Who’s your Jenni Schaefer?

I sat at the round table in the guidance counselor’s office–a table meant for a group to sit around and chat. But instead of a friendly group chat, there was a war. My perfect posture added to the intensity of the situation– and by situation, I mean the complex act of me trying to eat a sandwich through a fiery death glare aimed directly at the food in front of me. I was in the pit of my eating disorder, and I had convinced myself there was no way out. That’s when I was given a book to read: Life Without Ed, by Jenni Schaefer.

I’m not kidding when I say my life changed in that moment. No, I did not eat the sandwich, nor did I reach full recovery for a few more years. However, I realized for the first time in that moment that I had a say in my recovery. My parents could keep driving me to therapy, but it was up to me to make the decision to recover. It took years of debating with my treatment team and my loved ones, but sure enough, I ultimately chose recovery. I have Jenni to thank for a large part of my life-changing decision.

Around 1 year ago, I wrote Jenni a letter by hand and mailed it to her (I know, crazy concept!). I told her how much I admired her, thanked her for inspiring me, and asked if she was taking any interns for the summer. Shortly after, I received an email from none other than Jenni herself. I freaked out. I would be interning with my recovery role model the summer before my senior year of college!

Now, I am a second semester senior, and I had the absolute honor of presenting with the incredibly talented and amazing human being, Jenni Schaefer, for my university’s Love Your Body Week. Talk about full circle!

I’m sharing my story about my special relationship with Jenni because everybody needs a Jenni in their recovery. We all need that one person or thing that gives us the hope and empowerment to reclaim our health and fight for the life we deserve. I have Jenni to thank for the hugely positive impact recovery has had on my life, and for the many blessings that will continue to come from a friendship and mentorship with Jenni Schaefer.

Who’s your Jenni? How can you find your voice and make the choice to recover? I’m living proof that even the “impossible” is possible if you make the decision to fight for your life.

For more about Jenni’s incredible mission (and to see a blog I wrote for her) check out her website!

Call me a yogi

“Feel your feet planted firmly into your mat. As you sink lower in Warrior Two, feel the earth supporting you, gently pressing against your foot. Now, let your body fall forward–I know, it’s scary, but learning to trust your body will allow you to trust others more fully. Your body knows what to do. You know what to do. Feel your body weight shift forward and know that it’s okay to fall. Just stand right back up and try again.”

 

As you can probably guess, the person speaking the words above was my yoga instructor. I recently joined a hot yoga studio near my university, and it has quite literally changed my life. In the one week that I have been regularly participating in hot yoga, my entire mindset and feelings toward myself and others has changed. These are 3 reasons why hot yoga is essential in my recovery, and why you might like to find something similar for your own wellbeing…

 

  1. I am learning to trust– to trust my body, my mind, and the world around me. The dark doesn’t seem so scary anymore. Strangers aren’t automatically suspicious. My friends have my best interests at heart. I have all the tools inside that I need to succeed. When I fall, I can get up again and try a little harder. Failure has no meaning in my life because I trust that I can– and will– fly.
  2. I have a fresh take on recovery. I had become lax in taking care of my physical and emotional needs until yoga refreshed my outlook on recovery. Now, I cook yummy meals for myself every day. I try new foods in the grocery store and at restaurants. I challenge myself to do something a little scary (but not dangerous) so I can push the limits of my comfort zone. I seek support when I need it and offer my own support to others when they need me. Recovery is about balance, and I have found my footing.
  3. My body is respected. I listen to my body now more than I ever have before. I take breaks in yoga class and go back to child’s pose when my body has had enough. I fuel my body with food that makes it feel nourished and strong. I make sure to get enough sleep each night and schedule time to curl up in blankets and watch my favorite shows. My body has become my friend. Thank you, yoga, for teaching me the importance of truly loving my body.

 

Hot yoga is intense and is not safe for everyone. I encourage you to talk to your doctor to find out what your body is capable of doing and to find an outlet that allows your body to feel complete. Whether you are in recovery or if you have never had an eating disorder, self-care is something we all need to get better at. I promise you that taking the time to get connected with your soul and treating your body with love will lead you to a new place– one where you will find peace and true joy.

