As is fairly typical for me, I had planned to spend this afternoon blogging about one thing, but after a timely message at church this morning, my intention for this post has done a 180. My plan was to finish up some recipe posts in accordance with a few photos I’d posted to Instagram over the past couple of weeks. The “to-do” list of blog posts I have is growing longer and longer, and the number of posts I’m actually sitting and writing is staying pretty constant — short! Honestly, when I created this website, attempting to re-enter the “blogisphere,” my intent wasn’t to go super deep, emotionally. That’s not to say I wasn’t planning to be vulnerable, but I kind of felt like I was past that point in my journey. For those of you who have followed my blog in the past, when it was Bridgette and Goliath, or the O.G. Bridgette’s Recovery Blog, I was very vulnerable. During that time, I was in and out of treatment for anorexia, and it was intense. I was experiencing a lot of emotions on a daily basis, and not only was I experiencing them, but I was in touch with them. I don’t think I had an appreciation for how much I came to know myself during those long days (for months on end), or twice weekly therapy sessions, or evenings on the phone with my close friends from treatment, talking about the way we were feeling, until they all stopped. Truth be told, I don’t think I really anticipated experiencing that intensity of emotion after recovering. Firstly, I didn’t think I would recover. At least, not to this extent.
About a month ago, I was given the opportunity to speak at the St. Vincent’s Hospital Eating Disorder Treatment program. Words can’t describe how humbled I felt walking back into the place where I’d been a patient for years of my life, at many times feeling so desperate, clinging to any glimmer of hope I could find, trying to believe that there was a life for me outside of those hospital walls and that I wouldn’t feel trapped forever…only now to return as a recovery speaker. Being able to share my experience with the patients in the program today, and offer the kind of encouragement that only someone who’s been through the same (or a very similar) situation can, was an amazing feeling. What was even more amazing, was being told afterward how impactful it was for them, too. Eating disorders are widely regarded throughout the medical community as a mental illness that is treatable, but not curable. Very similar to alcoholism, the “prognosis” from most providers is that to some extent, once afflicted with anorexia, bulimia, or another form of an E.D., a patient will always battle it, but they will learn how to manage the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and therefore, the urges, for life. Not to be a debbie-downer or anything…but I’m sorry, that’s a pretty depressing expectation of one’s future. Unfortunately for patients in treatment, not only is this message frequently projected, but recovery speakers are far and few between. My guess is that this is largely due to a contribution of a few factors. One, many individuals that recover, after getting as deep into their disorder to require intensive treatment, end up relapsing. For this reason, the program requires being in remission for a minimum of two years before you can be a recovery speaker. I laugh now, at all the times I thought I was in recovery in the past, after having discharged from the program and having gone something like eight weeks without any behaviors, asking my psychiatrist if I could come and speak. Ha! While I may not have been actively engaging in behaviors, I was still trapped in a life of structure, afraid to not be in control. My second suspicion is that once those individuals who do in fact, recover, get to a place of full recovery, they consider their disordered life to be far behind them, and wish to keep it that way — not wanting to relive any aspect of it, whatsoever. I can relate to that one, on a number of levels. Thirdly, there just aren’t a whole lot of people who recover, fully. And really, that’s the one that saddens me the most.
When Dr. Stone and I spoke on the phone a few months ago (he called me a couple of weeks before my wedding), we talked about what had transpired over the last two years, to get me to the place that I’m at today. The relationship he and I have is pretty special. After working with me consistently for seven years, even on an outpatient basis during the times I wasn’t in intensive treatment, I would say he knows me on a level that’s quite unparalleled to anyone else in my life. What he wanted to know, is what changed this time. I’d relapsed every other time I’d discharged from treatment, in a matter of months. Why was I able to maintain recovery, and on such a different level, now? He was even more intrigued because I took myself off of both my anti-depressant, and my anti-anxiety medications, over the past year. I’d been on these medications for the past six and four years, respectively.
You can read my full speech, which details what I believe got me to the place I’m in today, uploaded here. But the gist of it is this: I made myself get uncomfortable. Every other time I’d completed and discharged from treatment, I went back into the same, old, routine. I (or my mom) cooked all of my own meals, I rotated through a very cyclical and monotonous variation of the same dishes, I kept myself on a strict schedule of what I would be doing for exercise and when, and then eventually, when I got to a place of maintaining that weight for long enough that it was deemed “safe” (despite still having my disordered mentality), I would taper off of seeing my providers, allowing me to fully revert to my old behaviors, and relapse.
