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Victory Is Mine: The importance of a good dietitian in ED recovery

Last semester, I took a Human Nutrition course that had a big effect on me. It was taught by Professor Zach Cordell, a young, no-nonsense professor who wears his hair long and a bow tie every day. The class opened my eyes to a lot of the lies that the food industry tries to sell people. For instance: is there a difference between fruit snacks and gummy bears? No, not really. But parents give their kids fruit snacks a lot more often than gummy bears because fruit snacks are next to the granola bars and dried cherries in the grocery store, and gummy bears are on aisle four next to the M&M’s.

I was not in a good place with my eating disorder when I took the class. It was actually the second time I’d taken the class because I’d failed it previously due to some severe slacking and one of my signature mental breakdowns, so I knew a lot of the information, and I was familiar with Professor Cordell’s teaching style. However, for someone in eating disorder relapse, a class that heavily emphasizes weight management isn’t necessarily the best idea.

Now, before I go any further, let me tell you a little something about my feelings on dietitians. I hate them. They think they know everything about food; they think they know what I should eat better than I do, and they have the AUDACITY to tell me how and what I should eat. As someone with SERIOUS control issues, this has never sat well with me. When I was in IOP during my senior year of high school, the program required that I see one of their in-house dietitians. I cycled through pretty much all of them before I found myself in the program director’s office,  being told that I needed to avoid caloric beverages (???), and finally, I proved myself so ornery that she made an exception for me and said I could continue the program without any dietary instruction.

Luckily for me, this all changed last semester. I was doing the work in therapy, but I needed more support with food and meal planning. I switched to a new therapist about six months ago, and while she has a much more compatible therapy style for me, and a better understanding of the trauma I’ve been through, she doesn’t take my eating disorder as seriously as my old therapist (who specializes in eating disorders) because she is less educated about them, and I don’t “look sick.” I was doing a lot of important healing from trauma with the new therapist, but I was also getting away with a lot of disordered eating.

I asked Professor Cordell if he offered private nutritional counseling, and he said that while he does, he wouldn’t have been a good fit for me, and he passed me along to a wonderful woman named Trish Kellogg.

I was a little leery of Trish at first. She’s overly smiley, extremely positive, kindhearted as can be, and very pretty. Clearly there was a catch. I figured she probably ate puppies for breakfast.

Fortunately for me, puppies are not part of a meal plan, and are only for petting. Working with Trish has helped me so much, and I anticipate rocketing even further into recovery as I continue to work with her. At first, we worked out a basic eating plan that included three meals and one snack. Because I hate the exchange system (a common system of meal planning used among people with eating disorders that avoids measuring food and counting calories), Trish outlined the macronutrients I need to be eating and said I could plug them into any meal and snack I wanted, so long as I got all of them in by the end of the day and didn’t eat all protein at breakfast, all carbs at lunch, etc.

This plan was a little to vague for me, so Trish broke it down further. She said I needed to have a certain number of proteins, grains, fats, dairy, and fruits/vegetables at every meal and snack. Initially, it seemed like a lot of food. It was a struggle to fit it all in during the day, and I wasn’t hungry for most of it. Trish challenged me to push through it, to eat within an hour of waking up, and consistently reminded me that coffee is not a meal–no matter how much cream I put in it.

Once we got past the basics of meal planning, we started working on some of the more difficult aspects of my eating disorder. Trish challenged me to start eating “fear foods,” foods I’m irrationally afraid of eating, either because I’ve had bad experiences with them, or because I’m afraid they’ll cause extreme weight gain. One of these foods is peanut butter. The first time I was in treatment, I was fifteen years old. Since the center was for school-age children and teenagers, the dietitians there had us eat a lot of sandwiches and wraps for lunch–similar to what we would have brought with us to school to eat during the lunch period. One day, the entire room got peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. I didn’t know a whole lot about nutrition at the time; I was afraid of food, I wanted to be skinny, and that was that. But as I watched all of the other patients cry and have meltdowns over having to eat peanut butter on white bread, I felt a wave of panic wash over me, and I felt there was no way I was ever going to eat peanut butter again.

Looking back, I see now that a few people’s anxieties fueled a huge meltdown, but the irrational fear of peanut butter and other similar spreads (cream cheese, other nut butters, jelly, apple butter, regular butter, Nutella… don’t get me started on Nutella…) stayed with me. When I related this to Trish, she said something had to be done.

