Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Irony is Ironic

Having battled bulimia since I was 12/13 years old, it's not surprising that Thanksgiving - a holiday that revolves almost entirely around gorging yourself silly on holiday food - is not my favorite time of year. (The fact that I do a special Eating Disorder Thanksgiving post every year is probably a give away as well.)

Last year was the first year since then that I can remember having a pretty okay time, actually enjoying my family, and succeeding at a goal of moderate evening an zero purging. 

This year was a little different for me. I didn't make the 8 hour drive to see my family this year. I stayed in New York. So that was odd. Roommate Monroe wanted me to spend Thanksgiving with her family, which was originally the plan. 

I had two goals for this Thanksgiving:

1. Have an alcohol free holiday.
2. Refrain from binging and purging. 


Two goals. Keeping them small and achievable. Or so I thought. 

I succeeded on the first one. No alcohol, yay me. 

As for the second goal, well, as it turns out I couldn't spend the holiday with Monroe's family either. I tried to go to the gym in the morning. Walking moderately fast made me dizzy. I was having hot and cold flashes where my heart would start to race. I was feverish.... I was sick. So I ended up spending the day cuddled up on the couch with my cats. 

I had the oddest cravings for simple carbs (pasta, pizza, and accompanying tomato sauce) which I never eat. I am simply obsessed with fresh fruits, vegetables, and yogurt. I eat mostly organic whole foods. I love my green smoothies. I actually miss being vegan sometimes. Anyways. All of those things that I love made my stomach turn... not that I could actually eat them, just the thought of them made me want to vomit. 

So I caved to the idea of some nice pasta and organic tomato sauce. Try as I might, my stomach didn't like that either. I tried eating twice yesterday and both times my stomach rebelled. 

So there you have my holiday irony. A goal of  not overeating b/c I specifically did not want to engage in my bad purging habits. Except even when I didn't over eat, my body needed to throw up anyways, just because I was sick. 

 Frankly I think I technically succeeded in my 2nd goal as well. I wasn't being bad by choice. I was just the victim of an unfortunate stomach bug. Oh well, there's always next year.

How did you fare? Did you manage to get through the holiday alright? 



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ask Haven Holiday Special: Surviving Thanksgiving with an Eating Disorder


Dear Haven,

            I’ve battled bulimia and anorexia for years. Holidays are always really hard for me especially now that I’m in recovery and trying not to fall back on bad eating habits. Do you have any tips for getting through the holidays while recovering from an eating disorder?

Sincerely,



Help me!

Aw Help me! my best piece of advice is avoid the holiday by all means necessary. Possibly contract something contagious. I believe small pox is an American tradition. I realize small pox can be difficult to get ahold of though (also, please don’t to that, I was just kidding) so let’s see what else we can come up with.

If you’re like me, when you have an eating disorder that’s plagued you for decades, holidays that are all about food, tend to be a terrible time for you. There are some things you can do to make them a little more manageable though.

1. Get Support

Having a support system is always helpful. If there’s anyone in your family that you can confide in and count on their support throughout the day, take some time to talk to them in advance. My sister and I do this for each other. They can be your “safe person” in case you need to take some time out, grab some fresh air, or talk through something that happened that triggered you.

2. Prepare Properly

Don’t starve yourself beforehand. Don’t skip meals in an attempt to make up for what you are going to eat later. If you’re eating disordered you know you’ve done it: “saved up” your calories for the inevitable splurge before, at, and after dinner. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t actually help. In fact, it has the exact opposite effect. It actually increases the likelihood that you’ll binge because by the time dinner comes around you’ll be so hungry you won’t be able to gauge properly when you’re full. Not to mention, have you ever tried depriving yourself of food? All you do is think about food. It’s completely counterproductive. So prepare the right way. Eat healthy foods for breakfast and prepare some good-for-you snacks to get you through the day until dinner.

3. Don’t Deprive Yourself Completely

As an extension to Prepare Properly, if you spend all your energy thinking about NOT eating things you crave, you’re still spending all of your energy thinking about those things. This isn’t a license to binge. Don’t take a whole plate of potatoes or half a pie, but allow yourself to try them. Maybe a small spoonful here, half a slice of pie there. That way you don’t feel like you’re missing out, but you also don’t have to spend the night obsessing about all the things you’re missing out on.

4. Accept It

            You’re not going to be perfect today.

There are going to be temptations.

 It’s also just one day out of the whole year.

Repeat: It’s just one day out of the whole year.

