Atheism and My Eating Disorder Recovery

I am currently working on a memoir about mental health and atheism, and I love sharing bits and pieces when I can. Today I want to share about my eating disorder recovery — something very relevant to my present-day life.

I’ve been very vocal about how becoming an atheist had a profound effect on my recovery from schizoaffective disorder. It made me come to terms with my psychotic symptoms, trust the science behind my medications, and keeps me grounded to this day. These are all very noticeable effects and I tend to focus on my schizoaffective disorder when I talk about mental health.

However, I have also struggled with an eating disorder since the 6th grade and I find that much harder to talk about. There’s a lot of shame associated with it and it’s an issue I am still struggling with now. I recently returned to treatment for my eating disorder and it’s been very difficult.

My atheism doesn’t just affect my recovery from schizoaffective disorder; it has also helped me sort through my feelings and behaviors associated with my eating disorder.

For example, I know no one is to blame. Not god. Not the devil. Not my family. Not even myself. There are often many factors that cause and fuel an eating disorder and religious teachings have no place in that explanation. 

I also know my recovery is up to me and no one else. I need support, but it will be my own hard work — not god — that gets me out of this mess. Forget about prayer and believe in yourself. 

Eating disorders are complicated mental illnesses that need comprehensive treatment backed by science and research. They are hard on the body as well as the mind. When I recently returned to treatment, I had an appointment with a gastroenterologist the same week as my first therapy appointment. Since then I’ve had several tests and procedures done. You have to attack an eating disorder on all fronts and that often means trusting your doctors and science. God isn’t going to heal you.

Being an atheist also motivates me in recovery. I know we get this one short life and there’s nothing after it, so I want better for myself.

I am definitely a work in progress and my recovery from my eating disorder has been hard. But I’m still here — going to all of my appointments, challenging my thoughts, and trying to live a healthier life. I am glad being an atheist has given me a healthy perspective on recovery as well as life. I know I’m going to make it. 

 

I discuss my eating disorder quite a bit in my upcoming memoir. More details to come!

Naked Confidence: Sex and Eating Disorder Recovery (Poem and Memoir Update)

I’ve been working really hard on my memoir about atheism and mental health, and that’s the main reason I haven’t been blogging as much lately. It’s coming along nicely and I can’t wait to share it with everyone. It will be published by Freethought House just like my recent poetry book, Free to Roam: Poems from a Heathen Mommy. 

I’m happy to say the memoir will also include a few poems. This one is called “Naked Confidence” and it is included in a short section about having sex when you have an eating disorder. 

When I was younger and really struggling with my eating disorder, I preferred to have sex in the dark to hide my flaws. I was thin and pretty but always worried about what I looked like while having sex. It was a chore. I had sex to please my partner but rarely enjoyed it myself. It was pretty sad — I was young and should have been having fun.

Fast forward to today — I’m older, overweight, and married to my husband for 11 years. I love having sex — with the lights on. I feel confident with my husband and we have sex more now than when we were first married.

This poem is about finding your confidence and enjoying sex. 

 

Naked Confidence

Nourish me.
My body,
soft and feminine,
has an appetite.
Touch me.
Graze your fingertips
over my smooth milky curves.
Flip the switch —
no longer in the dark.
I let go
and have fun.
The taste of your lips
gives me tingles.
I want you,
but I must put myself
first sometimes.
My amazing body
needs to be loved
by me
before I can enjoy
time with you.
So I smile,
giggle,
and show you what I want.
This is my revolution.

I will post updates as the memoir progresses.

My upcoming memoir tells the story of my secular recovery.

My mental health has been at the forefront of my adult life, often the reason I pursue (or don’t pursue) the many goals I have. At times my mental health interrupts my daily activities and interactions with others while at other times I feel it is a source of strength in the many different aspects of my life. 

My mental health became my focus when I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at twenty-one years old and in treatment for an eating disorder. It’s easy to feel fragile when you have that much going on but my recovery is now a driving force in my life. 

Very early in my recovery, I regained the ability to reason and think clearly after taking anti-psychotic medication. Shortly after, I decided I was an atheist and that became a crucial part of my recovery. 

I often write about my mental health journey on this blog, but I am so excited to share that I will now be telling my story in a book. I am currently working on a memoir that will be published by Freethought House, the same publisher as my recent poetry book. 

I have a lot of work ahead of me but I will post updates as I go.

An Off Week But Recovery Prevails

This has been an off week.

In recovering from schizoaffective disorder, I am always learning. As normal as I may seem most days, sometimes something will happen that will reveal how deep my issues run — another reminder of my broken brain. But I have to keep moving forward. Recovery is not about a cure — it’s about learning to live with your illness. 