I am not “an anorexic”– and neither are you

This morning, I participated in a Twitter discussion hosted by Jenni Schaefer and Dr. Jennifer Thomas along with AED. The topic centered around appropriate language for individuals who are diagnosed with eating disorders. This topic is so important to me that I decided to continue the conversation here!

What’s wrong with saying an individual “suffers” from an eating disorder, or “struggles with” an eating disorder? In using this language, we reduce the individual’s experience to one of passiveness and helplessness. If you have ever met someone fighting an eating disorder, you know that he or she is anything but passive and helpless– these people are some of the strongest you will ever meet. Many in the eating disorder community prefer the term “battle” or “fight” when referencing their EDs, as in “She is fighting anorexia” or “He is battling bulimia”. After all, those seeking recovery are warriors.

How about referring to someone battling anorexia as “an anorexic”? Technically, this is grammatically correct, but in reality, this can be degrading. Labeling someone by his or her diagnosis takes away their personhood, reducing their humanity to a walking disorder. People fighting their illnesses– the very things that try to kill them and ruin every aspect of their lives– are not simply “a bulimic” or “an anorexic” or a “binge eater”, etc. Like I said, these people are warriors. If you want to refer to them as something, I’d go with superwoman, or rockstar, or really anything else that accurately reflects just how bad-ass they are!

Long story short, language is the first block upon which all our conversations about eating disorders are built. This dialogue is far too important to simply ignore words and phrases that undermine the intense fight and strength that comes with battling an eating disorder. Thank you, Jenni and Dr. Thomas for a stimulating conversation this morning. I look forward to more conversations with family and friends and a deeper societal understanding of eating disorder recovery!

https://higherlogicdownload.s3.amazonaws.com/AEDWEB/05656ea0-59c9-4dd4-b832-07a3fea58f4c/UploadedImages/Learn/AED-Language-ED_Full_NEW-Flyer_03_08_17-d.pdf

Trust

I stepped off the plane in Phoenix with butterflies in my stomach and that old familiar sense of dread that used to torment me in high school when change was happening. “What if the other kids don’t like me? What if I can’t find food I can eat? What if I get sick and need to go to the ER?” The thoughts came rushing over me like a water fall, anxiety like a strong ocean current. I took a deep breath and did the scariest thing I knew how to do: trust. I trusted the process, I trusted the people, and most of all, I trusted myself.

 

I am currently taking a class in Hawaii. I know, it sounds amazing– and it is, actually, amazing. I’m having the time of my life learning things I would never appreciate if learned while sitting in a classroom. I get beach time frequently, the other students are incredible, the food is amazing, we partook in two service activities, and the Hawaiian culture and history are rich in depth and spirituality. This class is truly a once in a life-time experience.

 

However, I am still a little bit scared. Trusting is not easy for me. I am a type-A perfectionist who plans every detail of her life out and follows that plan almost to a T. I wake up here not knowing what the day will bring or where I’ll be getting my next meal from. I second guess my conversations with classmates, wondering if I said the right thing or if I completely messed up. The only way to overcome these anxieties is to simply trust.

 

Trusting is an integral part of recovery. If you don’t trust the process of treatment, you will not progress. If you don’t trust your support system, you will stumble more than you climb. If you don’t trust yourself, your road to recovery will be much longer and more painful. Trust, trust, trust!

 

Trusting is not easy, and I can’t promise it will come without hard work. Maybe someone will wake up one day ready to place blind faith in everything around them, but for most of us, trusting is a learning process. I learned a lot about myself as I began to put faith in my treatment team, my support system, and myself, and this was a key part of my progress in recovery. If I can do it, so can you!

 

So, next time you start to doubt if eating that meal is a good idea or going to therapy is beneficial, just take a deep breath, cast aside your anxiety, and trust your treatment, your people, and yourself. One small act of courage can change the course of your recovery for the better.