I didn’t think these fear foods were really such a big deal. It’s not like I was afraid of all bread, all meat, or all caloric beverages. I could live without ever eating a nut butter again. But Trish told me that no food should have power over me. It’s safe to eat all foods in moderation, and it’s okay to enjoy them. Pretty soon, I was eating peanut butter, Nutella, and even cream cheese on bagels and sandwiches.

Another huge victory I’ve had is with cooking. I moved out of my parents’ house in December, and have since been learning how to cook by trial and error, the advice of my coworker Barbie who is in charge of cooking the free samples at the grocery store where we work, and of course, my mom who has received many a phone call asking, “Mom, how do I defrost chicken in the microwave?” or “Mom, what do we do when the stove catches fire?” My mom is an excellent, self-taught cook, and if I can be half the cook she is, I’ll be in good shape.

Last night, my girlfriend Rebecca was over, so I cooked dinner for her, my roommate Colette, and myself. One of my favorite things to cook is Asian food, and I’ve been tweaking a recipe for traditional Japanese ramen noodle soup I found on Pinterest. The recipe calls for bok choy, which is not something I’d even recognize in the grocery store, so I substituted some leftover kale I’d cooked the night before in an attempt to bulk Colette and myself up in the vegetables department (an area in which we are both severely lacking), and substituted sweet chili sauce for soy sauce because the soy sauce was on vacation and nowhere to be found in our fridge which looks like an archaeological dig site (minus the actual dirt, of course. Hi, Mom!) It came out delicious, if I do say so myself.

Rebecca, Colette, and I all have very different eating styles. I can only imagine what Colette is going through with her eating, and I don’t have much insight into it, so I won’t guess. I do know that she eats very little, and says she doesn’t like to eat. It’s hard to watch. I don’t want to see my best friend suffer in eating disorder hell–if that IS what’s going on, and I don’t know how to help beyond my Jewish grandmotherly role of “Eat, bubbelah, eat,” which I know from experience is NOT helpful. Rebecca, on the other hand, is an avid dessert eater. She eats what she’s hungry for, and with enthusiasm, which I really admire. It’s very inspiring to me to see someone who wholeheartedly loves food, loves too cook, and loves to eat. When I eat with her, I’m not as conscious of my internal ED voice, and I’m able to enjoy food more. By eating with both of them, I’m learning to focus on my own hunger/fullness cues and enjoying my own food rather than obsessing.

It was this newfound focus that allowed me to break three major eating disorder rules last night. Because the recipe doesn’t yield very much, I’d only taken a small portion to make sure there was enough for everyone. After we were done eating, I was still hungry, and I saw that there was some ramen left, so I decided to have seconds, something my eating disorder NEVER used to allow me to do. After that, Rebecca decided she wanted ice cream and a bagel (her two favorite foods), and I was okay eating the ice cream, even though dessert is typically against the rules.

Every week, Trish gives me a challenge, and this week’s challenge was to get food on my hands. I touch food all the time when I’m eating finger food or cooking, but I hate it. I have an irrational fear that I’m going to absorb calories through my hands, which I KNOW is not possible, but it still freaks me out. It makes me feel gross and messy; it’s overwhelming, and I just! Don’t! Like! It! But I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, so Rebecca and I split the bagel, and I spread Nutella on it with my finger. It was a little unnerving, and I felt stupid for being freaked out over something that seems so trivial to a non-eating disordered person, but I’m also learning not to judge my emotions, so I sat with the discomfort, licked the tasty Nutella off my finger, and moved on.

Just recently, I was speaking to another woman in recovery from an eating disorder about why it’s vital to see a dietitian. She was just beginning her recovery journey, and wanted to be her own dietitian. We were speaking in the context of a therapist-led support group, and the other women shared their resoundingly positive experiences of working with dietitians on their paths to recovery. The biggest reason to work with a dietitian is so that you’ll have someone with more experience and knowledge about food than you do. A dietitian knows exactly what your body needs and how to supply it. Trying to be your own dietitian is a tricky path, even if you don’t have an eating disorder. There is so much misinformation about food and nutrition out there, and EVERYONE is trying to sell you something. Dietitians are unbiased, and on your side–not your eating disorder’s.

I am so grateful to have crossed paths with Trish. I’ve made so much progress in conquering my eating disorder, and gotten a better understanding of the things I still need to work on. I’ve come incredibly far in just a few short months, and I’m learning to value my accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem to an outsider. Today I stand tall. Today I am proud of myself.

