It’s hard to capture what it takes to override something like wanting to survive. So you dig deep when you write, and try to find it–what could possibly be worth all of that?

There was something, though. That intersection of feeling competent and sparkling and happy. God, the happiness. Hard and diamond-bright and just so easy to get. You can’t get away from hunger easily, and the two melded a bit. Feel clenching hunger? A rush of joy. Over and over and over. And the choice? Happiness or food and feeling slightly duller and slower and sadder? Why, you’d have to be crazy to pick eating.

I felt a little bit of it today–late to dinner with an errand that ate into my time. My stomach growled and it flared.

Be happier…go to the gym instead.

It’s a hell of a drug, this madness.

But I’m winning. I will sleep and tomorrow, I will eat breakfast before class. I will come home for lunch, and commiserate with housemates about approaching midterms over dinner. In the coming days and weeks, I’ll slip up at some point. Rome and days of building, you know. It’ll be harder to come back if I make this an all-or-nothing game. So I’ll expect that sometimes, the feelings will win.

But for now? For now, I’ll be really goddamn proud. Proud of eating, imagine that. I’m not sure fourteen-year-old-Kate could have. I’m going to have a hell of a Friday for her.

Using Self-Help Anxiety (SAM) App: Initial Thoughts

I downloaded the Self-Help Anxiety Management (henceforth, SAM) app to my phone several weeks back with the intention of giving it a trial run. Today I got quite anxious and after knitting part of a scarf, walking three miles, trying to meditate, and taking a nap, all with zero success in stress-reduction, I remembered it. This is Day 1 of the test–I’ll write more well-rounded analysis in 7-10 days, when I’ve used it over time.  If you’re interested in testing alongside, this is the iOS link and here’s one for Android. 

Before: Yes, hi, this is anxious.

Before: Welp, even more anxious than I realized.

Thought 1: Wow, Kate, you are anxious a lot.

Thought 2: Wait, this seems to actually be helping quite a bit.

Cursory Look at the Best SAM Stuff:

-An anxiety tracker (data entry part pictured on left). I paired this with Annoyster (Apple/Android alternative), to pester me to chart anxiety at random intervals throughout the day. Goal: Getting a better picture than either charting when I’m calm enough to remember or charting when I’m anxious enough to open the app.

-The relaxation techniques appear to be gamified: though I haven’t levelled up yet, it appears that after using a relaxation techinque over time, you can “level up” to unlock tougher tools (Perhaps meditating or doing breathing exercises for longer periods of time? Will check back in next writeup.)

-Anxiety Toolbox: when you find activities in the app that are particularly helpful, you move them in here. I’m excited about this part for two reasons
-It indicates that the designers recognize that coping techniques vary widely. What works for me may leave you bored and still anxious.
-When the toolbox fills up, I won’t have to sift through all the activities on the main page to find what I want. Also, if I can make going from anxious to trying coping mechanisms quickly, it increases the likelihood that I’ll do that instead of getting wrapped up in a loop of self-defeating thoughts.

After: Anxious, but manageably so.

After: Anxious, but manageably so. Time invested to get to this point: 10 minutes.

-A little thing that just made me happy: in one of the calming techniques, guided breathing, you can adjust the inhale/exhale times. Attention to detail like this matters. I breathe quite shallowly, and likely wouldn’t have found the exercise practical without customization. Of course, if the app didn’t allow for this, I could have just done focused breathing exercises on my own….and been much less likely to make it a habit.

The Downsides:

-It’s not very intuitive. I had to read the directions and fiddle around with buttons for each screen. I strongly recommend playing with the app during a non-anxious time before putting it to use.

-There’s some sort of social network aspect where you can set up an account. I have no idea what the value of this is.

-All of the references, numbers to call, and resources are for the UK. (The app was developed by a university in Wales.

-I’m not sure how all the pieces of the menu fit together. Sure, it’s great that there’s a place for me to list things that make me anxious, and I like having coping techniques, but how can I use them most effectively? Not a lot of advice is offered. If this was the first app I’d tried or the first attempt I’d made to manage anxiety, I think I might be less enthused.

First thoughts: I like this! It’s the first app I’ve recommended to friends, and the first that I’ve seen immediate results from. It’s free, it’s made by people in the field, and worst case, I’ll have more data about my mood over time that I can use.

Links for downloading it yourself: Android, iOS

Disclaimer: I’m not a therapist. Definitely consult yours, and SAM and my advice aren’t alternatives to medical care. 

 

[Repost] On Running Out of Feelings, and What to Do Next

[This is a repost from when I was co-blogging with Ashley. It seemed appropriate, as I'm feeling a wee numb myself, and with school starting and winter coming, this seems to be a shared feeling.]