It's okay. Plan to squeeze in an extra work out or two. It helps alleviate the inevitable guilt that you’re bound to feel for deviating from your usual plan.


5. Have a Plan

Not depriving yourself doesn’t mean over-indulging. Decide which things are worth it to you and stick to those things.  And…

6. …Forget the “All or Nothing” Minset

I know this is difficult for us black and white thinkers, but just because you’ve had one thing doesn’t actually mean everything is ruined and you might as well eat it all now. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a little of this, a little of that, and then all of a sudden I feel like I’ve ruined it all. I’ve already failed, so I might as well fail big. This is dysfunctional thinking. What I’ve come to notice is, all the pre-dinner snacks: The hummus plates, the veggie dips, the weird cream cheese/jelly cracker dip thingy… I don’t actually like them that much (Okay, I love hummus, but that’s healthy and I eat it throughout the year so it’s not a “special” treat for the holiday).

 Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to eat it. I love veggies so I tend to hover around the veggie plate. What I don’t usually eat is all the ranch/veggie/onion dip that accompanies it. So that’s something I don’t need to bother with. Now the cranberry relish at dinner? Totally different story. The only time I get that is at Thanksgiving, so as a one-time thing, I let myself have a little scoop of that.  

So decide ahead of time what things are worth it. Decide which things you don’t really need. Prepare yourself mentally. Give yourself permission for a few things that you don’t usually have. That way you have time to accept things and alleviate some of that spontaneous guilt.


7. Don’t engage or participate in the “fat talk”.

This just isn't appetizing at all.
Everyone I know tends to overeat like it’s a competition on Thanksgiving. Then in a bizarre way to “make up” for the obvious overeating people start to talk about dieting, weight loss, how they’re going to have to starve for a week…. If that starts happening, Ignore it. Ignore it as best as possible. Engage your “safe person” and step outside for some fresh air.

Above all, do not participate. All this does is reinforce the negative self-images we already have and encourage the damaging behavior we’re trying to recover from. It’s neither an act of self-care nor is it helpful. Also, please keep in mind, that other people’s issues with food and body-image are not your issues to manage. It’s okay to be mindful of yourself and do what you need to do to keep your mind in a better place.


8. Set Limits and Know Your Boundaries

If there is a relative or two that stress you out, it’s okay to set limits on how much time to actively engage with them.  If you are feeling pressured, or if someone continues to bring up subjects that trigger your thoughts and actions, it’s okay to speak up or remove yourself. Keep it polite. But don’t let yourself be stepped on. Politely express that something makes you uncomfortable and you’d prefer not to discuss it. That you’d appreciate if they could respect that you don’t want to discuss it.  


9. Don’t Overbook Yourself   

I rarely go back home, so when I do everyone I know wants to meet up and do things with me. Doubly so on holidays. This goes right along with knowing your limits. Make the most stressful day, as minimally stressful as possible. Choose one or two important things and don’t push yourself to do more. Doing too much will cause you to be more frazzled and more likely to reach for those bad habits to help you “feel in control” of the situation. Take it easy.


10. Be Kind to You

Holidays are stressful. Holidays are hard. Don’t be harder on yourself. Take time to breathe. Take time to talk positively to yourself. Take time to take care of yourself.


11. Pick Up Where You Left Off  

Keep in mind that it’s only one day. One day won’t ruin you for the rest of your life. If we’re honest with ourselves it won’t even ruin us for the rest of our week. So when the holiday is over, get right back into your usual routine. The very next day, wake up, and get back into your healthy regime.




You can do it. It’s just one day. If you make a plan you can get through it with minimal scathing. Good luck. You’ll get through. 



Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ask Haven: Personal Responsibility


A Reader asked: Where does responsibility-taking come in to play when such maladaptive behaviors are done to others. Do most people with BPD just consider such things part of the package, or can they really own them and take responsibility for them?


Here’s the thing. Having maladaptive behaviors and coping mechanisms and recognizing them are very different things. These maladaptive defense mechanisms develop gradually and usually begin quite young so they feel very natural. Often people with BPD don’t actually recognize them as maladaptive or wrong behavior. All they recognize is that this is how they feel. When other people disagree, invalidate the feeling, or try to defend a different opinion and renegotiate, all it causes is that sense of being misunderstood and alone; like the world is against you.

It’s not that they actively consider these things part of the package; it’s just a part of them/us. It’s not a conscious decision. They act and react without thinking about it or contemplating the consequences.

