There’s nothing quite as long and lonely as a sleepless night. I should know; I’ve had a lot of those recently. Getting enough sleep has been an issue for me for years, however over the past couple of months, it’s gotten so much worse. Even on the nights when I’m not pulling dreadful all-nighters, it can take me ages just to turn off my active mind and fall asleep.
I’m currently writing this post at 3 a.m. (although I’ll surely edit it with a clearer head). It’s been about five hours since I took my melatonin and crawled into bed; five hours of tossing and turning, of practicing the many sleep skills my therapist taught me, of anxiously staring at my dark ceiling wondering why none of those skills are working, and finally of reaching my breaking point where I can’t take it anymore and grabbing my computer.
Basically a pretty typical night in the life.
Pinpointing the direct cause of my insomnia hasn’t been easy. At the end of the summer, I decided (with the consent of my psychiatrist of course) to gradually reduce the dosage of an antianxiety medication I’d been on for six years. I went from 225 mg to 50 mg over the course of a couple of months. (I tried going off it entirely but that was a disaster so I stuck with 50). We think this was around the time my sleeping got worse.
But I’ve also been more excited—and stressed—lately than I have in a while. Anxiety about the pandemic and politics aside, a lot has been happening in my personal life, namely the upcoming publication of my third book. Anyone who’s ever self-published a book knows how much there is to do to get ready for a launch. From communicating with my cover designer to editing proofs to uploading materials to KDP to figuring out how I’m going to successfully market this thing entirely online, I’ve been working diligently all day—and sometimes through the night—to make sure all the key components are in their place. Add that to the semi-weekly uploads to Nourish and my ever-growing college workload, and my mind is in overdrive twenty-four seven.
Then, of course, it could be the time of the year. Historically, my mental health is always the worst in the fall for a variety of reasons (check out my September Slump post for more on that). Usually that slump manifests as depression, but this year, anxiety seems to have taken the reins. And, like the insomnia, determining the culprit for my anxiety, not to mention how to best manage it, has been a puzzle more perplexing than the four-thousand-piece jigsaw in my living room.
Whatever the reason is, I know I can’t go on like this. Good sleep hygiene is essential for everyone—especially for people who are in recovery from mental illness. When I’m tired and have no energy, I’m more likely to feel depressed, and when I’m depressed, I’m more likely to restrict. It’s a toxic chain reaction that begins with a crappy night and ends with a plethora of mental health issues.
I’m Zooming with my psychiatrist tomorrow so hopefully we can sort this out. I’ll be sure to post an update when my sleep improves and possibly share tips if I can find ones that work. Please let me know what works for you in the comments. At this point, I’m open to trying almost anything that will help me catch some Zs!
I’ve decided that September is my least favorite month. It’s not the coldest or the longest, but in my experience, it’s the saddest. I had hopes for this September—not very high ones, I’ll admit, but I was still optimistic that it might be okay for once. After all, I’m home, comfortably enrolled in an online school, and have some exciting new projects I’m hard at work on. But recent events in my personal life have made “taking back September,” as my therapist so eloquently puts it, a difficult feat.
I’m currently writing this post in South Hampton. I’m in a beautiful place with nice people, working Wi-Fi, decent physical health, and plenty to look forward to, and I’m not having a good time. On the contrary, I can’t wait for vacation to end so I can go home. It’s thinking like that that makes me wonder: what’s wrong with me?
That, in of itself, is a loaded question. One important thing to note is that I have Seasonal Affective Disorder. I wrote a post on SAD ages ago (you can check it out here), but basically what it means is that my mood dips when the seasons change, the temperature drops, and there’s less sunlight. I have my lightbox and antidepressant, but neither is a cure-all. Acknowledging that I will feel sadder and more tired at this time of the year, that there’s nothing I can do about it, and, most importantly, that there’s nothing to feel guilty or ashamed of, is important for my wellbeing. I’m the type of person who always likes to be productive and will work myself to the point of exhaustion. I have to accept that because of my mental health, I won’t get as much done during the colder months, and that’s okay. I owe myself that much.
