Eating Disorders: A Perfect Illusion

Yesterday I was watching a documentary on YouTube called “Perfect Illusions” and one quote in particular caught my attention. The quote states that “Children with eating disorders sometimes feel they are the ones who have to hold the family together. They don’t want to cause anymore problems in a family that is already under pressure” (11 minutes, 50 second mark approximately).

Until hearing this I never fully realized why I have been so afraid to tell my family about my struggles. There is a war in my mind; a part of me demands to be heard, to be understood; another part of me demands silence and secrecy. I didn’t really realize it until now, but the part of me that demands secrecy is trying to protect everyone from the reality of my illnesses.

My parents have already got a lot to deal with as a result of one of my siblings’s struggles; I can’t bring myself to add my own problems to their burden. It’s really hard for me to deal with this on my own, but I have to protect my family. If I told them about the abuse, about the PTSD, the cutting, the eating disorder and my other mental illnesses I don’t know if my family would come out of it in one piece.

I’ve been protecting my family since the age of 7 or 8. I’ve been carrying this burden alone for so long because I am not sure that my parents could handle it. How could my Dad ever look at me the same again? How could I tell him and risk him blaming himself? How could my mom handle the stress of being torn between supporting me through the struggles that are a result of her son’s actions? How could I possibly make her choose? Isn’t it just easier for me to keep the secret?

For so long I have believed that the answer to that question is yes. But now I’ve started to see the truth. The cost of keeping the secret is a lack of support, a lack of understanding among my family, and an increase in my own suffering. I’ve felt so withdrawn and alone over the last two years as my illnesses slowly gained a stronger and stronger hold on me. Therapy has helped, but I think the only way that I can ever truly start to heal is if my family knows about everything. After all, how can they support me in my healing process if they do not know that I was damaged and shattered to begin with?

I want so badly to hear a story from the parental perspective. I know it will be hard for my parents to hear about my struggles and I just want to know what exactly it feels like as a parent to learn that one of your children has been abused by another.

I’m terrified that it will tear my family apart and I desperately want everything to be okay. I don’t want them to abandon him. I don’t want to destroy their relationship with him; but I need them to understand that I don’t want anything to do with him.

On Christmas morning my mom started to cry because she was so happy that we were finally all together again as a family. She said that she wanted us to heal and be whole again. She said that she knew things had been tough but that she wanted 2015 to bring everyone closer together again.

I felt so angry sitting there listening to her cry. She thinks she knows that it has been hard on everyone but she has no idea. She has no idea that I’ve got scars all over my body. She has no idea that I’m struggling to make it to my 8th day free of self-harm. She has no idea that I secretly struggle with bulimia and that I am relapsing into my eating disorder. She has no idea that I have nightmares, flashbacks, and an overwhelming feeling of discomfort in my own skin. She has no idea how hard it has been. She is so naive.

She also has no idea that 2015 is not going to heal my family. 2015 just might tear my family apart. But maybe we were destined for destruction all along. I need to share my secret and I need to focus on healing myself before I think about healing my family. They have no idea what I’ve been through and what I continue to struggle with today.

I feel guilty that my Mom’s wish for a happy and healing 2015 is doomed before it has even begun, but I think it is time that I break this perfect illusion that has been my life for the last 10+ years. It is time for my parents to meet the girl behind the mask; it is time for my parents to really see who their daughter is.

Ayla.

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Eating Disorders and the Holiday Season

It’s that time of year again: the holidays! While I love spending time with my family, seeing my relatives and just enjoying some time off from school and work, this also happens to be one of the most triggering times of the year. Everything is centered on huge meals which means huge amounts of calories. There are so many events this time of the year and every single one of them involves a meal.

To a non-disordered eater this might seem like just one more reason to enjoy the holidays; for me and probably every other person with an eating disorder this is on reason to HATE the holidays. There is no way around it: you either eat the food and feel horribly fat OR you don’t eat and you have to explain to your family that you have an eating disorder…which might just ruin the holidays, right? So there is really only one option (at least that’s how I see it).

It’s a tricky situation and it usually ends in a huge restriction period in January. After gaining a few pounds in December, my mind is overwhelmed with thoughts of dieting and I spend hours looking on pro-anorexia sites, tumblr blogs, and youtube videos searching for the lowest calorie foods and looking for thinspiring images to keep me going.

It’s a horrible cycle and one that I have difficulty getting out of. I’ve been really struggling with my eating disorder over the last few weeks and the holiday dinner that I have to attend in two hours is certainly not helping to make me feel any better. Over the course of the next week I have 3-4 Christmas dinners to attend followed by even more New Years parties and Dinners at the beginning of January.