This is only compounded by the concept of people that are more low-functioning and lack a sense of self-awareness. When someone lacks that sense of self-awareness it can be nearly impossible to see when your own behaviors are hurting, not only the people around you, but you yourself.

This isn’t surprising. It’s been my experience that even people without Borderline Personality Disorder don’t necessarily have the greatest sense of self-awareness. Taking an objective look at your own behavior doesn’t happen often. People are self-centered. It’s the nature of living your life in your body, through your eyes. You are quite literally the center of your own world. Objectivity is not necessarily a part of that package because everything is going to be colored with that filter of self-centeredness. That’s not a judgment, it’s basic human preservation. Learning to see our behavior for what it is, without the subjective filter of our own self-interest, takes time, skill, and real self-awareness. Self-awareness that even your average non-personality disordered person lacks.

That’s really not an excuse though. Self-ignorance is still ignorance. It’s a harsh thing to say, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Developing the ability to understand yourself and your actions and behaviors takes time and work. It is an ability that can be developed though. One that I think most people with BPD would really benefit from, and once the initial defensiveness wears off, one that they will really appreciate.

I don’t know anyone with BPD that loves feeling the way that we do.  The highs are great, but that’s not typically where we live our lives. We live in the low, dark, depressing, anxiety ridden, devastated wreckage of our own minds.  No one wants to feel that way all the time. Or ever. Figuring our way out of that seems like it would be a blessing. Unfortunately we don’t always recognize that not living that way is actually a possibility.

Now, with that being said. It is very important that we learn to recognize what we are dealing with and take responsibility for ourselves and our actions. Without personal responsibility it can be impossible to stop the cycle of dysfunctional relationships and behaviors and impossible to change them to something more healthy.  And we can! Especially with our ability to overanalyze and ruminate, we’re very well equipped with the foundations for self-reflection. It does take overcoming some obstacles to get there though.

As another Reader commented, “As long as I felt "entitled" to my dysfunction, I was doomed to continue it as I expected others around me to approve of my self-destruction and be there for me when I hit bottom again. Suprise to me! Other people have feelings and rights as well. I think it IS hard for me to see past that sometimes because of the shame it causes even just to admit I am hurting people I love and I am capable of continuing to hurt them.”

Admitting that things need to change is that huge first step. That’s where taking responsibility for ourselves start. Unfortunately that does oftentimes mean feeling those painful emotions of shame and embarrassment.  Sometimes it takes hitting bottom before we just don’t want to live that way any longer. Before we can admit that we need help learning to live a different way. Learning to re-evaluate that sense of entitlement and learning to change the behaviors that hurts everyone else around us, including ourselves, is a process. Which is why it’s so important to get all this information out there.

Here’s another thing though. Even having the ability to take responsibility for ourselves and being aware of our actions, doesn’t mean that there won’t still be issues and problems. We still feel the way we feel. Sometimes those thoughts and feelings will still be so overwhelming that the impulse to act on them is difficult to resist. Self-awareness and personal responsibility doesn’t mean that our brain chemistry has changed. It doesn’t mean that we’ll be completely “cured”. But it does mean that we are more likely to live more functionally.  

So like I said, I do believe with many that have BPD that they don't really understand what is going on so it's impossible to really own it. They're just reacting to things that or people that are reacting to them. It's all instinct and reaction and not necessarily reflection and understanding. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be changed though. Taking personal responsibility for ourselves is critical. Without doing that it’s practically impossible to learn to live a healthy and happy life.

Self-awareness and personal responsibility might not be a “cure”, but they are certainly a necessary part of getting there. And certainly a part of the healing process. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ask Haven: Alone Time


A Reader asks: Is it common for people with borderline personality disorder to avoid being around others?


Sure. I know it seems counter intuitive for someone with abandonment issues to want to be alone, but that one issue doesn’t negate everything else that might be going on in our head.

There are a lot of reasons someone with BPD might want to be alone.

This is pretty typical if we feel someone is getting too close to us emotionally. We often seem to jump into relationships quickly and they can be very intense, but that doesn’t mean we’re ready for the intensity. We may want it, more than anything, but all actions have an equal and opposite reaction. The intense desire to be with someone, is naturally coupled with an intense desire to be alone… in order to protect ourselves from the feelings inspired by that someone.

If you’re in a relationship with a Borderline the sense that they’re being smothered, losing their self or their independence could make them crave some time alone as well. This is often preceded by some kind of pushing away. And just because you don't think you're smothering them, doesn't mean it doesn't feel that way. 