 

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I Am the Master of My Fate

Things rarely go as planned for me. I’m in my third year of a two-year program at my college. I’m not even at the college I intended to go to. I’ve lost an astounding amount of friends in the past year, and Jon, my best friend from summer camp, lives an ocean away, and I haven’t seen him since high school, despite our haphazard efforts at arranging a reunion. Meanwhile, my body has ballooned instead of shrinking like I always wanted. I don’t grab a couple of drinks at Hamburger Mary’s with a couple of gal-pals like I always thought I would before I turned twenty-one.

These could all be construed as negatives, but it’s really just a matter of perception. Spending more time at Daytona State instead of a traditional college has given me more time to make sure my major is right for me. The main reason I am so far behind my peers in my education is because I was hospitalized almost every semester for mental health reasons. A community college like DSC gives me the flexibility to retake classes, withdraw late from courses I won’t be able to finish, and establish a rapport with my instructors so I can let them know what’s going on with me.

As for losing friends, well, I’ve drifted apart from the clubs I was once involved with at school, partly because of other commitments like work and synagogue (It seems like EVERY event is on a Friday night!), and partly because I’ve grown and changed a lot, and I just don’t vibe with some of the people who used to be my friends. It’s important for me to explore various types of friendships with a multitude of people so that I can determine what does and doesn’t work. Am I a little lonely at school? Yeah, sure. But this pushes me to get outside of my comfort zone, talk to the people in my classes, and it challenges me to be my authentic self, regardless of whether or not people like that.

Jon and I will always be best friends. He stood by me through anorexia hell, multiple rounds of treatment, and even the time I got unhealthily obsessed with a crush for a solid six months and drove him nuts asking questions  about the mystery of the male mind. We email each other all the time, just to share anecdotes about our lives and our plans for the future. Jon is one of those special friends who will always be in my life. He’ll be in my wedding, either as the groom or as my maid of honor. He’ll look so pretty in a dress!

My body? Forget weighing 98 pounds. I’d rather be able to keep up with my kindergarteners, walk across campus, and eat some freaking fries when I want to!

And as far as not going out for drinks with friends on the weekends? That’s my choice. I can decide to start drinking whenever I want to. I don’t know what would happen if I did, and that’s why I choose not to drink.

I went back to school towards the end of March, and I’m taking a very easy class called Managing Your Success. The intention of the class is to teach students how to thrive in college, how to manage time and money, etc. It’s really basic stuff, but sometimes it’s good to get back to basics. My professor recently included the quote, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul,” in one of his slides. Curious, I Googled the quote, and found the poem “Invictus” by William Earnest Henley.
invictusI realized I’d heard the poem before and scoffed at it, but my take on it was different this time. One of the key lessons I learned when I was in treatment at Magnolia Creek was that no one can “make” you feel anything; rather, your reactions are a choice.

I had trouble with this concept at first. I thought it was normal and natural to feel bad about being abused, for example. I thought that “bad” things happened to me, and I had a right to feel ashamed, dirty, depressed, and helpless. In short, I was being a victim. I wanted to feel that way. I thought my abuse “didn’t count” unless I tortured myself emotionally over it.

It’s not my job to decide if the things that happen to me are “good” or “bad.” I can perceive them however I want, but I am only human, thus I have a finite perception of the events and course of my life. Labeling things that happen to me is another example of the myriad ways I try to play God in my life. I’m pretty sure God has this whole “running the universe” thing covered. I don’t think He needs my help with that. I am probably not the literal “master of my fate.” I think that probably falls under God’s jurisdiction. However, I do believe that I have a choice when it comes to how I feel and what I do. No, it’s not my fault that I have anorexia. However, every time I engage in an eating disordered behavior, I’m making a conscious choice to act on that impulse, just as when I overcome a relapse or an ED thought, I’m taking charge of my own mind. If we are responsible for our successes in recovery, we are also responsible for our failures. I certainly don’t want to admit that it’s my fault when I weave an elaborate web of lies about why there are bloodstains on my sleeves and razors hidden in the bathroom. I don’t want to take responsibility when my breath smells like vomit after meals and I’m losing weight. However, I want all the credit when I pick up another milestone chip at AA, when I listen to my hunger cues and eat a snack even though it’s against anorexia’s rules, or when I end an unhealthy relationship.