In addition to SAD, there are the bad memories of past Septembers: eighth grade, when I spiraled into my eating disorder; ninth grade, the first time I was admitted to the hospital; and, of course, last year: my epic college flop.
I don’t talk a lot about college because it was such a disaster. Having to medically withdraw—and after such a short period of time too—was a reminder that my eating disorder was still very active and could return to wreak havoc on my life at the slightest sign of weakness. Even though I was able to rebound and get my life together, the memories, especially at this time, exactly one year later, are still so present and upsetting.
Talking about them helps. Venting to my parents and my therapist, people who have been there for me when I was at my worst and who I know will listen to me without judgment or criticism, is good when I need to get something off my chest. Of course, writing helps a lot too. Maybe not on this blog—yet—but in the new stories, fact and fiction, I’m working diligently on.
So, will this be the year I reclaim September? I think not. The best that I can do, I’ve decided, is to simply get through it while trying to focus on the positives. Things like the online cookbook, Nourish, my mom and I recently launched, the abundance of pumpkin spice foods, the fact that one of my favorite TV shows cleaned up at the Emmys, the four-thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle in my living room, my adorable therapy cat, Chibi, the upcoming release of my third book. I have a lot to feel good about it, and even if it doesn’t “fix” my depression or break this slump I’m in, it’s somewhere to start.
It’s been almost seven years since I was admitted to Walden’s Intensive Outpatient Program for my eating disorder, but I still remember my first day as if it had happened yesterday.
I was thirteen, deep in the trenches of an eating disorder, and convinced that a number on a scale determined my worth. I wore baggy sweats to hide the body I’d grown to despise and carried my backpack, as I’d just come from middle school. My two moms and younger brother accompanied me. All three confused and conflicted in their separate ways. One thing was clear though: we were broken and desperately needed help.
And Walden did just that.
On that first day alone, it exposed how bad my illness had become when I wouldn’t complete my meal, staying until 8:30 PM—nearly two hours past closing—because I just couldn’t eat a snack-size bag of chocolate chip cookies. Over the next eight weeks, I was challenged again and again. I yelled, cried, and even ran away once, but at the same time, I also gained long-term skills and strategies that helped me cope in moments of crisis. And while I was still a conflicted mess when I discharged, Walden was the starting point of my long and complicated journey to getting better.
The years that followed were the darkest and scariest years of my life with numerous inpatient admissions. I felt lost, confused, and hopeless. I was convinced that my eating disorder—the thing that was killing me—was the only thing that mattered. It was my identity, and without it, I didn’t know who I was. That is the sad truth for many people who struggle with eating disorders. Breaking out of the mindset is incredibly difficult, but with support, time, patience, and determination, you can do it. I have.
My recovery began in late-2015 when I was admitted to a residential eating disorder treatment facility. This was my last inpatient admission. After years of refusing to embrace help, I was finally in a place in my life where I was genuinely fed up with my disorder controlling me. As my mom would say: I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.
With the help of my treatment team, support from my family, and my own internal strength, I’ve stayed on the road to recovery. Sure, there have been detours and speed bumps, but even when I’ve strayed, I’ve always managed to find my way back.
During the summer of 2017, I started writing my first book Changing Ways, a story about a sixteen-year-old’s journey to overcome mental illness. While marketed as fiction, much of Changing Ways is based on my personal experiences. Writing, then subsequently publishing a book, marked a new chapter in my life. I realized that if I was going to put Changing Ways out into the world, I couldn’t be afraid to talk openly about my mental illness. I’d spent most of my adolescence feeling ashamed of this part of me—and wrongfully so. It wasn’t my fault that I was mentally ill, and the sooner I accepted that the better off I’d be.
Sharing my story was intimidating at first, but when I saw the impact my candor and vulnerability had on other people, especially those who either knew someone or was personally battling mental illness, it made the nerves entirely worthwhile. This creative hobby that had saved me when I was at my worst was now helping other people. I was slowly chipping away at the stigma associated with mental illness, and it turns out that all it took was speaking my truth.
Eating disorder recovery isn’t easy. It’s messy, unpredictable, and so brutal that some days, I just want to give in. But when I think about how far I’ve come from an insecure thirteen-year-old filled with self-hatred to an independent young adult proudly living her truth, there isn’t a single doubt in my mind that it’s worth it.
