Something I've thought about too much since I graduated is how much life I've missed out on. Recently, a friend said she felt like she's missed out on a lot over the years. Our struggles have been somewhat different but have resulted in the same missed life. Mine started when I was 14 and in eighth grade (ten years ago). My anxiety got so bad that I was afraid to leave my house. My anxiety and depression kept me from meeting friends and having a typical high schooler's life.
Another one of my friends comments that every time things seem to get better, things only get worse. I can relate to that. My 5 and a half years of college were like that. Add in the last few months and the summer months before freshman year, and it has been 6 years of things looking good and then worse.
That all sounds depressing. Really freaking depressing. I just read what I wrote and I thought about how it was no wonder that I was suicidal at one point. All those troubles, all those hopes for a better life only to be crushed for a worse tomorrow. There was a long time when I was feeling good and I was waiting to feel horrible. I was waiting for my life to turn upside down because it wasn't possible to be happy or for things to go my way for very long. It turns out that feeling like that is very common among those who have suffered through long bouts of depression and I'm guessing for anyone who has been struggling with anything for a good amount of time.
If you know me, life didn't stay happy. I was in recovery from my eating disorder. I was had ED thoughts but ignored them and remained behavior free. You know how people say it is the underlying crap and not the behaviors? Yeahhh, being behavior free turns out to only be one piece of the puzzle and I relapsed. I'm not saying being behavior free isn't a big deal, because it is, but without working through the mental aspect of why it behaviors ever seem appealing, I feel like a relapse is inevitable. I say that only to tell those who think that relapse itself is inevitable, because I know that isn't true. If you work out the mental aspect of it, you can be 100% recovered. And as a side note, in case I don't mention it later, what keeps me in recovery now when all I want to do is relapse, is remembering how much I regret relapsing. In an odd way, I needed to because it sent me down a path that I needed to go down. It led me to my current therapist, it led me to amazing friends and taught me a lot about myself. I wish all that could have happened without relapsing.
Recovery is hard and there is no doubt about that. I think that after this last relapse, I finally realized that my behaviors were only part of the problem and that is what is making recovering from this relapse 10x harder then any other relapse I've had. This time I know that behaviors were helping me. I remember during my last relapse, I told my therapist that I was waiting for Ed to make life easier. When I hit a hard time and slipped recently, all I could think about was how Ed was going to numb me. It was when I learned what purposes that Ed served that he looked a lot better. I can only imagine how hard it had been for those who have known those purposes earlier in recovery.
That went off topic, but I'm leaving it in because I still feel the need to say all that.
Back to missing out and hopes of a better life being smashed. I've had ten years of missing out on life. I have a few memories from high school of actually enjoying it. I can only think of one right now, but I kept scrapbooks and they bring back good memories. The ironic thing is that I kept scrapbooks to fool everyone, including my future children, into thinking I had fun back then. I look at them now and realize I actually had fun (at least in the ones I've kept, which are many). I'm more easily able to recall select memories from college. Within seconds, I can give a good memory from every semester except the one where I became suicidal.
I think that is an important part of recovery. You need to remember those few moments where you had fun or thought that this was how normal people are. Those times when you've been truly happy, those times that you've laughed. Even that time that a bee flew onto the rim of your glasses and was not at all a good time but makes a good story that you enjoy to tell. It is those times when you can tell someone about them and not think about how you were faking being happy. Seriously, you have no idea how important it is to remember those times. You can't look back on your life and only see crap. It is easy to do and there are times when it is good to do, but selectively focusing on the good moments and not following it with memories of bad times, helps recovery. Good times are bound to come again.
I believe recovery is a road filled with hills and mountains of different sizes. You climb up and the smaller hills are easier and the mountains are higher. You get to the top and things are easier. The slopes aren't as steep and may eventually flatten. You can look out and see the gorgeous view. There are points along the mountain that aren't as steep and there are points that do even out. You get to stop there too and enjoy the world around you. In either case, you have to keep moving forward. In the latter, you keep climbing. l relate that to a slip because you get back up and start the road to recovery again. There are harder times though. You start going down the hill and things get worse. You gain momentum and things get worse a lot quicker then they got better. You hit the bottom. The bottom comes in various depths, so the length of the relapse will differ. So will how bad you get and how hard it will be start recover again. If you picture the bottom of the hill you just climbed being at the bottom of a line, and the one you just landed on as half way up, then you are half way up the recovery hill as well. But before you get to the next recovery hill, you are just sitting at the bottom. The crap has stopped piling on but in general, life sucks. You may even sit down at the bottom and take a rest because climbing again is too hard and takes too much effort. The thought of climbing again only to fall again is too much. But you know what? With time, that fall that landed half way up the next hill or mountain starts happening more. The mountains and hills eventually turn into just hills. Then, one day, both the mountains and the hills end.
