I’ve recently returned from a seven day, self-imposed, writing retreat for one. It was awesome.
I stayed at a friend’s cottage by the beach for a week and wrote, wrote, wrote. I also spent a lot of time reading old journal entries and it really hits home how far I’ve come. I’ve spent three years hitting this recovery gig hard, and looking over those journals shows what a dark place I’ve been in, but also articulates so clearly the long recovery road. Which I’m still traversing but oh my gosh – I’m so far along now. Three years ago I couldn’t imagine being where I am now.
In 2015 I fell apart.
I challenge anyone not to collapse to some degree under all the stress I experienced. The grief and trauma of losing my mother and sister, as well as my grandfather, both my in-laws and a handful of aunts and cousins – eight deaths in six years. Dealing with my teenage son running off the rails and looking dangerously ill, and taking in my adult nephew with all his issues after losing his mother. Our marriage in utter turmoil. My grandmother’s decreasing health and cognition requiring constant care and demands from me. Ending over three decades of performing and teaching music. Losing my identity as my children left home, my career was gone, and my youth was a distant past. It was a lot to deal with.
Couple that with a lifetime of unacknowledged high anxiety and low depression, and a strong history of disordered eating, and it was clear I was ill equipped to deal with the hand I was dealt.
I found a most excellent psychologist and began the work of recovery. The more she dug into my story, the more she realised how much was going on. Over the course of a year, I got worse – not because she was a terrible therapist (she is outstanding) – but because stressors were still there, more grief and loss was on it’s way, and my 50 years of non-existent coping strategies was never going to be a quick fix.
In 2016 I sunk to my lowest depths – my annus horribilis.
I was completely suicidal, self-harming multiple times per day, and not eating at all. I spent a month in a mental health clinic where I was kept safe, rested, fed, protected from everyday stresses, given pharmaceutical support, and finally grieved for my sister. I left the clinic and continued the hard work. And it was a lot of hard work.
Depression and anxiety is not easily fixed. It takes a lot of acknowledgment and acceptance – from myself, loved ones, and professional support. Self harm, suicidality and disordered eating are symptoms – coping mechanisms – of depression and anxiety. The rest of 2016 saw a moderate improvement in my mental health, and in 2017 I settled into a much safer place.
This year I finally had the strength to face the eating disorder head on.
It was the symptom with the most longevity and the most difficult to deal with. I spent nearly two months in a dedicated eating disorder clinic and haven’t looked back since. It wasn’t a magic cure – and it was absolutely not fun – but after three years of actively seeking every piece of my recovery puzzle, I finally put it all together.
Depression is extremely well managed with pharmaceutical support. Anxiety is an eternal issue but I’m alleviating it as much as possible through writing, talking rather than ruminating, using grounding techniques, acceptance, and attempts at mindfulness (where my efforts will be focused next).
Suicidality is no longer a pressing issue. I don’t actively pursue options to end my life and – most importantly – I’ve found hope and purpose for the future. I still lack natural protective forces for my well being, which seems inherent in other people, but this may always be the case.
Self-harm is no longer a problem. I picture a future where I never self-harm again. I’ve occasionally slipped – always due to high anxiety – but they are few and far between and when the urges come I have little problem surfing that urge, using distraction techniques, and looking at the root cause of the desire and dealing with that instead.
The eating disorder is my last battle ground. I’m still in the battle but it’s looking good. Since leaving the clinic I’ve maintained my daily eating schedule. I’ve ceased all compensatory behaviours (purging, restriction, self-harm). I’m focusing on anything but eating. I’ve lost the desire to purge. I’m still working on binging and restricting desires. I check in with my support team every single week. I talk about things with family and friends. I’ve created a safe environment at home by carefully stacking the fridge and pantry. I’ve sought support and guidance from my husband who ensures I eat when I’m supposed to eat.
Things aren’t perfect – but only four months ago, I was losing hope for recovery. Now I know it’s not only possible, but happening. I picture a future free from disordered eating.
I couldn’t have come to this place without professional support – but I had to find the right support (I’ve sacked a few personnel along the way).
I couldn’t have come to this place without personal support – accepting the love and wisdom of friends and family when the voice of insanity screams loudly in my head.
I couldn’t have come to this place without a dogged determination to seek out more tools, more options, more things to try. Everything I did was useful, but no single thing “cured” me – I need all the tools, all the support, all the options. I continue to need all those things.
And why am I writing this post? Because I want those who’ve supported me to know how grateful I am for their patience and love. I want those struggling to know there is hope, never give up. And I want to remind myself when the lights were out in those very dark places, I had to hang on until the warm glow of hope started appearing in the distance. Things aren’t perfect, but progress is life changing. My life is coming back.