New year, same you?

“I will work out more this year. I won’t eat so much sugar. I’ll drop a few pounds and change my hair– I’ll actually be pretty, not just same old me. I’ll have a gorgeous boyfriend and land an awesome internship and every piece of my life will fall into place. The clock just has to strike midnight.” Sound familiar?

 

With the New Year comes a lot of expectation. We place unreasonable goals in the horizon of our newfound sense of purpose, goals that are humanly impossible to achieve all in the course of a year, at least for most of us. We promise ourselves that all of our problems will be solved with the change of one number and we will be happy. But guess what? The New Year done the usual way is not the answer to our problems.

 

Happiness is fleeting. It is far healthier to be content– with who you are, the life you live, and the people you surround yourself with– than to be happy. If you’re happy all the time, you appreciate it less. It becomes less of a gift and more of the same old daily routine. If you’re content, you can experience periods of happiness, and they are beautiful, precious moments that keep you moving forward, waiting for that beautiful gift to come again. Happiness is important, but it is not everything. Strive to be grateful for the good in your life and do your best to sit peacefully with the things that can’t change.

 

And then there’s the concept of beauty. We are all beautiful in our unique ways, and a New Year is not going to give you a dramatic makeover (unless, of course, you go the plastic surgery route). You will find that feeling you crave of being beautiful if you show kindness to yourself, and to your image in the mirror. The day you stop critiquing your reflection and instead tell yourself you look hot as hell in that outfit is the day you start to feel beautiful. This New Year, practice self love and find your own beauty.

 

Lastly, there comes the notion of health. The New Year is a great motivation for making positive changes in your life for mental and physical health. However, if you are solely focused on losing weight or refusing to exercise in a healthy way, you will not feel good about your body or your health. Try a 21 day yoga challenge, push yourself (gently) to gain strength and endurance, or encourage yourself to try a new kind of physical activity. Eat intuitively rather than follow a strict diet, cook with friends or family, and experiment with different teas if you want to make changes to your eating habits in a healthy way. The key to health is balance. You can get down to your “ideal” dress size and weight and still feel incredibly insecure if you don’t have balance in your health routine.

 

And so, my friends, this New Year, you are still you. That’s a good thing! The world needs you and your uniqueness, so don’t change the person you are. If you really want to change something, be a little kinder to yourself; find things to be grateful for in your life and strive to mend the pieces that are broken, but know that change takes time; find balance in your life and don’t place too much value in appearance. The best change comes from a place of self-love and empathy for others. This New Year, be content, confident, and balanced, but most importantly, don’t forget to be you.

5 Jokes about Mental Health that Need to Stop

For the past 8 years of my life, I have taken on the role of being a mental health advocate. When I first started getting treated for my eating disorder and anxiety issues as a young teenager, my eyes were opened to a new world. Suddenly, I was sensitive to the jokes my peers were making about mental health. As much as I tried, I couldn’t turn it off. College has brought many blessings and truly wonderful friends and classmates; however, the jokes have made their way to my college campus as well as those around the nation. I speak for many of us with our own mental health issues when I say that these jokes need to stop.

To be clear, I am not pointing fingers. I am not blaming anyone or accusing any person for doing the wrong thing. Honestly, I am writing out of love and fellowship, as I want us all to work together to create an environment that does not make light of serious problems. Mental illnesses are just as real as a physical illness. Just as it is wrong to make fun of a serious physical problem, it is also wrong to make a joke at the expense of someone experiencing emotional pain. I hope this article makes my message clear.