I’m kind of scared for what January will bring when I finally move back to my apartment because I will be in complete control over what groceries I buy, how often I eat, and how much I eat. I won’t have any family members around keeping an eye on my weight and I wont have to try quite so hard to hide my caloric intake (or lack thereof) from anyone. This could spell disaster for me… I guess time will tell.

I’m definitely predicting a huge relapse in the next two weeks…

Staying positive about recovery

One of the most difficult things for anyone struggling with an eating disorder, self-harm, or any other mental illness is staying positive during recovery. Optimism is extremely important to recovery; if you do not think that you are going to recover, then you wont. You need to be positive and have a good outlook about recovery. While I have not recovered yet, I’m getting closer and closer with every attempt at recovery. Here are some things that have helped me stay positive:

1. Remind yourself why you want to recover.

2. Reward yourself for little milestones.

3. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you have a slip up; it happens to the best of us.

4. Make yourself a “crisis box” or a “happy box” and fill it with things that make you happy (books, candles, quotes, pictures, etc.) so that you have something to do when you are feeling down.

5. Write down your feelings in a journal rather than keeping everything inside.

6. If you cannot think of a reason to recover for yourself, think of why your loved ones want you to recover.

7. Think about everything you have lost to your illness and everything you will gain from recovery (and I don’t mean weight)

8. Talk to someone when you are feeling like giving up (ie. family, friends, your therapist, a teacher, a guidance counselor, etc.).

9. Do something that you enjoy everyday for no reason other than to make yourself happy (ie. spend some time on a hobby that you really enjoy).

10. Focus on yourself and your own recovery. It can be hard enough to recover when you are dealing with your own issues, try not to take on the burden of everyone else’s problems as well. You might end up setting yourself up for failure.

I hope that these points will help some of you with your recovery as they have helped me.

Stay strong; stay positive. You can do this. Recovery IS possible.

xo

Ayla

One day I will be strong enough to share my story with the world

A few weeks ago I was seriously stressing about having to switch therapists. Today I am so grateful for the therapist that I have!! I’m still thankful for my first psychologist and I think she was an amazing support, but I feel like this new therapist might be a better fit for me. Her personality is so encouraging and I feel so relieved after talking to her.

What’s even better is that she has offered to help me in ways that I never expected. She has offered to help me talk to my parents about my illnesses. They have absolutely no idea about the abuse, the PTSD, the eating disorder, the self-harm…none of it. They are so blissfully unaware right now because I’ve been protecting them. But I think it might be time to finally let them know what’s really been going on with me over the last few years of my life. It’s time for me to stop holding all of this weight on my own.

My therapist has helped me realize that it isn’t my fault that any of this happened and it isn’t my job to protect my abuser. She opened my eyes to the fact that he has been emotionally blackmailing me for the last 10 years by threatening to commit suicide if I disclosed what he did to me. He has not only made me feel isolated by forcing me to keep this secret, but he has also made me feel like his life is my responsibility as well. But it’s not. He is the only one who can be responsible for his life. If he chose to end it because he could not bear the consequences of his actions, then that would be his choice and not my fault.

It has taken me an extremely long time to get to this point; I’ve spent years feeling like I have no choice but to keep this secret “or else”. But I’m slowly starting to realize that i’m being a bit of a hypocrite. I’ve been so quick to criticize my parents and others who do not hold him accountable for his actions but all this time I have done the very same thing. I have protected him from the horrible crimes that he committed. I protected him because I wanted to protect my family as a whole. My family is already so unstable (they’re fighting in the living room as I type…) so I didn’t want to add more stress to the situation.. I didn’t want to be the reason that my family split up. But now I’m starting to realize that it wouldn’t be my fault. It’s not my fault because it is not the message that would destroy them, it is the act. They would not be destroyed by me telling them what happened, they would be destroyed by the fact that the abuse occurred. Once again, it is not my fault; only one person is responsible for the abuse and that person is the abuser.

I’ve spent so much time advocating for individuals with mental health issues but I have forgotten to advocate for myself. I’m starting to realize that this might just be the next step. One day I am going to share my story with the world. I am going to tell the world how I overcame my illnesses and all of the terrible events that occurred. I’m not recovered yet, but I will be. The only way I can share my story with the world is if I first share it with my family. I don’t know how they will receive the news. I don’t know if they will scream at me, yell at him, try to throw me in an institution…who knows? What I do know is that when I am ready to tell them I will have the support of my amazing psychologist who is willing to stand up for me and protect me in ways that other people never have. I FINALLY have someone to fight my battles with me rather than against me. I FINALLY have the courage to start moving forward. It may not happen today, but one day it will. And when that day comes, I will be ready to defend myself and be my own advocate.