*This post was written for Walden Behavioral Care’s blog. Read the original post here.
When I started college one year ago, the world was a much different place. Stores and restaurants were booming, handshakes and hugging were commonplace, sneezes were met with “bless yous” and not suspicious side-eyes, and no one wore a mask. I remember at one point during Orientation, the lobby of the freshmen dormitory was packed with so many people that we were literally on top of each other. And we didn’t think twice about it.
One year ago, the world was in a different place. And so was I.
Since I was thirteen, I’ve struggled with an eating disorder and depression. Getting to a place in my recovery where the mere possibility of going away to college was plausible had been a difficult feat, but I’d conquered it—or so I thought. In fact, everyone—from my parents to my therapist to my guidance counselor—was under the impression that I could succeed at college. After all, I was eating independently, I’d been weight-restored for years, and I had a foolproof plan that included a local support system, a single room, and unlimited access to the dining hall. Not to mention that I was attending my number one school.
But even the best-made plans can flop, and that’s exactly what happened. Without getting into the specifics, basically everything that could go wrong went wrong, and I couldn’t cope. I knew I was sinking fast, but I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone because then I’d be admitting that I needed help.
My inability to reach out was my greatest demise. Without anyone to intervene, my eating disorder weaseled its way into my life, and suddenly, I was back in that dark place; restricting food, sleeping most of the time, and barely leaving my room. It felt like all the progress I’d made and everything I’d worked so hard for was coming undone right in front of me, and I couldn’t stop it. I kept trying to convince myself that it was just a phase and that something positive would happen, and I’d be able to climb out of the hole I’d fallen into. But as days, then weeks, passed and nothing changed, I realized that if I didn’t take action soon, that hole was only going to get deeper. So one afternoon, as I lay in my bed feeling completely hopeless, I finally mustered up the courage to call my mom. I told her that I couldn’t do this anymore and asked her to take me home, which she did.
I’ve been home for almost a year now, and while things in my personal life and the world continue to challenge my recovery, I’m in a much better place. It didn’t seem like it at the time, but I know now that leaving college was the right choice. It wasn’t the easy one, but it was right nevertheless.
My college experience, while a bit of a disaster, taught me a lot. I still wanted to get a degree, so I enrolled in an online school in January. Realizing that there are options for people who can’t get a “traditional” education was reassuring, not to mention timely given the increase in online learning lately.
While online learning works well for me, I know that isn’t the case for everyone. I still remember how excited I was about moving into college last year, and in retrospect, I feel fortunate that that excitement wasn’t hindered by legitimate safety concerns. My younger brother is one of many students who was looking forward to starting college but can’t due to that school exclusively doing remote learning or—worse—personal health concerns.
To the freshmen who are in this position, it’s okay to feel upset and angry. But know that there are still so many new beginnings in your life to look forward to. Just because this one was taken away doesn’t mean that others will be as well. The world won’t be this way forever. This too shall pass.
And to the freshmen who are starting college on-campus this fall, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and uncertain. There’s a lot to navigate—now more than ever—and it can be challenging. But keep in mind that you’re not alone. Furthermore, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help.
Maybe if I’d reached out sooner I wouldn’t have had to leave college. Maybe I was doomed to fail no matter what. I’ll never know. What I do know, however, is that leaving college wasn’t the end of the world. Sure, it was a hard decision and took time to get over, but it was in my best interest. Everyone has to find what works for them. For me, that wasn’t traditional college, and by realizing that, I was able to discover new options and opportunities that will help me achieve my goals and dreams.
Freshmen, we’re rooting for you. You can do this. And, if for some reason you can’t, then that’s perfectly fine too.
*This post was written for a back-to-school newsletter for Jewish Family Services. Read the full newsletter here.
It’s amazing how a few days can change everything. Just last week, I wrote in my blog post how I was handling the pandemic better than I’d expected. Sure, it wasn’t easy, but I was using my coping skills to get through tough times and even learning a few things about myself along the way. I was in a good place in my recovery, quite possibly the best I’d been in in quite some time. Once gloomy and pessimistic, I was slowly embracing a more optimistic attitude on life.