This last time, I did things differently. Once I was at a place of maintaining a healthy weight, I moved into a new house, not with girls that knew my backstory. I no longer returned home each weekend to my mom, where I would have her guiding hand and support through each meal. I took a new job, one that required me to travel with a team every other weekend for four months of the year, therefore meaning I was subjected to their schedule for those weekends away, eating whatever food they provided, and adapting to changes in schedule as was necessary. I also allowed myself to enter into a serious relationship for the FIRST. TIME. EVER. (and yes, that is my wedding featured in the cover photo of this site!).
None of these things may seem significant individually, but together, they really changed the way I was living my life. I was pushed out of my comfort zone (by myself), and I really do give that mindset shift credit, in combination with continuing faith in and goodness received from Jesus, to getting me out of the cycle of relapsing back into anorexia.
Just to clarify, when I began to do all of these things — I was already in a place of physical recovery. My weight was restored, but my mind still wasn’t. I truly think that the game changer in me maintaining recovery this time, is that I finally allowed my mind to heal, and for my mindset to shift…which, comes second to the physical healing portion of recovery. I also continued to have my weight monitored during this transition time, though on a much lesser frequency, to ensure I was maintaining a healthy weight. I will say though, it was really nice having my hormones fully restored at this point — because even without having my weight taken, once that time of month rolled around, I knew I was still in a good space, so long as my period came.
The inspiration for the title of this post came from a combination of two different sermons from the church Cody and I are a part of, The Rose Church, in Southeast Portland. The first one was mentioned in my post of recommended podcasts, but the second one we heard today, so it hasn’t been uploaded to iTunes yet. I highly recommend listening to both of them. Today at church, I was reminded that praise is an intentional act, and one of sacrifice. Nothing I heard this morning was new, nor was it phrased in a way that I hadn’t heard before. But MAN, it’s what I needed to hear this morning, and it hit me hard.
Contrary to what I may have alluded to earlier in this post, the last few months have been tough. Like really, really, I-was-not-expecting-to-be-experiencing-these-kinds-of-things-at-22-years-old, tough. I didn’t anticipate experiencing the crippling emotions of anxiety and depression like I had during my time in and out of treatment, once I was past my eating disorder. Over the last few months, however, I started to notice them slowly creeping back into my life…and not only was I not a fan, but I was super caught off guard. It had been close to years since I’d last woken up and not wanted to get out of bed — not because I was tired, but because I dreaded facing the day. Similarly, it had been years since I’d sat in my parked car outside of my house, crying, alone, with no idea why. I wasn’t struggling with my typical eating disordered thoughts, rather the circumstances that I was facing, but still. I thought I would be able to handle them better than the way I was.
I’m a pretty conscientious person. I know that stigmas are a real thing, but I don’t like to think that they’re something I’m afraid of. I think that while I was recovering from my eating disorder, I felt like my anxiety and depression were justified. I felt out of control of just about everything that was going on in my life, so of course I was anxious and depressed! This time, though, things were different. I graduated from Oregon State in June, and I got engaged the day before the ceremony. After that, though, I found myself floundering. I longed to go back to school, to return to the routine, the camaraderie of living with the five girls who had quickly become much more than roommates, the constant excitement on campus, the successful feeling of being stressed out of my mind for classes, then studying my butt off, and getting As on the exams. I missed living less than a fifteen minute walk from my entire social group. I wanted to return to working with the gymnastics team, a job that kept me stimulated, laughing, crying, and way too emotionally involved in a team (that I had to continually remind myself I was not an athlete on!), while we all had so much fun together. I loved going to work every day during that job.
But then, I graduated. I left Corvallis, and returned to the town I’d grown up in.
More than anything, I missed knowing exactly. what. would. come. next.
My first full-time job after graduating was as a caregiver. I took this job because my plan, after Cody and I got married, was to return to school in an accelerated nursing program, and then have a long career as a nurse, something I’d desired doing since I was hospitalized in the pediatric unit at St. Vincent’s after the onset of my eating disorder.
Shortly after beginning that job, I began to notice some pretty extreme pain in my lower back. I’ve had on and off back pain for years, and had been doing crossfit-style workouts at a new gym since I moved home, so that in conjunction with the amount of lifting of residents that I was doing sort of made sense to me, and I chalked it up as an overuse injury. I started seeing a physical therapist, took on a new job that wasn’t too demanding of my back, and expected life to return to normal over the next month.
Well, it didn’t.