The Adirondacks don't last forever. Do you know in the south, roads are primarily flat? There are places where people know where the ONE hill in the area is. I am not kidding. Potholes are quickly filled because things are always flat. So, we get through the Adirondacks and then we get through the hills and the bumps of the north. Eventually we get to the flat roads where things are more easy to fix.
Just think about filling potholes around here in NY. People don't even care to fill them because there are too many. At some point, they go crazy and try to fill them in but they always reappear. Not the same when the roads are flat. Do you get the metaphor?
The other interesting thing is that when you started walking this trip, yes walking, you had one pair of shoes. You weren't really prepared for the walk so your shoes weren't really meant for long walks. Along the way, you bought new, better shoes. As you keep walking, you keep getting better shoes. More inventions in shoes are made so when you think you have the best and they still aren't cutting it, you suddenly find a new pair. Those shoes? Those are how you cope. You don't throw any of those shoes out - you put them in storage. You want the memories of where those shoes got you. Same with coping skills, you don't ever throw them out, even when you think you do. You still have the skills that didn't work (those shoes that just gave nasty blisters and you demanded your money back but they wouldn't give you because you already wore them). Every way you have coped without the eating disorder is in storage somewhere in your mind. As you get towards the end of the path, you can pull out the memories and use them. You invent the last pair of shoes you wear. They have bits and pieces of your old shoes, the parts of them that worked.
Oh, and that last pair of shoes? You take them off and carry them when you see the exit sign - "Recovered." You look back and see that the Recovery Road is under construction and soon destroyed. All that is left is the exit sign for Recovered, not the road, just the sign.
You have the shoes (errr skills) with you, but you don't need to wear them all the time because you aren't fighting the battle anymore. You've taken the exit. You've landed in the town of Recovered and you set up your home. You stay there for a while and realize that all those shoes you have in storage can be thrown out because you have the best of them in your current pair. So, you throw out your past. Maybe your last pair of shoes are by the door, ready to use just in case. Maybe they are on the mantle, showing off your progress. Maybe you show them to others to inspire them. You can point to each part of the shoe and talk about the lesson you learned from it. You can talk about the reason why that part is included and the reason something else isn't there.
Currently though, we aren't in Recovered and we are missing out on the life we could be living. We are going through hell. If we want, we can stay here for the rest of our lives. On the other hand, we can change. We can keep walking until we get to Recovered because Recovered is so magnificent that it is worth the trouble of getting there. And we live in Recovered until we die. You think that you've been sick and/or fighting for too long to keep fighting, but life lasts. Keep fighting. Say it takes me five more years to get there, so I've lived a relatively crappy life for 15 years. That would make me 30. According to google, the average life span in the US is 78.7 years, which really equals 79 years. That leaves almost 50 years to live life. FIFTY YEARS! In case you haven't realized that is a lot more then 15 years of struggling and even all 24 years of my current life.
People say that life gets harder when we get older but I truly and honestly believe it only gets better from here. Sure, I'll have bills to pay and a job and/or kids to raise (hopefully). But life is what you make of it. We will have coping skills that "normal" people don't have. We will be able to make the best of any situation we get in.
On one last note, find a true dream and chase it. No matter how bad I'm feeling or how much I am struggling, I can tell people about my dream because it stays with me through the darkest of times. It seems far fetched to some people and now that I'm in the "real world", it suddenly feels like there probably isn't a chance of getting there. Then I think of a small step that I can take, and I get excited. When I tell people this far fetched idea of what my dream job/life is, they don't tell me about how it is far fetched. I keep expecting someone to ask what my back up plan is or give me a "reality check." Maybe it is because they know I will have a means to make money while chasing my dream. Either way, I constantly get comments about the spark in my eyes when I talk about it. I constantly am told that they believe I can get there because they see in my eyes that I'm not going to give up.
Find your dream; that dream you can't reach in the midst of Ed. Hang onto it and even in the midst of Ed, don't give up on it. Everyone should have a dream like I have because there is absolutely nothing like the feeling of excitement and joy when I think about reaching it. It can be hard to think that far ahead in recovery, but you can find it.
I believe in you. Every single one of you in recovery. I'm not kidding, I believe anyone fighting a battle can overcome it. Eating disorders, depression, PTSD, anxiety. Life gets better. Life is totally and completely worth it. If not now, I promise you, you just have to hold on and it'll get there.