  1. “I am/she is so anorexic” — commonly used when one skips lunch or goes on a diet. Why it’s offensive: anorexia has the highest mortality rate out of any mental illness. It is not a laughing matter, and making light of it reduces the likelihood that loved ones will see anorexia nervosa as a serious problem.
  2. “I’m going to kill myself” — a phrase often used when one messes up or is very upset. Why its’s offensive: people of all ages attempt or complete suicide every day. If you are serious about having thoughts of hurting yourself, you should seek help immediately. If you aren’t, please consider using another phrase to express your frustration or emotions.
  3. “I had a panic attack when… ” often used when someone felt nervous about an event or activity. Why it’s offensive: panic disorders are debilitating mental health problems that mimic heart attacks and legitimately make the sufferer feel like he or she is dying. It is normal to have anxiety, and it is important to share your feelings with friends. However, if you do not experience panic attacks, please do not joke about them.
  4. “She’s so bipolar” — term used when a loved one is experiencing a mood swing or intense sudden emotion. Why it’s offensive: bipolar disorder is a debilitating mental illness that includes severe depression and intense mania, often combined with self harm and/or suicidal thoughts. Emotions are normal, mood swings are normal to an extent, so if your loved one does not meet the criteria for a mental health-related diagnosis, please refrain from using “bipolar” lightly and inappropriately.
  5. “I got PTSD from… ” a phrase thrown around quite often when people had a bad experience with something, such as a test, talking to a cute boy, or any event that went poorly. Why it’s offensive: PTSD is a result of a serious trauma, leaving the person constantly terrified and feeling unsafe until treatment reduces symptoms. PTSD takes lives every year and makes living unbearable. Chances are, taking a test, even a really hard one, will not leave you with diagnosable PTSD. So, please, if you don’t actually have PTSD, do not joke about it.

I believe that one day, mental illnesses will not be stigmatized or misused in everyday language. I don’t think poorly of anyone who has made these mistakes, and it is out of genuine love that I bring these issues to light. Let’s all work together to make our society a safe place for everyone, including those battling a mental illness. We can do it!

Just breathe

Have you ever lost someone? Someone you really love? It was around this time last year that my family lost a very dear friend– my mother’s best friend, to be exact. Holly spent years battling stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, and then one day, the fight was over and Holly became the most beautiful angel. The pain is still raw for all of us, but especially for my mom.

Sometimes, I wonder what my life would be like without my best friend. It crushes me to even think of losing her. I go into a panic attack and cry as if she were already taken away from me, and then she walks in the door and everything is okay again. I have to remind myself to breathe… just breathe.

Losing someone you love is hard, especially going into the holidays. If this is a bittersweet time for you, please remind yourself to breathe. Share in the love and joy of the holiday season and don’t forget to schedule time to fall apart, too. Hug your family, laugh with your friends, and smile at a stranger just to add a little warmth to the cold air that comes with December.

This holiday season, celebrate life. It is the most precious gift you can receive and it should be celebrated to the fullest. Love your family, your friends, and yourself, and bask in the joy that comes with this time of year. Pain is a part of life, but love is stronger. Remember to breathe.

I hate feelings

I’m not going to sugar-coat this: I hate feelings. Well, let me be a little more specific– I hate every feeling except happiness. I know, this isn’t what you’d expect to see on an eating disorder recovery blog… after all, I’ve previously committed to only writing positive things about recovery. However, I feel like I owe you all a pearl of wisdom that is not all “rainbows and butterflies” because at the end of the day, I am human, just like you. I, too, am a work in progress!

Why do I hate feelings? From an early age, I was a people pleaser. I sacrificed showing my own negative emotions for the sake of being responsible, pleasant, and easy-going. If I was mad, I took it out on myself through starvation and exercise. If I was sad, I held myself together until I was sure everyone else was asleep, and then I would allow myself to cry until I drifted off to sleep too. If I was anxious, I tried my best not to show it, because I didn’t want to burden anyone else with my “annoying” feelings. Nobody told me my anxiety was annoying, but I was annoyed at myself and did not want to risk drawing attention to myself and my feelings in any way, shape, or form.

Despite many years in therapy, I still don’t like my feelings. I’m working on this. It is my last major hurdle in my own recovery. I will get to a place where feelings are no longer the enemy, just as food is no longer my enemy. I’m sharing my struggle with you because it is so important to give yourself the grace to grow. I debated sharing this blog for fear of coming off as an impostor. However, I am a big believer that nobody is perfect, and I have no intentions of appearing like the golden child of recovery for you. I’m doing my best and learning every day, and that is why I’m sharing my journey with you.

