Sunday, May 8, 2016

To my mom, on Mother's Day

Dear Mom,

I saw this quote this morning on Facebook and it expressed something that I've felt for a long time. And when I learned that the daughter of the mother-daughter duo who founded Mother's day thought it was very silly for children to sign their name to a card with someone else's sentiments, I knew that I wanted to write this for you, to tell you about this.

When I am rolling out pie or cookie dough, it is as if I am rolling the dough, but behind me is you, and your hands are also rolling out the dough. And behind you is Grandma, and her hands are also rolling out the dough, and behind her is Grandma King, and her hands are also reaching through time and we are all rolling out the dough together.

But it's not just the rolling pin. It happens when I am cutting rhubarb in your yard that came from Grandma's house and before that was planted at Great-Grandma King's house, or when I am folding napkins for a dinner party, or when I am cutting flowers from my yard.

And when our car pulled over on the side of a winding mountain road in the Dominican Republic at a roadside flower stand, you were there, in me, as I identified hydrangeas, petunias, snowball bushes and more. Or when I was in the hotel in Nairobi, and they had a fuchsia bush-lined path to the patio, our feet walked it together.

The first time my friend came over and was upset about something so far outside of the scope of my experience, we all sat together; and I watched you. I learned one of the most valuable lessons: how to be with someone who is suffering when you don't have any answers.

I think that intuition, or mom-tuition as we call it, is innate, but it's also cultivated. And you've passed on from your mom what she received from her mom, what she received from her mom, and back so many generations of strong and wise women that it's almost dizzying to think about.

Earlier today, you had climbed up on a high ladder to look at a light bulb. You said,"You guys make me feel brave and strong and safe." It was funny to me, because that's how you make us feel too.

I was going to write in you card, but I just didn't have enough room. I know we usually keep things funny when we give cards in this family, so let me also share that when I am about to "Wicks" someone, you are also there, in the pranking. (Even when it's you who are getting pranked.) Or when I am somewhere and I realize that it is a special and spectacular moment, and no one is photographing it, so I step up. Or when I realize that I really need to eat a bowl of cereal for lunch.

Maybe sometime we can print this, and stick it in the card. Until then. happy mother's day, and let's go throw an egg at Ralph. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

I had an eating disorder. (And how I found the psychologist who helped me.)

Let me start here: I think it's probably close to impossible to make it to adulthood with a healthy relationship with food. As far as I always knew, the conversation around eating disorders revolves around two main disorders: anorexia and bulimia.

But about 5 years ago, I knew there was something wrong with me. I had gone from being someone who never worried about her weight or really thought too much about food, to the opposite of this. It started while I was living in Spain, with few close friends and a lot of alone time. I frequently would eat until I felt sick. I would secretly buy food and hide it in my room or in the back of the pantry so that no one knew how much I was eating. I called my mom and would cry to her about how painfully full I was, and how lonely and just generally anxious.

Because binging alone was never something I'd learned about as an eating disorder, I figured I didn't need to seek help unless I made myself throw up. (Word of advice - if you think you might need help, get it, even if it doesn't quite fit your expectations of a condition.)

I moved back home at the end of the school year and moved back in with my family. I reconnected with lots of friends, and found a job that I loved. I was no longer lonely, and a lot of the stresses from the year before faded away. But I still continued to binge. I tried going on a diet plan, which helped some, but not a lot. Being around people helped... but as soon as I was alone, I went straight for the fridge.

[A note about weight - I am a genetically small-framed person and I was exercising a lot. So, though I did gain weight, I was still well within a healthy weight for my height.]

 So finally one day in the spring of 2011, I found a self-screening test online. I resonated with a part that said, "Underneath obsessive dieting, disordered eating and body image disturbance, there is a lack of self worth." I cried, and then I wrote an email to two wise women from my church. The subject was "not really sure who to email..." I began like this:

"I'm not really sure how to begin. This is a very strange email for me to write. Getting straight to the point, I think I have an eating disorder and I think I need help dealing with it and I don't know where to go next. For over a year now, I have struggled to manage my emotions in a way that doesn't involve cramming food into my mouth...."

Both women responded within a few days. I got connected with another woman who had also experienced this. [Shout out - if you're struggling with this and you need someone to talk about it with, I would love to be that person.] Everyone encouraged me to seek professional counseling. I got a few names, and also did my own research using this site. I called them and interviewed them. I left messages and noted their response times. If they were a "Christian counselor", I asked them what that meant - I had a lot of friends who prayed for me, I wanted someone who was going to do a lot more that that. I asked what a typical session would be like with them.  I asked about their hours. I asked them if they had experience working with someone with an eating disorder and how those people had faired. Because I was still within a year of completing a capstone psychology class, I nerdily asked them what modalities they used. I asked if they took my insurance. But more than anything, I used these questions to feel out if I would be comfortable talking to them about what felt like my deepest, darkest secrets.

And that's how I met Marilyn. There was something about our conversation that reminded me of other mentors I'd had... Plus she took insurance and could see me at 4pm. (the only weekday time I was available.) So I booked an appointment, and began seeing her weekly for the next... well to be honest, I don't really remember how long I saw her. It might have been a year, it might have only been six months. We started easily, talking about what my world was like - with me telling her about some basic information - my job, my family, where I lived, my friendships, then moved on to talk about eating. But it turns out that my eating disorder was really just the way I coped with anxiety... and I had a lot of anxiety. So we talked about that. I cried, I laughed, I had profound realizations.  

Toward the end of our weekly sessions, I asked, "How do I know when I'm done?" She answered, "Well, you don't ever have to be 'done'. Maybe you'll want to change to every 4-6 weeks. Or maybe you'll feel like you don't have anything else you need to talk about with me. But you can always call me and come back in."

And so I do. I've seen her a couple of times over the past few years to talk about things when I start to feel overwhelmed and find that I don't have resources to handle it on my own. I saw her this last week. I had a list of things I wanted to talk to her about, and we covered them in the first half hour. 

The thing is, we all have stuff that we can't handle. And sometimes, our people who love us also don't know how to help us handle it. And for me, that's where seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist or social worker can help. And there's no shame in it. Life is beautiful and life is hard. 

I want to say one more thing - after I started to set up these supports - the woman who had also experienced it and meeting regularly with one of the people I first initially emailed, I also got real with my friends. Caleb and I weren't dating yet, but I called him up and told him about it. I told several other friends as well. And naming it and telling people... it helped. It made it feel less scary and less shameful. It let all those people who cared about me ask questions that were actually helpful. Culturally, I'll always need to be practicing and re-learning healthy, balanced eating, because we get a lot of mixed messages about it. But I will also ever advocate for counseling if you get too far off track.