I’m stronger than I was when the abuse happened; I’m stronger than I was yesterday; and tomorrow, I will be stronger than I am today. One day that strength will be enough to share my story and FINALLY have the peace that I deserve.

One day…

xo

Ayla

Have you heard about 7 Cups of Tea?

Have you heard about 7 Cups of Tea? It’s a great online support resource which you can use to connect with volunteers who are simply there to listen when you need to talk. These individuals (referred to as “Listeners”) are there to help you anytime you feel like you need to talk but have nobody who will listen. They are not there to judge, nor will they try to tell you what you should do; they will simply provide a sympathetic ear for you to talk. Whether you are dealing with a physical or mental illness, going through a break-up, grieving the loss of a loved one, or simply having a bad day, 7 Cups of Tea is a great way to find someone who you can anonymously talk to and vent your emotions and frustrations.

If you would like to connect with a listener, visit: https://www.7cupsoftea.com/. If you are interested in becoming a listener (its a really great experience!!!) all you have to do is sign up for an account and complete the training course online (should take you no more than an hour or two). Furthermore, if mental health is a field that you want to work in, you can apply to complete an internship with 7 Cups of Tea and receive a certificate for the 8 week (80 hours minimum) program!

It’s a great resource and I would encourage you all to get involved and check it out!

xo

Ayla

Social Anxiety: More than “just introversion”

In case you didn’t already know, here’s the low down on introversion: it’s NOT the same as social anxiety. On the contrary, these two things are completely different (although it is true that social anxiety is more likely to occur among introverts).

While introverts may feel the need to have some alone time to recuperate after periods of social interaction, social anxiety is much more intense. Social anxiety can range from moderate to severe and involves both physical manifestations of anxiety (ie. increased heart-rate, hyperventilation, hot-flashes) and mental manifestations of anxiety (ie. dissociation, panic attacks, worried thoughts, cognitive distortions, etc.).

While introverts may prefer solidarity and experience some level of distress in certain social situations, individuals with social anxiety may become so worried about a social interaction or event that it impairs their ability to function normally in society (ie. difficulty holding a stable job, going to school, maintaining a relationship, etc.). There are of course also individuals with less severe social anxiety who are able to continue functioning properly in society but still experience some level of distress in certain social situations.

If you think that you are experiencing social anxiety it is important that you seek help from a mental health professional or your general physician. While it may seem like you will feel this way forever there are treatment options available and it is definitely possible to overcome social anxiety and learn how to manage the symptoms.

50 Things that DON’T Determine my Worth

This is absolutely perfect. There are so many things that people will try to define you by. It’s important to take the time to define yourself based on your own standards and not those of others.

breaking seams

  1. The number on the scale.
  2. My GPA.
  3. Your opinion of me.
  4. The number of likes I get on Facebook.
  5. The size of my jeans.
  6. My diagnosis.
  7. My past.
  8. The number of scars on my body.
  9. The way I’ve been treated in the past.
  10. My gender.
  11. The stereotypes I may or may not fit into.
  12. My age.
  13. The number of times he texts me today.
  14. The amount of calories I’ve consumed.
  15. My religious beliefs.
  16. The number of boyfriends I’ve had.
  17. My physical appearance.
  18. The amount of Instagram followers I have.
  19. What the haters think.
  20. My race.
  21. My sexual history.
  22. Your drunken analysis of me.
  23. How many friends I have.
  24. The stores I shop in.
  25. The amount of money my family has.
  26. My favorite music.
  27. My upbringing.
  28. The size of my boobs.
  29. My level of treatment.
  30. The grade I got on that final exam.
  31. The number of presents I get for Christmas.

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20 Warning signs of Self-harm

There are quite a few misconceptions regarding self-harm, one of which being the idea that self-harm is for attention. However, the majority of individuals who self-harm will go to great lengths to hide their struggles. For this reason, I feel that it is important to share some of the warning signs that someone is self-harming because many individuals will not know what to look for. This list is based on my own experiences with self-harm and the common warning signs that my friends saw in me. My family still does not know about my struggles with self-harm; however, if someone gave them this list I’m sure a lot of things would start to make sense. So, if you suspect someone you know is self-harming, here are some things you can look for:

  1. Unexplained cuts (often in a linear/parallel pattern), bruises, burns, or broken bones
  2. Unexplained groupings of scars
  3. Numerous scars/cuts/wounds in different stages of the healing process (often multiple wounds appearing in groupings on the wrist, arms, thighs, hips, and/or abdomen)
  4. A collection of sharp objects that are kept well hidden
  5. A collection of first aid supplies (alcohol wipes, bandages, gauze, etc.) which seem to deplete quickly/require refilling frequently
  6. Refusal to wear clothing that reveals certain parts of the body
  7. Always wearing long sleeves/pants, even in warm weather
  8. Always wearing a large number of bracelets which conceal wrists
  9. Wearing a wrist support/brace frequently without an explanation for how the “sprain” occurred
  10. Reacting strongly to questions about the wounds (sensitive to casual remarks)
  11. Frequently having blood-stained tissues in the bathroom or bedroom garbage can
  12. Frequently having blood stains on clothing or bedding
  13. Being secretive
  14. Keeping a certain drawer or box locked and/or hidden (often used to hide razors, knives, and other sharp objects)
  15. Frequently looking up self-harm online (ie. Self-harm sites appearing in search history)
  16. Reading books about self-harm (this one isn’t necessarily a warning sign, but it is quite common among individuals who self-injure)
  17. An apparent lack of coping mechanisms during high stress periods
  18. Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other mental illness (often self-harm co-occurs with other mental health problems)
  19. Feelings of hopelessness, unhappiness, or sadness
  20. Carrying unnecessary sharp objects in their everyday belongings (ie. Keeping a blade, lighter, or other SH tool in a purse or backpack)

It is also really important to recognize that if someone you know is actually self-harming in some way, you need to have an open mind. If you judge them or react with anger or hostility, they are not going to be open and honest with you. You want the person to know that you are there to help and that you are not going to judge them. The biggest reason that I have not confided in my own parents about my self-harm is because I know them well enough to know that they would not understand, they would be angry, and they would try to over-monitor me to stop me from cutting.

It’s really important for people to know that self-harm is an addiction and it is very difficult to just stop cold-turkey. Just like any other addiction, it takes time to recover. It will take a lot of support, love, and time for anyone to recover from self-injury, especially if they have been doing it for a long time.

Please, if you know someone who is self-harming be supportive. Do not judge them. Let them know that you are there to help and that you will help them find the support that they need. One of the best things that happened for me occurred when one of my close friends found out and encouraged me to start seeing a therapist. It took him 2 months of gentle coaxing to get me to go, but finally I did and things have definitely gotten better. Even though i’ve recently relapsed, I know that recovery is possible with the right support system. I went 47 days self-harm free and I know I can do it again.

Stay strong ❤

xo

Ayla

If you want something, go after it.

Recently, I got some amazing news. Some of you may remember a few weeks back that I had been told that I would have to stop seeing my therapist because my school made mental health cuts. Well, yesterday I found out that I was approved for 12 additional sessions. That’s enough to allow me weekly sessions for the rest of semester which is much better than the monthly visits that I’ve had this semester.

But what’s even more amazing is how this came about. After being upset for about a week I decided to email the president of the university equivalent of “student council”. I didn’t hear anything back at first but after about a week of waiting I got a response stating that he would be looking into it and fighting to meet the needs of students who require therapy. Two days I got the phone call to let me know that I could continue my treatments.

Of course, I can’t take all the credit. My therapist contacted the officials at my school as well which may have had a stronger impact than my own efforts. Either way, I am thankful for the additional treatment.

After going through a recent relapse with my eating disorder and self-harm I am so relieved to know that I will not be alone next semester. I will have someone to talk to and I can get through this.

Pro-Eating Disorder T-shirts? Spreadshirt needs to be stopped.

CALL TO ACTION: SIGN THIS PETITION.

Hey everyone! This morning I was contacted by someone about a petition that is intended to put an end to the pro-eating disorder, Nazi chic, and sexist apparel that is available on Spreadshirt.com. I had already signed the petition previously and spread awareness about it on my Facebook, but I hadn’t thought to blog about it, so here goes!

As an individual who is currently suffering from an eating disorder and a proud feminist, I am extremely opposed to the clothing that is being sold on the site. For example, the shirts feature phrases such as “Beautifully Bulimic”, “Alluring Anorexic”, “Swallow! OR IT’S GOING TO YOUR EYE”, while also featuring Nazi-chic logos and images of women in degrading positions.

Needless to say, I am disgusted. The company is promoting an extremely damaging culture. Mental illness should not be glamorized. Female inferiority should not be perpetuated. Nazi culture should not be made light of. Anyone who thinks this is okay (or even worse, supports the company by purchasing the products) is ignorant and I am certainly not afraid to say so.

If you agree (and I’m hoping you will), please sign this petition online to force the company to take the products off the site. It will only take a moment of your time!

As always, thank you for reading!

xo

Ayla