If you tend towards counter-dependency like I do, it’s important for us to maintain our autonomy. Being alone is a way to “prove” to ourselves that we don’t “need” someone.

Anxiety and anxiety disorders are commonly co-morbid with BPD. Social anxiety, unsurprisingly, is included in this. Yes, “social” can mean just one person.

Sometimes when we’re overwhelmed by the world, the noise from outside makes the noise on the inside beat like a brass band, solitude is the only thing that can quiet the din.

If your Borderline is eating disordered or has self-esteem and body image issues, the thought of being seen by anyone else could be the cause of that anxiety and panic. Especially with my own dysmorphic issues, being uncomfortable with how you feel about how you look, is absolutely justification for wanting to be alone…. And being able to avoid the eyes of anyone else on you.

And there are also plenty of non-BPD reasons someone with BPD might want to be alone. Like we actually have stuff to do. I constantly have a book with me, and while I can read with other people around, I feel like I’m failing as a hostess/girlfriend/friend/whatever if I’m not entertaining. There are just things I prefer to do by myself or with only the company of my cat. Including, but not limited to: grocery shopping, errands, reading, painting, organizing my life, spending time with my cat, working out (I hate people watching me while I work out), sewing, other crafty projects… all kinds of things.

For the longest time the guys at work were trying to get me to join the group softball team. I played softball for like 12 years and I used to be pretty good. The practices and games were on Thursday night though. Which is when I have therapy. So I was constantly giving vague excuses and reasons for why I couldn’t play (because apparently flat out stating I wasn’t interested in playing wasn’t enough of a reason). Or join for happy hour after. An explanation of, “well honestly I have to see my shrink and I’m usually pretty sad or upset afterwards, so drowning my problems in a pint of beer isn’t really helpful…” is not something I really feel like sharing with co-workers. One of the things I would say pretty often was, “Eh, I’m not really feeling up to a crowd tonight. I’d rather just have a quiet night alone.” Which, after therapy, was true enough.

Do I feel bad about little white lies like that? Nope, not even a little. Some things in my life (anyone’s life) are private. You have the right to tell people, or not tell people, certain things about your life in your own time. No one is entitled to information about your life, until you’re ready to share, if you’re ready to share. You’re allowed to have some things that are just yours. Including your time.

That doesn’t mean all of us with BPD feel the need to have time alone. But some do. Your best bet is to simply ask. We’re not all the same, despite sharing a condition.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Perks of Being a Cutter


Wound Closures

Butterfly strips

Guaze

Surgical tape

Band-aids

Neosporin

Hydrogen Peroxide

If you’re ever woken up at 2 a.m. b/c your Roommates rats are getting into a fight and she’s been inadvertently bit to the muscle… it helps to have these things around.

So yeah, that was my middle of the morning. Monroe yelling for me in pain, gushing blood. Her poor rat is fine, had to go to the vet. As an odd happenstance of luck I was actually wearing clothes to bed so I jumped out quickly. I grabbed everything in my medicine cabinet so she could patch herself up.

I’ve had to patch myself up on more than a few occasions when I was trying to avoid a trip to the ER for accidentally going too deep. She was worried she would have to go to the hospital herself. Another thing you learn from nearly two decades of self-harm… which injuries really do require immediate medical attention, and which ones the hospital won’t be able to do anything more about than you can do yourself. Hers was definitely deep but wouldn’t even require a stitch. Only worry there is infection, and she’s hyper fussy like I am so it shouldn’t be a problem at all.

I’m happy to say that as of this month I am actually 2 years free from deliberate self-harm.  

Not that I’d recommend it for anyone to have as a life experience, but if you have this particular lifestyle of self-injury, being able to take away something from it in the end isn’t a bad thing. If you’re going to do something, even something that isn’t “good” for you, the least you can do is learn from it. I pay attention to everything I do. I can easily identify self-serviceable wounds and the ones that should require attention. And I’m pretty good at administering some first aid.

Paying attention doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t slip up though. One of the worst wounds I inflicted on myself was to my lower leg. It most certainly required stitches. Ironically I did end up in the hospital that night, but had I told them of my injury I wouldn’t have been released. So that was out of the question.
Knowing what you’re doing doesn’t mean you can’t still get very hurt. It’s certainly better to find a more adaptive way to cope, but if you can’t yet, please be careful.

Now however, I still have my cabinet stocked with the things to fix those mistakes.  And sometimes it comes in handy.

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