Six weeks turned into six months, and as of today, we are at eight. For the last eight months, I’ve been in pain. I’ve become accustomed to it as “normal,” but that doesn’t mean it hurts any less. I’ve gotten into a terrible routine of settling with getting four hours of sleep at night, because I’m unable to remain comfortable enough to stay asleep for very long, getting up instead to pace, stretch, and ice. My workouts have become quite mundane, as I’m unable to do impact activity, lift anything overhead, or maintain a seated position, as it puts pressure on my already entrapped nerves. This has been incredibly hard for someone who not only values fitness, but feeling strong in my body. Over the last six months, I’ve watched myself lose what I would estimate to be about 80% of the muscle I’d put on since being in recovery. It’s been really, really freaking hard. Also, talk about a testament to actually being in recovery, since I haven’t allowed my weight to drop hardly at all! It’s merely changed from muscle, to fat. I repeat: Really. Freaking. Hard.
Cody and I were dealing with all of this leading up to our wedding, and subsequently, the immediate months following it. It’s hard hearing three different surgeons tell you, a freshly married twenty-two year old, that unless you have a total disc replacement (of three discs), or a spinal fusion, they don’t think your body will be able to sustain bearing children. It’s hard having a career plan of becoming a PICU nurse going into marriage, and then being told that a career that requires you being on your feet all day, like nursing, should probably be taken off the table. The hardest thing, though? No one telling me that they had a solution that would solve the problem. Each doctor I saw proposed a different way I could approach dealing with my back injury, yet not after a single one did I leave feeling confident that there was a method of treatment I could have faith in. Each carried a great deal of risks, and there was no certainty that the operation would completely solve the problem. Not to mention, all of these surgeries would cost us $60,000 + out of pocket. Again, I repeat: We are twenty two and twenty four.
I finally was referred to a doctor who specializes in cutting-edge, experimental, regenerative medicine techniques. I trust him, and I’ve seen and heard enough testimonials from the operations he has done on other patients to feel confident in my hope and optimism in trusting him. That being said, I will be undergoing stem cell treatment in four days, on Thursday, April 4th. I don’t know for sure that this procedure will work, but I’m choosing to hope that it will.
All in all, I’ve had a hard past few months. I ended up leaving the job I took after the caregiving one, instead switching to one that gave me more stable hours and doesn’t require working on weekends. Having two days off each week has been huge in giving me sanity…but two weeks after I took that new job, Cody and I moved…to a new city, resulting in me having an 80 minute commute. The move makes financial sense, and it’s very close to his job. But all of a sudden jumping to spending almost three hours of my day in the car, has been a difficult transition as well.
It may not be surprising, but pretty quickly, I fell into the “I’m trapped” mentality. I was on edge almost constantly due to the amount of back pain I was in (and yes, this is even with being on prescription painkillers), overwhelmed with which direction I wanted my life to go, career-wise, and irritated with Cody for not seeming to understand. I felt like no matter which direction I would go, I was met with doors that were bolted shut.
Today at church, the message continued on the current series of prayer and praise. Pastor Andrew spoke about how the very act of praise is one of lifting our eyes off of ourself, and onto Jesus, and the power that comes from that. I won’t try to paraphrase too much of it here, but I would really recommend listening to the sermon on iTunes, once it’s uploaded, if it’s something you need to hear. The coolest thing to me about the message today though, is that it wasn’t anything new. I’ve heard a variation of that message many times. But today, the timing was right. Today, it was just what I needed, and for that, I’m so thankful!
At the end of the sermon, Pastor Andrew asked anyone who had been struggling with anxiety or depression to raise their hand. For the first time, in YEARS, I raised my hand. I didn’t let myself push down or ignore the feelings I’d been having, though in that very moment, all I wanted to do was sneak out the back door and forget about the whole thing. Ultimately though, the congregation prayed over everyone with their hands raised. It was powerful, and I felt overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit. We followed it up with worship, and I continued worshipping almost the entire rest of the day.
The act of raising my hand was so small, but it forced myself to admit that I’m struggling with anxiety and depression. In that, I’m actively reminding myself that that is okay. Likewise, I’m reminding myself that it does not mean I’m headed for a downward spiral, or that a relapse is looming. I am experiencing scary emotions, but I can handle them. Those seven years of therapy did pay off for one thing — when I do allow myself to process my emotions, I know how to get myself into a better headspace … and nine times out of ten, that means getting myself outside of myself; it means fixing my eyes on Jesus.
Ironically (I do truly believe that God has quite the sense of humor), I was rear ended while I was on my way to Starbucks to write this post. The damage wasn’t bad to my car (or the one in front of me that I was pushed into), but it did affect the way I spent my day, which was, of course, a little frustrating. I found it so fitting, though — on a day when I was really being intentional about not letting my circumstances dictate my spirit, something happened that I could either choose to let affect my attitude, or rise above. After I shook it off (which was aided by continuing to listen to worship music at a high volume, on repeat), I chose the latter. Despite not going as planned, today was a good day. And tomorrow, whether it is “good” day, or not, I’ll fix my eyes on Him, and I know I’ll be okay.