Lately, however, all that optimism has been slowly slipping away. It started on Wednesday when, thanks to Tropical Storm Isaias, we lost our power. Four days later, we still haven’t gotten it back, which is why I’m currently spending my Sunday afternoon in a freezing-cold office at UConn Health Center. Having no power for an extended period of time in the middle of the summer in the middle of a pandemic is already bad enough, but to make matters worse, I was scheduled to get my wisdom teeth removed the morning after it went out.
Anyone who’s been a part of my recovery knows that I’m not good at drinking calories. Too many liquids make my stomach achy and bloated, which in turn triggers my body dysmorphia. That said, we had prepared for my post-surgery liquid diet by stocking our refrigerator and freezer with drinks and soft foods I could tolerate. But when the power went out, most of it spoiled or melted, leaving me with way fewer options than I’d anticipated.
After the removal—which was a bit of a disaster in of itself—I spent the rest of the day in a hospital room so I wouldn’t have to return home to my dark and stuffy house. But even though it was nice to have Wi-Fi to watch shows and promote the new recipe that had uploaded to Nourish while I was in surgery, I was in a lot of discomfort. My mouth hurt like hell, and I couldn’t extend my arms due to bruising from the IV (I have bad veins). That, and simply being in a hospital, eating hospital foods again, was bringing back some pretty dark memories.
It wasn’t until the next day when I was back home when it all sort of hit me at once: the pandemic, the power outage, my wisdom teeth, my wavering mental health. I felt so overwhelmed and started to cry, which really only made my mouth hurt more. With my parents looking on in concern, I let all the frustration I’d been repressing for months come spilling out.
Since then, I’ve been on Survival Mode. I haven’t been sleeping well, and my mood has been low, so not letting myself get too depressed has become a full-time job. This means eating enough despite my swollen jaw and disordered thoughts, talking to my parents when I need support, and doing whatever I can to distract myself and bring some joy into my life.
So, how have I been doing that? One word: entertainment. I’ve taken to rewatching some favorite TV shows and funny YouTubers to keep my mind off of everything else. As someone who’s super ambitious and always has to be productive, kicking back and relaxing with mindless pastimes goes against my instincts. But it’s been making me feel comforted, and with so much discomfort in my life, I need it. After all, it’s damn hard to be productive when I’m depressed.
I’m genuinely trying to stay positive, but with all that’s happened, it’s easy to get discouraged and defeated. Still, I’ll keep plugging along and doing what I can to maintain my sanity. I have no idea what obstacles the universe will throw at me next, but I do know that these experiences, while hell now, will ultimately make me a stronger person. And, as my mom jokingly pointed out earlier, I’ll have plenty of writing material for my future projects, so I guess it’s not all for nothing.
Update: It’s mid-day Monday, and things are looking a little brighter—literally. The power came on last night, forty-eight hours earlier than projected. I’m feeling better (although my mouth is still sore), but I’ve decided to upload this post anyway to show how recovery is full of ups-and-downs. It’s important to know this and to prepare for this, so that when a “down” inevitably presents itself, it won’t completely derail you and you can get through it.
I’ll end this post with a quote from Skam (which I’m currently rewatching for the 4th time): “When everything seems hopeless, just take one day at a time. And if one day becomes too much, just take one hour at a time. And if one hour becomes too much, then just take one minute at a time.”
I’m so excited to share that I recently launched a new blog/online cookbook called Nourish. My mom and I co-created it with the intention of helping people find balance through food. For several years now, I’ve struggled with an eating disorder. My mom has been by my side every step of the way, supporting me and rooting me on no matter what. Her wholesome cooking nourished me when I was refeeding, so our blog will combine her cooking with my experiences of being in recovery. Our mission with Nourish is to provide delicious and nutritious recipes that anyone can make at home, along with education and resources for individuals recovering from eating disorders and their families caring for them.
My mom and I have wanted to do a project like this for years, however we’ve never had the time to put it in motion. But given the low-spirit state of the world—as well as the fact that both of us are unemployed—now seemed like the perfect time. Now more than ever, we need to connect with and support each other. I hope you enjoy what we’ve created and maybe learn a thing or two about cooking and recovery along the way.