Hello, internet.
This is where I come to spill my secrets, right?

Sometime between last week and this one, I went numb–ran out of feelings. I think it was somewhere after the third friend in forty-eight hours contacted me with questions about leaving abusive relationships, between finals and Steubenville and painful anniversaries and suddenly having a living situation that went from Absolutely Planned to Horrifyingly Tenuous. Oh, and it’s my last day of therapy this week.*

And that’s the simple stuff.

Add in friends who need a Social Kate who smiles and has opinions and wit and does not resemble a posed block of wood. Sprinkle in academics, and taking a quarter off to work at a small agency that expects a lot from me.  Roll it all in the stress of attending a competitive university where everyone Accomplishes Things that can be itemized on a resume–things that don’t contain scary words like atheist…and feeling anything outside Ron Weasley’s teaspoon involved too much work.

So I just started feeling numb.

It’s awful. I hate it and I go round and round between being irritated at not feeling anything, and getting angry about it…and then giving up because even anger feels muted and exhausting. It’s not terribly unusual–when you run out of emotional energy, that’s how it goes. It sucks, and I know I’m not the only one who gets this. So here’s how I minimize suckage. (The technical term, ya know.)

Lists

An idea stolen from someone–either the indomitable Captain Awkward or Keely. Each day gets two lists. List One: everything I have to accomplish that day in order to prevent the week from crashing and burning, and nothing more. Anything else you accomplish goes on List Two.

List Two starts out empty, and you have no obligation to fill it. It can be empty at the end of the day, and you will still have survived and accomplished important things and can sleep easily. If there is anything on List Two, you get to feel proud of it. You have gone above and beyond. Congratulations! Well done, you.

Excuses ahead of time are your friend.

Because the socially appropriate answer to a concerned “How are you feeling?” is almost never “My brain is being awful and I can’t feel anything and also everything fell apart last week.”, stock phrases are your friend. Among my favorites:

I haven’t been sleeping quite right, thanks for asking!
Because this is true even if it means you’ve been sleeping constantly and your brain feels like fuzz.

Oh, you know, long week. [Tired smile.]
Where a “long week” is defined as any set of days where life was hard and not worth explaining.

I’m a little out of it right now. It’s probably [related thing that may or may not explain your actual problems.]
Poor finals. I’m constantly blaming them–this is my most used phrase. I actually rarely find exams overwhelming, but they’re a fabulous explanation for why I’ve developed the habits of your average hermit crab.

Sorry, I have a touch of a stomachache.
People with stomachaches tend to get all silent and huddle in the corner of any given gathering, trying to force their gastric juices to cooperate. I don’t particularly advocate lying, but if this gets you out of an nosy stranger’s headlights, I approve.

This terrible clip art is not the Feelings Police

This terrible clip art is not the Feelings Police

Numb is okay.
There are no Feelings Police. They will not come find you and lecture you into submission for not possessing the correct emotional range. Feeling numb is weird and uncomfortable and unpleasant, but it goes away and you can survive it. Give yourself permission to feel as bad as  you do, to nap as long as you need to, and to feel a little hollow.

Be greedy.

And along with that, be greedy. Will taking day off to paint your nails and consume only popcorn make you feel better? Do it. Will skipping that party to play videogames in your room feel better than pretending to feel social? You suddenly have new plans for the evening. Within the limits of your wallet and abilities, do whatever seems as though it could improve your day.

Hide in groups.
The thing about large groups of people is that you can get lost in them. Everyone else will jump about and make noise and try to figure out how to split the check when Susan ate half of the onion rings that Johnny ordered, David and Sarah split an entree, and Jacob only brought large bills.  And you can just sit there. Let everyone else have wild, sweeping feelings. There’s less pressure to say interesting things when everyone else is being exciting. You can tune out, drop in for the occasional murmur of agreement, and still be holding up your little corner of being social.

Update: Puzzles
Stephanie explains.

—-

So there it is. Ideally, these will work this time around, and I’ll kick the fuzzy-brain feels sometime before the end of my spring break.  What do you do?

* NU requires that I take the coming quarter off from classes to work Monday-Thursday, from 9-5. Therapy is only available Monday-Thursday, from 9-5. I’m sure there’s a witty name for the choice between skipping my lunch hour to get therapy and not having therapy for an eating disorder, but right now I can’t manage to find it.

Brains Lie

I’m heading into my last year of undergraduate degrees in psychology.* It’s what I’ve always wanted, if you can define ‘always’ as, ‘at least since I’ve had life plans’.

