Giant Hugs, X’s and O’s

Sometimes I write things that are just too personal to post. I don’t often do much of anything with them. Generally speaking, I just drag and drop them into a folder on my desktop. Book, Someday. (Also otherwise affectionately known as Nice Try, Pile of Slush.) I don’t mind if they just sit in there; it’s enough to know they’re not still sitting in my head.

But sometimes I want to feel like the words have really gone somewhere. Somewhere other than into the folder nobody sees but me.

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So a few weeks ago, I started sending the occasional scary-long Word document out to a small circle of people. People I love. And trust, and need. Have I told you about this already? I think I have.

I was looking for support, from this little group. Real support. Not the kind you sort of feel like you might get from spouting your inner secrets to the Internet — hoping against hope to make a genuine connection with someone, someday.

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Oddly enough, though, I didn’t reach out to these friends in the hopes that they’d respond. Or not consciously, anyway. I really just wanted them to read whatever it was that I had written. It was enough for me to know that they were on the other end, thinking giant hugs and x’s and o’s.

But then the responses started trickling in, one after another, and I thought oh, I’d wanted responses. I’d wanted these responses.

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“Hannah. You need to find a therapist. Depression and anxiety and disordered eating are not things you can just decide to pull yourself out of. Fifteen pounds is big deal. I know you want to show that you’ll make a great full-time hire (and you will), but you need to be your best self to be the best worker, and that means taking care of your health — physical and mental. There is nothing more important. You can’t take care of anything or anyone else unless you’re properly taking care of you. I’m going to touch base with you again on Wednesday and again on Friday and continue to be the obnoxious voice in your ear until you find someone to talk to. Deal? Xoxo.”

“I need you to remember that you have a heart that deserves to love and be loved in return, a mind that deserves to speak and be heard, and family and friends that love every single bone in your body. Recovery is going to be a bitch, but you need to give it your best shot, because what we’re talking about here is your l-i-f-e, the very breath you take day in and day out. You deserve to have a wonderful life, and I need you to remember that. I also need you to remember all the things you will miss out on if anorexia wins: nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles and parents and brothers and friends, trips to places so beautiful they make your heart sing, and falling in love with someone who you would have wonderful, beautiful, sometimes annoying and dirty babies with, if that’s part of your plan. You can do this. It will get easier. So many people are pulling for you to win, and you will.”

“I will remind you over and over again: you are doing the right thing, you are so strong, you are getting more beautiful every single day, I missed you being you. I’m always here, and everything is going to be okay. Be good to yourself — this is when you need it most.”

“I really, really, really wish I were there too. I’d sit with you and just listen to you talk for a long time, over coffee, or a baking project, or maybe just on the floor in a blanket fort. And I would say, after you were done talking: I hear you, and you’re so brave. I feel for you so deeply, and all I can say is what I wished more people said to me during that time: it’s ok that you feel this way. It’s ok that you are at this stage, doing harmful things to yourself — I don’t judge you. I’m here for you, and you are so brave. Keep fighting, keep journaling, keep holding on to more of the beautiful things in your life and they will, bit by bit, begin to outweigh the ugly parts.”

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“I know nothing — nothing, really, about these things — but I do know that self-compassion is of the utmost importance. Be as compassionate towards yourself as you would be towards, say, me. Accept the parts of yourself that are struggling. Nurture them like you would a friend who is sick. Give them time to get better. Be patient with them. Work on them bit by bit.”

You are sick, and what that means is your brain is physically not capable of working the way it normally does. The more you eat, the healthier you get, the more clearly you can think. An eating disorder is VERY much a case of “the only way out is through”. You can’t find a faster, quicker, easier way to get better. The only way to get better is to eat — whatever that means to you. You can’t do that wrong. Any way you do it is good, and smart, and healthy, and incredibly impressive. And it won’t feel good but then you remind yourself that if it felt good, nothing would be changing. You have to do something different, to change. And it probably won’t feel great. You’ll want some people around to remind you how much you’re doing the right thing and how much more beautiful you look and how much more YOU you are.”

“The other thing you have to remember is that this sickness isn’t you. It’s something that you’re going through, but it’s not you. You have twenty-plus years of being smart, and curious, and having experiences and becoming a person with likes and dislikes and thoughts and strengths. This is one small bump. Also, a lot of people deal with this. So, it doesn’t mark you — it’s not you. It will go away and you won’t think about it anymore as part of your identity, I promise.”

“You’re still you. You have been all along — you’ve just buried it under a lot of layers of what you probably think of as protection between you and the rest of the world. But I’m just picturing you, healthy and all rosy-cheeked and laughing and just eating some pie or something with friends. And that’s you, that’s you at your best self.”

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“You are a kind, smart, and devastatingly beautiful woman.”

“I know that you know how important it is right now to be kind to yourself. Kind about everything, but it’s even more important to surround yourself with people who are willing to articulate the same things to you whenever you need it. It’s okay that you’ll need help and reassurance for a while. That’s what people are there for who love you and want you to be your best self. I want to help however I can. Talking, writing, anything. And if you need someone to just take a hike and sit quietly with — say the word and I would be on the next plane to Portland (number one on my list of places to visit, so you’d be doing me a favor!). I’m really serious about that offer, so know that it is there.”

“It’s hard to see when you’re in it, but it’s so much better to feel alive and messy -– with ups and downs –- instead of totally controlled one note, with no ups or downs, just one day after another of the same sadness.”