After a traumatic event as recent as December, I resorted to purging to deal with my feelings of shame and depression. It was symbolic for me; kneeling in front of the toilet represented apologizing to God, the universe, or the person who hurt me for whatever I’d done to “deserve” what happened, while the act of vomiting represented “purging” the painful memories out of my mind. At first, I told myself I’d “just purge once.” Then it became purging once a day. Pretty soon, I was purging as often as I could and eating as little as possible in the meantime. I knew something was wrong when I found myself in the employee bathroom at work while I was supposed to be taking out the trash, heaving up whatever low-calorie morsels I’d had for dinner on my break. Mid-barf, I was being paged over the intercom because the front had gotten busy and my supervisor needed an extra cashier. I had no choice but to finish vomiting, clean myself up as quickly as I could, and drag my shaky, pale, embarrassed self to a register.

It’s not my fault that this is how my brain taught itself to deal with stress. It’s not my fault that I was the victim of a crime prior to this and it caused a great deal of stress in my life. However, it was my responsibility to be good to myself (and to fulfill a duty to my employer), to make healthy choices, and to my best to resist these self-destructive impulses. The ex-boyfriend who violated me was neither directly nor  indirectly responsible for what I did that night. Yes, his actions were inappropriate and wrong, but so were the ways I chose to react to them. He wasn’t “making” me purge. I was doing it to myself.

These days, I have faith in a God that has granted me an “unconquerable soul.” I will never say I am grateful for the abuse I went through. Many people, even a few therapists have told me that I should be grateful to be a victim of childhood sexual abuse, dating violence, and rape because it’s made me so much stronger, and I will be able to use these experiences to help other people going through the same thing. While I am grateful for the outcomes of the traumatic events I’ve experienced, I am not grateful for the road I had to take to get here. However, I am the captain of my soul, and I choose not to dwell on what brought me to this place. Rather, I will look forward and see what the future holds.

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The Small Things

In a perfect world, I would always take care of myself and do what’s right for me. However, I have a self-destructive nature, and I thrive on chaos. Perhaps “thrive” is not the right word because I certainly haven’t been thriving over the past few weeks, but I have a deep-seated need to create chaos in my life so that I will always have a problem to solve. Oddly enough, I don’t usually solve these problems that I make for myself. I stress about them, complain to my friends, worry my family, and let them fester until I end up using maladaptive coping skills and then—what do you know!—I have more problems.
I’m trying to break the cycle.
Recently, Christin and I broke up, and it’s been hard for me. I’ve never had a breakup in which I wasn’t desperate to get out of what was left of a relationship I’d destroyed or that was just not healthy for me. This was different. We parted ways on good terms and are trying to stay friends. We’ve been as open as we can with each other about how we’re doing post-breakup, and we still care about each other, as friends should.
Two days after we broke up, I had a really bad day. I was sad about the breakup, mired in PMS, and did not want anything to do with any sort of positivity. I snapped at my parents, sat on my best friend Colette’s porch and cried to her and her boyfriend (who happens to be Christin’s best friend), and screamed along to my favorite Sleater-Kinney album in my backyard. While I was in the backyard, I received a text from my dad that was intended for my mom. The text said something about how my singing was going to distress our neighbors. My dad was probably right because Sleater-Kinney (like all Riot Grrrl bands) is a cacophonous mess of female shrieking and feedback-ridden guitar wails, and I am quite loud. I angrily texted my dad back informing him that the music made me feel better, and said that maybe next time I’d just do something unhealthy and impulsive to make myself feel better. My dad came into the backyard to say he was sorry, and I took great satisfaction in saying, “You’re only sorry you got caught,” a line that has frequently been directed at me.
However, my dad is a patient, kind, loving man, and he didn’t blow up at me like I was doing towards him. He continued to apologize and said that he and I need to “mend our fences,” because we’ve been distant lately, and when we do talk, I can be a bit of a bitch to him, which is (usually) not deserved, and doesn’t make either of us feel good. He said he loved me, something everyone in my family tells each other frequently, but I started to cry, and he hugged me and said it was okay. We ended up having a really good conversation about my future, school, our relationship, and our family. I love my dad, and I know he loves me. I just don’t show it all the time.
Colette says love is something you practice, not something you have. I am trying to walk in love these days. It is easy for me to tell myself that no one loves me and that I will never be loved, but that is simply not true, and quite melodramatic, I might add.
It’s not just my dad who loves me. I have my brother who took me out for ice cream and compared notes with me on both of our recent breakups. I have my mom who has given me so much good advice in the past week, and is always there for me.