So this holiday season, give yourself the gift of grace. You are a work in progress, on your way to another world where Ed doesn’t exist and feelings are just a normal part of life. I’ll be here right by your side, sharing honest blog posts about eating disorder recovery and encouraging you along your own journey. You are beautiful and courageous and have so much to be proud of! Keep fighting the good fight– together, we will win.

Change is a good thing!

Guess who’s back? I apologize for my leave of absence. These past few weeks have been a time of beautiful and exciting change, and I needed time to meditate and reflect. I had to give myself space for self-care before I could come back and share my message of hope and self-love with all of you. Now, I am ready to resume my role as a recovery blogger and share with you the major life change that has happened.

As you know, I have spent the last few years preparing to become a therapist, with the hope of treating adolescents and adults with eating disorders. While this dream of mine was promising, I started to have feelings of doubt. After many years of being in therapy myself, I grew scared of spending the rest of my life in a therapy office, even if that office was my own. Quite frankly, I was burnt out.

I began to explore other options, ultimately deciding to go back to my childhood dream of being a lawyer. With every thought of a future in law came a new wave of excitement. After many hours of reflection and prayer, I felt confident that I should pursue a law degree.

Where does my passion for mental health come into play in this new career path? Don’t worry, this passion has not faded at all. I’m still deciding the exact path I’d like to pursue, but I’m considering a career where I can fight for insurance benefits for those with eating disorders or gain more rights for mentally ill people. I have even considered representing sexual assault victims in court and striving to make the reporting process easier for such victims on college campuses. At this point, the world is my oyster.

I’m sharing my life update with you because I think there’s a lot to learn from my experience. So many of us are afraid of change– it’s scary, uncomfortable, and anxiety-producing. However, change is also a good thing– a very good thing. Change opens doors we didn’t even know existed. I was terrified to let go of my extremely diligently thought-out plan of becoming a therapist. I had intentions to open a private practice by the time I was thirty years old, and had big plans to make major differences in the treatment of eating disorders.

Now, I still have potential to make a lasting difference in the field of mental health. However, the level of impact I may or may not have is not the most important factor. The crucial part of making a change is following your heart and listening to your inner child. My inner child knew without a doubt that she wanted to be a lawyer. When I re-routed and went back to this potential career, I felt relief and a sense of peace I hadn’t felt in years. You can, too.

At the end of the day, my first obligations are to my own wellbeing. I can’t help other people if my needs are not being met too. Now, I can follow my dream, and in the process of chasing this dream, I can help lots of people along the way. I am at peace with myself. Change is a good thing.

 

Netflix and Chill

I could feel my chest start to cave in, suffocating my lungs and threatening to crush me from the outside in. I felt as if 10,000 pound boulders were on my shoulders, just waiting for one little misstep to cause all my pride to crumble into nothing. In short, I felt the stress of demanding, elite university life, and I was at risk of having a complete and utter breakdown.

After my last class of the week, I forced myself to put on comfy clothes, hop in bed, and watch Netflix. Not just a little 20 minute Friends episode– a 45 minute Grey’s Anatomy one. I was not allowed to pause it to check my email, make a mental checklist of everything I had to do that weekend, or worry about grad school. I committed to 45 minutes of pure relaxation and unproductiveness, and it was amazing.

Sometimes, we need to turn off our strange belief that in order to be a functioning member of society, we must do 20 different things, all at once, perfectly. I still catch myself putting unnecessary pressure on my academics and other engagements, and I repeatedly have to put on the breaks and breathe. I remind myself that relaxation and some amount of laziness is a good thing. And now, I’m reminding you.

If you start to feel the weight of stress– whether from recovery, your treatment plan, school, work, sports, etc– stop what you’re doing, hop in bed, and watch a show. It is your primary duty to take care of yourself, because if you are not taken care of, you can’t do everything else in your life at full potential. So when you’re stressed, remember these three words: “Netflix and chill”.