This week I learned that to truly feel stability, you have to learn to be flexible. If you can’t adapt to changes in life, you will always be thrown off course. I’m sure that goes for everybody — mentally ill or not. 

This week fear and distractions won but I will start fresh next week. This is reality and I am regaining my focus. 

Letting go: death is final and I may never get the answers I seek.

I want to let you all in. Having a schizophrenic disorder can be terrifying and confusing and I want to reveal what it’s really like. You might say it’s just a diagnosis, but it’s part of my story and often the reason I do the things I do. As disturbing as the symptoms are, when they cease with medication you sometimes feel a sense of loss.

I recently wrote about my family’s involvement with the Ku Klux Klan. I write what I know and how I feel about it. Honestly, I want answers but everyone’s dead. 

What does this have to do with my schizoaffective disorder diagnosis?

Prior to treatment, I thought I could communicate with the dead. I saw apparitions and heard voices. Sometimes I had visits with dead relatives. I saw my mom who died when I was five years old. I was terrified day in and day out, but in a sick way, I thought my “abilities” made me special. 

Hence the feeling of loss when medication takes away the thing that makes you special. Also, I have no memory of my mom so thinking I had a way to communicate with her was somewhat comforting.

With medication came a clear head and then atheism. In becoming an atheist I had to conclude that death is final. I never communicated with the dead. It was all symptoms of my mental illness. Thankfully, my feeling of relief has always been more powerful than my feeling of loss.

I was just thinking about this tonight because my grandparents who were in the Klan were my mom’s parents. What happened between my grandparents and me? My mom is an important link in this story and I’ll never know how she felt about it.

It’s now easy for me to say there is nothing after death, but I have to admit it’s hard knowing I may never get the answers that I seek.

My recovery is thanks to science.

I’m going to expand on something I tweeted. (Yes, I’ve been spending a lot of time on Twitter.)

Do you know what’s amazing? I don’t even remember the last time I had a psychotic symptom.

As many of you know, at 21 I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. My years as a teen and young adult were plagued with terrifying hallucinations and crippling mood swings. Rock bottom hit hard and my parents got me help.

When I received my diagnosis I began taking psych meds and the effects were dramatic. I went from barely functioning to going to school. Working. Dating. Things weren’t perfect but I was going in the right direction.

Now here I am — 38. A wife. A mom. Working a job I love and writing poetry and books. Normal life has completely taken over. It was just a random thought today — I don’t remember my last psychotic symptom. 

Schizoaffective disorder is serious — but I’m thriving. 

But let’s give credit where credit is due. My recovery isn’t a miracle. My life isn’t blessed. All of this is thanks to science.

My medications work and I am incredibly grateful. 

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no. 25 “Anxiety”

Dear daughter,

We’ve hit a point where shit gets real. 

I struggle with anxiety every day. It’s probably my most debilitating mental health issue even though my primary diagnosis is schizoaffective disorder. For schizoaffective disorder, I take medication and my symptoms go away, but with anxiety, solutions aren’t as clear cut. It is a daily battle for me consisting of some exhaustive highs and lows. It’s a terrifying rollercoaster ride and I think I would do just about anything to get the fuck off of it.

One of my worst fears is that you inherit this awful mental health disorder.

But now I watch you — you’re not as outgoing as you once were. You’re shy. Your teachers say you cry at preschool and you hide in the bathroom when you’re nervous. Yesterday was your preschool graduation, and you looked scared. I look at you and see my own anxiety that I had in childhood and it’s painful.

I’m so sorry, daughter. You come from a line of nervous people. Pop Pop worries constantly and I’m socially awkward. I prefer to isolate myself and stay home alone rather than interacting with others.

Even though I struggle, I still have some advice for you. Recognize when you are struggling and reach out for help when you need it. Don’t wait. Even though anxiety medication didn’t really work for me, that doesn’t mean I gave up. 

I found that meditation helps me. While it doesn’t seem to prevent anxiety, it has definitely made a difference in how I cope with it. I was actively searching for solutions — still am really.

And maybe I’m socially awkward but that doesn’t mean I don’t have support. I don’t have a million friends but I’m very close to my family. That’s very important to me and my mental health.

Maybe I’m jumping the gun here. You’re only five years old. Maybe you won’t have problems with anxiety, but there’s still a lesson to be learned here:

Reach out for help. Don’t wait and don’t give up. Find support. We all struggle with something and I hope you find these words useful. 

I will always be here for you.

Love,

Mom

My daughter graduated from preschool last week!

Religion and the Mental Health Field

I mentioned a week or so ago that I am still afraid of losing my job or not obtaining future employment due to living openly as an atheist. One commenter pointed out that the amount of discrimination and ridicule you receive often depends on your job and field. I completely agree so I wanted to write a little about my work.