And then there’s Kerry. Everyone needs a gay best friend (or GBFF), and Kerry is mine. On Sunday, I slept in, and my mom woke me up by saying, “Aren’t you going to Blue Springs with Kerry today?”
“No. Why?” I responded sleepily.
“Because Kerry’s downstairs,” my mom answered.
“Oooooh nooooo!” I groaned as I rolled out of bed in my underwear and sought my bathing suit. I suddenly remembered that as I was falling asleep the night before, I’d gotten several messages asking what time I was free to go to the springs, but I’d been too sleepy to comprehend them. I checked my phone and realized that all the calls I’d been ignoring were not in fact from work, but from Kerry and the rest of the gang wanting to know if I was coming on the day’s adventure.
I am so grateful to have friends who go to any lengths to include me in their fun. Kerry is an awesome friend who listens and makes me laugh. At the springs, I happily took in the view of the water and the girls in bikinis, and I was perfectly comfortable (albeit a bit cold) in my bathing suit. I even ate a peanut butter sandwich someone else had made. Peanut butter was once my biggest fear food, but now I just enjoy the protein and delicious flavor it has to offer. No, no one is going to give me a scholarship or a medal for eating a PBJ, but it was a huge accomplishment for me, and I have every right to celebrate it.
After we finished swimming at the springs, we went to a pizza joint, where I devoured tasty pizza and fried ravioli. I didn’t count how many slices of pizza I ate, nor do I care. It tasted good, so I ate it. Eating the pizza was part of the experience of having fun with my friends on a day off from work.

springs
Breaking up is not fun or easy. But Christin and I needed to do what was right for each other and for ourselves. Things are different now, and I have no choice but to accept them. Once I adjust to the changes, I think I will find that things are better. I’d rather not be in a romantic relationship at all than be in one that’s not working. But that’s not to say I don’t have relationships. I have awesome friends, my family, and my internet friends from summer camp who call me their Big Gay Mama. I’m trying to stay positive, and it’s getting easier every day. I’m making a conscious effort to reframe negative thoughts, and to stay busy. I keep telling myself I’ll be okay, and for once, I’m actually right about something.

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The Daily Meltdown

I have not been doing that well lately, and I am really lucky to have an amazing support network of family and friends to lean on. However, I realize that when I call my friends during a psychotic breakdown, it puts a lot of pressure on them and they don’t know what to say. I’m writing this article mostly for myself and for my friends, but also for anyone who may be at a loss for how to help a person with psychosis.

Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate what symptoms are being caused by which disorder, or even what’s a hallucination, what’s a delusion, and what’s paranoia. Actually, let’s  talk about that for a second. Hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia are all symptoms I experience as a result of schizoaffective disorder. Hallucinations are hearing, seeing, and feeling things that are not there. (Some people also smell and taste things that are not there, but I do not experience this.) I often feel like bugs are crawling on me, and I can see the bugs out of the corners of my eyes. Sometimes I see cameras or other electronic surveillance devices where there is nothing. I often hear voices, or a single voice named Henry (He is a snake who lives inside my body.) insulting me, saying that I’m promiscuous, telling me I’ve done terrible things or that terrible things will happen because of me, and telling me to hurt myself or others.

Delusions are fixed, false beliefs that do not line up with reality. I have a paranoid delusion that a man who hurt me when I was a little girl is stalking me via electronic surveillance devices and a network of spies. As you’re reading this, you probably think that sounds far-fetched. I do not. Recently, this delusion has furthered, and I’m convinced that my world is all a simulation controlled by the man who hurt me (I refer to him as the Angel Man.) and that I have to hurt myself badly enough to wake up and “save the children,” so they don’t get hurt like I did. I don’t know who or where these children are, only that they’re in danger, and I was put in the simulation to save them. As I’m writing this, I realize that it makes absolutely no sense. That’s why it’s a delusion. It doesn’t line up with reality.