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“This is beautiful. I love you and I believe in you and I am proud of you for trying to get better. You are going to get better. Keep going.”

“Honestly, I wish I could say there is an easy way to go about it. I don’t think there is — but I know you’re a very strong person. You are very strong and very smart. That means you can do this. You can — think of all the things you’ve excelled at or gotten through or conquered. It’s just a bump in the road (a big one), but you are absolutely not the sort of person who’d meet a wall and just not get around it, I’m sure of that.”

“It will be such an incredible relief to not have every single minute of your day feel like an exercise, a question, a chore, a sadness. I promise.”

“I’ll give you Louise Erdrich’s words, because they calm me and remind me that people all over the world go through crises, and they get through: ‘Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.’ And I’d add, go on and taste more…as many as you can.”

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“A real latte is a good start, and chocolate biscotti sounds like the best decision I’ve heard all day. Peanut butter will come. I think something that helps a lot is taking the secrecy out of these acts — it takes some of its power away to tell someone that today, you just couldn’t. You can always tell me these things, and I will always be here to listen. It is never too much. You don’t have to worry about that with me.”

“Where to live, what to do, who to meet — all of those things — you’ll figure them out, but you want to be able to experience them: the bad, the good, the everything. And you can’t when you’re not healthy, you really can’t.”

“You really have to let go of all of your normal habits for checking in with yourself, because they aren’t working for you. They’re telling you to do things that aren’t good for you, so you have to override them until you’re in a place where you can trust yourself to tell you the right and good ways to take care of yourself. In an odd way, hating yourself for gaining weight or being mad or sad about it is a good sign: it means you’re fighting the habits you’re used to, which is what you need to do!”

“Here’s what I think: it will get worse, not before it gets better but because it’s getting better. I had to remind myself of that a lot (and I still do — it applies to many things in life), that when it’s hard and hurts and is uncomfortable and scary, that’s an indication of something changing and that is good. This kind of stuff – eating and how emotional it all is – is not the kind of thing that just feels incrementally better with every little step forward. It’s really hard and you have to keep making yourself doing the forward steps over and over and over again. Then when you get there, you can try another little step and repeat that over and over again. Determine the size of each step by what you think you can handle.”

“I know you can, and will, get better. I believe in you. How often are you seeing your therapist now? Is it enough? Are you still considering day treatment options? Should you be? (Asked in the gentlest, most loving way possible.)”

“What can I do to help? To be more supportive? Would it help to talk or text? Would it help to know I’m going to I’m always going to be checking in on a set schedule? Would you rather I try to stick to other topics to help distract your mind for a moment or two? Just say the word, whatever you need.”

“I needed people to tell me over and over again to just eat. Anything I wanted, whenever I wanted, and reminded me everyday tirelessly that that was healthy and what my body needed. I wished so intensely that I didn’t need someone to tell me that, but I did. When you’re sick, you just can’t be that voice of reason for yourself. Honestly, truly, when I was sick…I could read all the things I wanted about it, and talk for hours, but the fact of the matter is what my mom would say when she was incredibly fed up with me: Just eat! That’s all you need to do right now. Whatever helps you do it, then do that. Maybe what helps is different every day, but you have to keep your focus on getting your body healthy again, however you do it. Whatever it is, seize it and don’t worry if you feel needy or selfish. Just do it. People love you and you’ll pay them back in time when they have a crisis and need you.”

“Hannah you can do this. You can. You would not feel so threatened / angry / horrified / resistant if on some level you weren’t very aware that this is necessary and if you weren’t ready for this fight. And it will be a fight. It’s going to royally suck. It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. But it’s worth the worse, because one day you’ll wake up, do some things, go have a meal without planning it, and forget about it the second you stop eating, and then go finish your day without a thought of food or how your body feels. It will be rocky to get there, but you’ll get there. I absolutely know you can because you’re strong-willed and clever and you have so, so much at stake that’s important: Your healthy wholeness and your wonderful self.”

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“Do you know what’s funny? (Funny-interesting.) I would consider you a close friend of mine. And the number of times I have sat across from you? Looked you in the eyes? Had you within arm’s reach? Maybe twice. Your physicality is so clearly not what makes you loveable and relatable and kind and caring and funny and honest. It’s not what makes you a good friend. This battle with your body is only between you and yourself.”

“I see your blog posts and I learn things about you, and I think, she sees life through a beautiful lens. She takes beautiful pictures. She thinks so deeply, writes so eloquently. Those are things that make you who you are. Also, you have this way of focusing on the beauty in other people’s lives. As cheesy as this sounds, I think that those of us who struggle, with ‘whatever,’ see the world in the most beautiful way. You understand the sadness that comes with the happiest things. And you understand the importance of the smaller things that make life so rich.”

“No one else really knows what is going on but you. Things being bad doesn’t mean you’re 30 pounds underweight, it means all of the things you said in your post, it means that you’re not taking care of yourself, it means you’re living your entire life as an afterthought to an eating disorder. Listen to the things and people that help, not the ones that don’t. Lots of love, always here.”

“Do that good yoga breathing where you remember for a nice quiet moment that it’s such a serious, serious blessing to just be, and be healthy, and be able to have the people and time and space to figure out life, even though sometimes it feels hard and sad and sort of scary — we’re lucky to get to be here muddling through.”

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