You can follow Nourish by visiting this link: https://thenourishcookbook.com/
Rest assured, I’ll continue to post to Wacky Writer. My quarantined life has been relatively uneventful as of late, but I’m working on something exciting that, like Nourish, I’m looking forward to sharing in the near future! Stay tuned, stay safe, stay wacky.
Unpredictable. That’s the word I’d use to describe this past month, along with chaotic, confusing, traumatic, eye-opening, and trying. Quarantining and social distancing have tested everyone in many different ways. For me, it’s drastically altered my normal routine—a routine, I might add, that I’ve become very comfortable and satisfied with—forced me to accept that I have zero control over the situation, and challenged my recovery.
So, how have I been maintaining my sanity? Given my predisposition to anxiety, it’s not easy to stay calm and rational when my mind is telling me otherwise. That said, there are a number of steps I’m actively taking to make my life as manageable as possible during the quarantine. Everyone use different coping strategies to deal with stressful events, but these are a few that work for me.
1. Getting outside. Fresh air and exercise are two major elements that are helping me stay in good health both physically and mentally. Every day—pending the weather permits of course—I go on a run in the morning and a walk in the early afternoon. Exercise not only gets me out of the house and boosts my self-confidence; it also releases endorphins in my brain, which are crucial to managing my depression.
2. Keeping busy. As someone who always strives to be productive, this is a big one for me. Six weeks ago, I had multiple part-time jobs, a rigorous academic schedule, an exercise routine at the gym, and book events lined up on the weekends. All of that changed when the quarantine went into effect. Having my social life put on hold has forced me to find other ways to occupy myself while also maintaining some structure. Whether that means getting ahead in my online courses, working on my third book (stay tuned!), or another self-fulfilling task like such, activity and productivity are still very much a part of my life in isolation. At the same time, incorporating fun into my day is also necessary to my well-being. This means setting aside time to play games with my mom, watch funny television shows (shoutout to Schitt’s Creek), work on jigsaw puzzles, and other activities that put a smile on my face.
3. Focusing on the positives (and ignoring the negatives). I used to strive to keep up with the news. From watching CNN every morning to following breaking news accounts on Twitter, I usually knew a decent amount of what was happening nationally and globally. Since the quarantine, however, the news has become less of a source of information and more of a source of stress. With constant coverage of the virus and discouraging updates and headlines, I’ve found that it’s in my best interest to avert my attention to the positive stories and developments to keep moral high.
4. Helping out my community. My mom oversees an incredible food assistance program through our church that provides biweekly deliveries to food insecure families in town. Since I’m no longer working during her delivery windows, I’ve been tagging along to help her drop off food bags to the thirty or so families who participate in her program. Assisting these families has not only connected me with my community; it’s also humbled me and reminded me of my privileges. No one is enjoying the quarantine. That said, I know I’m lucky to have employed parents, access to basic resources like food, and decent physical health. Watching my parents—a doctor and a volunteer—support our community every day has inspired me to do the same. After all, just because we can’t be near each other doesn’t mean we can’t still look out for each other.
5. Hanging onto hope. Everything ends eventually. This is what I remind myself of whenever I feel frustrated or discouraged. In time, we will return to normalcy and put this pandemic behind us—hopefully once and for all.
It’s okay to feel upset, angry, or anxious of these circumstances. I personally go through all three emotions, among others, on a daily basis. But although nobody knows what the world will be like in a month or even a week, the best thing we can do for the time being is to take care of ourselves for our own sake and the sake of others. Until next time, stay safe!
So . . . I left college.
One month later, it’s still hard to say that out loud. I went to Chili Night at my church last week—which was largely to please my mom, who thinks I don’t get out of the house enough—and college came up quite a lot. Most of the people at the event were under the impression (rightfully so) that I was still at college and was simply visiting for the weekend. And even though their reaction when I explained that, no, I’d medically withdrawn from my school and was back home for an indefinite amount of time, was overwhelmingly positive, the truth hurt nevertheless.