A sneaking suspicion that I wanted to know more about what made people tick in high school, a single psychopathology class during a visit to Stanford (I sat in the back, took six pages of notes, and promptly planned to major in the field), and one early-decision application to the school with my favorite psychology program, and here I am. So what have I learned? Can I guess your deepest motivations? Can I diagnose strangers at fifty paces? What have I gotten out of nine quarters of work and six figures of tuition?

A very valuable lesson, couched in reams of research papers and a small fortune in textbooks:

Brains lie.

They lie often and well and inconspicuously. They lie in beautiful, harmless ways, turning that pattern of dark and light into an optical illusion,giving color to numbers and taste to music, replaying that romantic memory in surround sound.

And they lie in dangerous, scary, unpredictable ways. Distorting memories where they matter most. Creating hallucinations, delusions, biases that lead us down evidentiary rabbit holes, confirm what we think we know, inflate our fears and skew our understanding of statistics. Anxiety. Impostor syndrome.

Brains tell the truth, sometimes, of course. But we know that. We’re much, much worse at remembering how often they don’t. We’re influenced by the order of choices presented to us, the race, age, weight, even accent of the person in front of us. There’s the foot-in-the-door effect, the door-in-the-face, wikipedia lists on lists of biases and loopholes and soft spots in our reasoning. And still we persist in this silly idea that we make independent choices, that no man is an island, but our brains are.

Brains lie.

*I got lucky and fulfilled two full psychology degrees; one in Psychology, one in Human Development & Psychological Services. The first is theory-based, the second geared towards practice. 

Settling

Clearing out my drafts–from sometime in May, updated and edited. TW: ED for brief discussion of bingeing and depriving

Better

I’m sitting in the dark again. My bed is big and wide and green and it’s become my landing place. There’s a bowl on the desk to my left –the last remains of a meal I can call balanced. I need to take it to the kitchen. I need to take a shower and pair my socks and call the gas company and turn in the notes I wrote up and organize my planner and plan tomorrow’s meals. I need to nap, to vacuum, to go to the gym. To-do lists became overwhelming this week, so I started making lists of people I owed apologies.

I’m so sorry. I meant to finish it.

I haven’t moved for two hours.

The funny thing is, this is Better. This isn’t wanting to scream because the jeans hugged my hips. It isn’t spending weeks being repulsed by my own skin. It isn’t deciding that two handfuls of granola are lunch, an orange is dinner.

I eat at least two meals every day. I’ve maintained a healthy weight for most of my time at college. I can sit in class and not lose track of an hour, wrapped up in trying to figure out if my lap is bigger than the last time I looked.

But I won’t keep mirrors in my room. If you go walking with me, you’ll notice me turn away as we pass tall store-front windows. I’ll look up at you, engage with conversation more, smile at someone on the street. But I’ll try to avoid my reflection.

This doesn’t feel like Better.

-

I’m happy and it feels…fragile. I look for all the things that go wrong. A few panic attacks later, I revise fear of the unknown downwards enough to be manageable.

I don’t know how to trust being unhappy. It’s impossible and irrational to think that I will be happy for the rest of my life. But every time I notice boredom, lethargy, sadness, I fear it. What if this is the first sign? What if I can’t stop feeling this way?

I worry when I lose weight. Clothing’s looser than usual and suddenly I’m reviewing every meal. Did I skip last Tuesday’s lunch intentionally? I feel hungry, and I worry it’s the start of bingeing. If I eat, will I be able to stop? It’s a razor edge, this being healthy business.

Decompressing: A List

Inspired by this post, I’ve been thinking a lot about what helps me disconnect. There’s a surprisingly long list–which I’m then terrible at using when I need to decompress. (Those in italics are from the original post)

Tonematrix: click the boxes. Listen. Repeat as necessary.

Really calming gifs. I must have stared at the second one for at least five minutes.

Do Nothing For Two Minutes: Bad at relaxing? This one will get on your case if you don’t stop doing things.

Fly a Line: Move your mouse about–and then set a timer, because I got lost here for a while.

Cassini: made entirely of photos from Cassini, an epic journey around Saturn, accompanied by appropriately dramatic music. [Epilepsy warning-some flashing]

Pale Blue Dot. Press play, close eyes.

And more Sagan, converted to an unbelievable choral suite.

The Sound of Silence

Calming Manatee would like you to know that you’re great.

Weave Silk

The Thoughts Room: put your stress here.

Paint a Nebula–just what it sounds like.

Information is Beautiful–breathtaking infographics.

Anaheim Ballet: this and this.

Add your own in the comments!