Paranoia is a little harder to explain. In a lot of ways it’s like anxiety, but times a million. It’s a sense of dread and fear. For me, it centers around the delusion that I’m being stalked. If I hear a weird noise outside, or one of my dogs starts barking at nothing, I immediately start worrying that there’s a dangerous person in my yard who’s going to rape and murder me.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s talk about what to do in a crisis. It’s always a good idea to ask me if I’ve taken my medicine. I almost always remember to take it, but it doesn’t hurt to check just in case.

One thing that really doesn’t help is telling me that whatever I’m hearing, seeing, or thinking isn’t real. It’s very real to me, and it’s just frustrating for everyone to get into an argument about  what’s real and what’s not. If you tell me that something isn’t real (the children I have to save, for example), I will get frustrated and tell you that you’re not real, and there’s pretty much nothing you can do to convince me otherwise. (My dad actually won that argument by showing me a list he made at a self-improvement class in 1998. It was a list of things that bothered him, and number sixteen was not getting enough “Daddy and Doodle” time. He’s Daddy. I’m Doodle.) Anyway, you can ask me what evidence I have that I have to save the children or that I’m in a simulation, or of whatever’s bothering me. I might get mad at you for poking holes in my delusion, but in the long run, you’re helping me, and once I calm down, I won’t be mad anymore.

A lot of my hallucinations and delusions are trauma-related. These are the most upsetting ones because the combination of PTSD and psychosis makes me feel like I am reliving the trauma. I will often say, “I can feel him touching me,” and proceed to beat myself in the face. Obviously, this doesn’t help anything. It’s totally okay to grab my hands and stop me from hitting myself. I’m not always okay with physical contact when I’m that upset, especially if I feel like my abusers are touching me, but if my options are: not hurt myself or have someone touch me when I don’t want to be touched, I’ll sit on my hands or hold yours. Sometimes, I might want a hug, but I’ll probably just want to pet your dog unless you’re my parents or Christin (in which case, I might want to pet your cats). It helps to hear, “He’s not here right now,” or “You’re safe with me.” Sometimes, that isn’t enough, and I get scared that an abuser is going to attack me immediately and that I will have to physically overpower him. Telling me that you’ll protect me or help me protect myself helps, and it really doesn’t matter if you could fight a scary man because there’s no actual danger. Physical contact can be a huge help. It’s grounding and reassuring, but please do not force it on me if I tell you I’m not okay with it. I know that a lot of people’s first instinct is to hug someone when they’re upset, but it doesn’t always help me.

Sometimes, I get so delusional that I don’t make sense. One thing that many people on the schizophrenic spectrum struggle with is disorganized speech and issues with word-finding. I don’t think this affects me, but I can get so upset that I have trouble speaking, and I’ll forget what I’m saying and trail off in the middle of a sentence. (Speech class, here I come!) When I’m really delusional, I’ll forget that not everyone knows what I’m talking about. Today, I went over to my best friend Colette’s house because I didn’t want to be home by myself, and I asked her why we were in the jungle. I was very confused and did not know where I was. I told her that we were in a simulation, and started rambling about how I needed to save the children. She respectfully let me finish (always a good thing to do), and then said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” That’s a perfectly acceptable thing to say to me when I’m not making sense. You can ask me to elaborate if you need/want to know more about the delusion, or you can just let it go. Either one is fine, and knowing more about the delusion probably won’t help anything unless I’m telling you I need to harm myself.

I have prescription sedatives for when things get really bad. They calm the voices down, stop me from hyperventilating, and sometimes put me to sleep. These are all good things. The other night, I saw a story on the news about a one-year-old boy whose father killed him with the car in the family’s driveway. It was an accidental death, but I was already delusional and thinking about saving the children, and I immediately jumped to the conclusion that the child died because of me and started to cry. My dad tried to get me to take a sedative, but I wouldn’t because I “needed to be awake to save the children.” The more he encouraged me to take it, the more I thought he was trying to poison me. Finally he told me that I couldn’t save the children if I didn’t calm down, and that got me to take the medicine, and I was okay. It is perfectly fine to indulge a delusion if it’s going to keep me safe. That is so, so much more productive than telling me it’s not real.

Of course, if things get really bad and I can’t calm down or I’m becoming a danger to myself (or others, not that that’s likely), it’s in everyone’s best interest to call my parents.

The main thing is knowing that someone is here for me, which I know all of my friends and family most definitely are. I appreciate all of you who’ve sat through the hysterical late-night phone calls, who’ve held me while I try to stop the voices, and who listen to me and love me in spite of everything. You’re all amazing, and I am lucky to have  you in my life.