My last blog post (from two months ago) was essentially a six-hundred-word tangent on why Orientation is the absolute worst. But, as it turns out, Orientation was a merely warm-up jog for the uphill marathon that was college. To say that my college experience was a disaster would be an understatement. In every way that I could have failed, I did on an epic level. But hey, I learned some things along the way, and I thought they’d be helpful to share so something good might come out of this mess. So without further ado, these are the six biggest takeaways from my short-lived college experience.
Number one: Traditional education isn’t right for everyone.
Just because something works for most people doesn’t mean it will work for me. This seems to be a trend when it comes to my education. In high school, I had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that gave me certain privileges, such as my part-day schedule, to help me succeed socially and academically. And while there were still many challenges I faced, in hindsight, I doubt I would have survived without my IEP.
I didn’t have an IEP in college, and, after nineteen years of having a fairly structured and sheltered homelife, being thrust into an unfamiliar environment with thousands of strangers was a complete shock to my system. As I was riding a crammed elevator to the fourth floor of my new dorm building, I was struck with the realization that, for the first time in my life, I was on my own, and there was still so much I didn’t know. I’d been so reliant on my parents that the thought of everything that could go wrong now that I was left to my own devices terrified me. Even though I’d done a lot to prepare myself, in that moment, I found myself wondering if it was enough.
Number two: Even the best thought-out plans can flop.
When I began touring colleges in spring of 2018, I had certain criteria to determine whether the school would be a fit. It had to be on the smaller side, focus on the arts, have adequate mental health services, not be affiliated with a specific religion, and be within two hours from home. Once I was accepted into college—my top school, for that matter—I took a number of precautions, including finding a therapist near my campus and applying for a single room, to make sure that my transition was successful, which it was . . . in the beginning.
And then I relapsed (whoops). Without going into too much detail, basically everything that could have gone awry did, and I couldn’t cope. It felt like all the progress I’d made and everything I’d worked so hard for was falling apart right in front of me, and I couldn’t stop it. I kept trying to convince myself that it was just a phase, and that something good would finally happen, and I’d be able to climb out of the hole I’d fallen into. But as days went by and nothing changed, I realized that if I didn’t take action soon, that hole was only going to get deeper. So one afternoon, as I lay motionless in bed like a zombie, I did what anyone who desperately needed to be rescued would do and called my mom. I told her that I couldn’t do this anymore and begged her to take me home, which she did.
Number three: Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
I think the greatest lesson I’ve taken away from this whole ordeal is that asking for help doesn’t mean I’m weak. In fact, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Accepting that I’d failed and my mental illness had won was the first step to healing. Had I kept lying to myself, I might have never found the strength to call my mom, and while I wish I’d reached out sooner, in hindsight, it could have been so much worse.
Number four: Relapse doesn’t equal failure.
This one is hard for me, as there are still times when I feel like I’ve let myself and my family down by withdrawing from college. But then I remind myself that recovery isn’t linear. Recover is like a roller coaster ride: bumpy, unexpected, and full of so many twists and turns that at times, I simply want to hurl myself over the rails in frustration. As for relapse, well, relapse is horrible, but it happens, and it’s not my fault. I didn’t choose to be this way after all.
Number five: Relapse isn’t the end of the world.
Just because I took a couple of steps back doesn’t mean that all the progress I’ve made has been for nothing. This is simply another hurdle I must overcome, and that’s exactly what I plan to do. I’ve been home for a month, and while my mental health is far from perfect, I think I’m headed in the right direction. I’ve started writing again, I’ve applied for several book events, and I’ve even been taking driving lessons, which will hopefully pay off at my road test tomorrow (pray for me). I don’t know what will happen in terms of my education, but thankfully, I have plenty of options from online schooling to community college to getting a job around town and growing my bank account. And if there’s one thing I’m sure of it’s that recovery is still very possible. My mental illness may have won this time, but it won’t defeat me in the long run.
Number six: Communal showers are terrifying and should be avoided at all costs.
Seriously. Forget ghosts and ghouls and werewolves and whatnot; this spooky season, the scariest thing of all is communal showers. Happy Halloween!