My Job as a Peer Supporter

I’m a mental health peer supporter and I’ve worked, interned, or volunteered for five mental health organizations in the past fifteen years. Wow. I can’t believe it’s been fifteen years. I don’t feel old enough to have worked in anything for fifteen years.

(A certified peer supporter here in Ohio means you have a mental illness or addiction, have at least two years of solid recovery under your belt, and are willing to share your story and experience to help others. I have schizoaffective disorder and have been in recovery for many years. Despite having a serious mental illness I have been able to go to school, work, and have a family.) 

Anyway, everywhere I’ve worked I’ve experienced some pretty intimidating holy rollers in both staff and clients. It’s caused me to keep my mouth shut. I really feel religious discussions have no place at work but there’s a difference between choosing not to say anything and being afraid to say anything. I’ve always been afraid and whether I think it’s right or not the religious discussions are taking place.

At my current position, I facilitate art and writing groups for people in recovery (or at least I did before the pandemic). I fear the staff but I fear the clients more. So many of the clients that come to the arts center are very religious. If they found out that I’m not, would they lose their trust in me? 

I’ve always been an anxious person, but in the case of my job, I feel my fears are legitimate. 

Spirituality vs. Science in Recovery

It goes beyond me and my job. I’m currently working on a memoir about being an atheist with a mental illness and I know first hand that it can be hard to escape religion and spirituality in recovery. Take the Twelve Steps for example. Talk of a higher power is all over their literature and program, and it’s such a popular and visible program. It’s what first comes to mind when you think of alcoholism or other addictions.

I’ve felt pressure from supervisors, coworkers, clients, and even my own therapist. Mental health and spirituality often feel intertwined but maybe we could help more people if the mental health field was more inclusive of the secular community. 

I know my own recovery is powered by science (my awesome doctor and life-saving meds). If more people viewed recovery in that way I think the mental health field would be a lot better off.

 

Has anyone else witnessed this in the mental health field? I know living in a red state doesn’t help.

Finding a Therapist that isn’t Religious

I’ve heard good things about the Secular Therapy Project. I wish I would have known about it in the past. It might have saved me some confusion and heartache. Go to their website to find a secular, evidence-based mental health clinician in your area.

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no.22 “Always Use Your Voice”

Dear daughter,

Yesterday was difficult. We’re still in the middle of the pandemic, so it was just another day of hanging around the house. 

You were putting up a fight for some very basic things — brushing your teeth and getting dressed. You’re four and you don’t like being told what to do. I don’t like threatening time-out but it seems to get the job done.

The fights and frustration continued throughout the day. I don’t even remember what it all was about. What was concerning was that by the end of the day when we’re all tired, you were crying and I couldn’t understand what you were saying. This has been happening more frequently. I wish I knew what was going on so I could help you.

Daughter, I’m sure by the time you read this letter I will be able to understand you when you’re upset. Language skills and emotional regulation will come (and hopefully soon.)

It’s okay to be upset. Always use your voice. Communication is crucial. If you need help, always speak up. Be clear in what you need.

I don’t cry that much. It’s not that I’m afraid to let go, it’s just me. When I do cry, it is a good indication that changes need to be made. So when I break down, I listen to my mind and body. You always should, too. 

Beautiful daughter, life is full of ups and downs and good communication will help you get through all of it. Always use your voice.

Love,

Mom

Recovery is Not All Butterflies and Rainbows

I am currently writing a book about being an atheist with a mental illness. I think I’ve mentioned it a couple of times on here. I am living with schizoaffective disorder and an eating disorder and with this book, I not only want to give an atheist perspective on mental health but also give a very realistic view of recovery.

Let me start with the good. After struggling for years with the mood and psychotic symptoms of schizoaffective disorder, I am able to live a fulfilling and relatively normal life. I work and I have a family. I get to do the things I love to do and I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I love being able to write about my success living with such a stigmatized and debilitating illness and I hope I can bring others hope.

But here’s where I get to the realistic view of recovery. While my life might seem pretty good and from the outside, I look pretty stable right now, I’ve actually been struggling with my eating disorder for the past few months. I’m mentally exhausted and physically sick. 

Two days ago I hit a breaking point and I’m ready to get help. I’ve been through treatment before with my eating disorder so I know a little bit about what to expect. Yesterday I started meal planning and I will contact my old counselor on Monday. I’m already feeling a little better — or at least see a light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s times like these that remind me to keep my writing honest and raw. Recovery is hard work — and while it is absolutely worth it — the journey is not all butterflies and rainbows. I’m not going to pretend it is and I’m not going to hold back. 

Most of the time I feel well so I know that even though I’m in a funk right now, there will be brighter days ahead. I’m nearing the end of my project and I hope my readers will feel the struggle as well as the triumph.