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How to Help a Friend with Psychosis

I am lucky enough to have a very supportive network of family and friends who have been there for me through the good and the bad. There’s Jon, the best friend who came to visit me the first time I was in treatment, even though I was thousands of miles away from either of our homes.

jon

Jon flew down from Atlanta to come to my junior prom. Isn’t he handsome?

 

There’s my neighbor Colette, who listens to me agonize over questions about sexuality and offers her advice.
There’s Diana, who appreciates my self-deprecating humor about psychosis and endures my rants about professors who throw around the terms “crazy” and “psycho” to describe unusual art.

diana

Diana also acts as my photographic muse.

prom2

My GSA friends and me at Pride Prom. The girl in the blue tie is Christin, my lovely girlfriend.

There are my GSA buddies who totally understand how sexuality and gender are not only

colette

Colette is sitting on some tofu, which I cooked for her during her Morrissey-inspired vegetarian phase. It was gross.

fluid, but confusing as hell! And of course, there are my
parents and brother who have visited me in treatment and hospitals, who have done everything they can to support me through the wild ups and downs that accompany my various and sundry mental health issues. I am so, so grateful for everyone in my life who has offered their support, guidance, and friendship as I try to find my way through the challenges

nyc19

A photo I took of Mom, Adam, and Dad in NYC. 

of being mentally ill.

I know a lot of people who deal with conditions like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-harm. But I don’t know anyone outside of the internet who deals with anything on the schizophrenic spectrum. For this reason, I have a limited number of people who I can go to for support when I am hallucinating, delusional, or paranoid. My friends aren’t at fault here. They want to help, but they don’t know how. Thus, I present to you, Katherine’s guide for helping a psychotic friend.

A few weeks ago, things went downhill really fast. I was home alone, and I was convinced that there was a Bad Person in my backyard who was going to break into the house, rape and murder me, and film the whole ordeal to put it on the internet. To make matters worse, my dogs, who normally bark at everything, weren’t barking because they had been replaced with fake dogs who were going to attack me if I tried to defend myself; and to top it all off, my dad, who I love very much, was a robot working for the Bad Person. I had no evidence for any of this, but I was afraid nonetheless.

I called my neighbor Colette, who was at a loss for how to help. She encouraged me to take a sedative (for which I have a prescription), and suggested locking myself in the bathroom until my parents came home. She said if I locked the door, it would have an “impenetrable lock,” through which no bad person could enter.

People with psychosis are not stupid. We may be somewhat out of touch with reality, but most likely, we are not going to believe any old thing you tell us. You might try to instill a fear of monsters in a young child in order to teach her a lesson, but people with psychosis are not children. When Colette told me that the bathroom door had an impenetrable lock, I knew she was making it up right away.

Encouraging me to take a sedative was definitely the right thing to do. As-needed medications can quiet the paranoid thoughts, and sometimes even quiet the voices.

One thing Colette kept repeating was, “But you know it’s not real, right?” If I knew that the Bad Person in the backyard wasn’t really there, I wouldn’t have called her in a panic. Just like you should never tell someone with an eating disorder that they don’t look like they have one, telling a person with psychosis that their delusions/hallucinations aren’t real doesn’t help. It’s just frustrating for everyone. The best thing to do if your friend comes to you and says, for example, that there is a stalker in the backyard would be to tell them that they are safe, or ask them what evidence they have for this. Sometimes, people with psychosis can realize that their fears are unreal or irrational on their own, but it’s nearly impossible for someone else to convince us that we’re being unreasonable.

My biggest piece of advice to anyone trying to comfort a psychotic person would be this: just listen. If your friend came to you and said they were sad for no reason, you wouldn’t try to tell them that they’re being stupid or that their feelings are invalid. The same holds true for people with psychosis. When I called Colette, I was alone and afraid. All I needed was someone to listen to my fears and tell me I’d be okay.


Epilogue:

Colette is an awesome friend. She convinced me to call my parents and tell them what was wrong, and she called me back to make sure my parents got home. She talked to my mom and told her what was going on so that my mom could hear it from someone who was making a little more sense than I was at the time. She’s one of the few people from high school with whom I’m still friends, and I’m very grateful to have her in my life.

 

 

1

Friends, Family, Food, and Freedom

Today was a great day. It was the kind of day I could never have had when I was in the depths of my eating disorder. To start the morning off, I met up with my friend and coworker, Diana. She came over to my house and we made flower crowns, which are an awesome accessory anytime you’re feeling like a fairy princess. When anxiety ruled my life, I never had people over. It was too risky. What if they thought my room was too messy and therefore assumed I was a disgusting slob who probably had cooties? What if my room looked too clean (unlikely), and they knew I had spent too much time cleaning up and thought I was trying too hard and then assumed that I never had friends over and thought I was a complete loser with no friends? That could totally happen, right?? What if my parents were there and my dad accidentally let one of his embarrassing nicknames slip out? I would have to change my name and leave the country if any of my friends found out  I answer to “Tootie Rootnik.” It seems silly that I would actually worry about these things, but I did. I’m happy to say that I don’t anymore. I had never spent time with Diana outside of work, (another reason I didn’t have friends over much before; what if as I got to know them, we discovered we hate each other??) but I’m really glad I did because she is an all-around great person.

Diana looking like a goddess in her flower crown.

Diana looking like a goddess in her flower crown.

After we finished our crowns, we decided to go to Steak-n-Shake to get milkshakes and lunch. In the past, I would have balked at the idea of a spontaneous lunch, especially at a fast food restaurant, but anorexia wasn’t invited to this get-together. We chatted and laughed over our milkshakes, and had such a good afternoon that there was no time to worry about sopping the grease off my delicious Frisco melt.

My mom and brother, Adam spent a few days in South Carolina at Adam’s freshman orientation for college. Since it was just Dad and me at home, we got to spend some quality time together. (Or, as he called it when I was little, “Daddy and Doodle time.”) One of Dad’s greatest loves in life is Italian food, which just happens to be one of my biggest fears in life. That’s right. Not drowning, not a plane crash, not my family unexpectedly being abducted by aliens. Italian food is what makes me sweat. My family used to frequent Carrabba’s, but stopped going when anorexia made it too much of a harrowing experience for me. I hadn’t been in a couple of years–before tonight. When Dad came home from work, I asked if he wanted to go to  Carrabba’s, and of course, he said yes.

When we got there, Dad said he wanted to sit at the counter by the kitchen because he likes to watch the chefs cook. carrabbasOne thing I really admire about my dad is his curiosity. So many of his sentences start with, “I was listening to a podcast, and I learned…” Or “This makes me think of something I read the other day and…” He is always learning new things, and I love that he shares them with me. (Even though I make fun of him for his podcast addiction.) Tonight was no different. He regaled me with anecdotes about how restaurants are run that he learned from a book he’d read recently. Another perk of sitting at the counter is that sometimes if the chefs have a spare moment, they’ll whip you up a small sampling of their own creations, tasty treats that aren’t on the menu. Tonight, Dad and I got to try peppercorn chicken in a cream sauce. You read that right. I was met with food I hadn’t planned on eating, that I hadn’t chosen, that I didn’t even know if I would enjoy, and my first reaction was a smile. It was delicious, and I thanked the chef.

dad and me

Daddy and Doodle

While we ate our dinner and I listened to Dad talk about his day, I thought about how proud I am of him. Dad started a new job as a judge this year after twenty-five years of practicing law. His dad (my grandpa) was a judge, as is my uncle. You could say it runs in the family. Dad worked hard to get where he is, and he works even harder now to be the best he can be at his job. It makes me proud to hear about his days, how he makes careful decisions and puts an abundance of thought into all that he does. I was so engrossed in Dad’s stories that I didn’t notice that I had broken one of my ED rules.  In the past, I’ve always felt the need to put my drink in exactly the same place on the napkin so that there is only one ring of water. Tonight, I missed the napkin completely and set the drink on the tabletop. It didn’t make a difference. I was okay. I enjoyed bread, which used to be forbidden in restaurants. Best of all, I didn’t feel the need to stuff myself or to restrict. I ate what I wanted, listened to my hunger cues, and stopped when I was full. I even ordered dessert, which used to be unthinkable, but I took it home with me to enjoy later, rather than forcing myself to eat it as a punishment.

When I was at the Creek, something John, the Creek’s chef, said really stuck with me. He told me, “Eating is a celebration,” and he’s right. Food is a celebration of culture, of art, and of taste. Mealtimes are a celebration of family, togetherness, and events big and small. Tonight, I celebrated the wonderful relationship I have with my dad, and yet another victory over anorexia.