Influencing the shadows

"And there, standing in the moonlight, I realized that I couldn't get rid of the shadows. I could only affect where they fall."
--Diane Ackerman, A Slender Thread

Two years ago yesterday, I took a massive overdose. And I survived. I probably shouldn't have, only one of many of these occasions in which my survival was one of the least likely outcomes.

The shadows? They're still here. And they haunt me, still.

And yet.

I am learning to influence these shadows, learning when they appear and why, and how to move them about. I know that winter sucks, that not eating feels good until it doesn't but then it's kind of hard to stop, that overexercising feels good until it doesn't but then it's also kind of hard to stop. So I'm learning not to start.

My level of depression is significantly better than two years ago, which means I can get out of bed and get to work, reliably. I can feed myself and my cat. Also fairly reliably. I am rarely over-the-moon happy, or even garden-variety happy, but I haven't been for over a decade, so I'm not especially astonished.

I am still anxious as all hell, but I have been for half of my life, so, again, I'm not particularly astonished.

Eating disorder-wise, I'm still mentally rather stuck. Ed is still there, very much. I fight the thoughts on an hourly basis, but still I fight. I am getting better, if only in the sense that I am learning how to reach out and ask for help and talk about how I feel even though it's icky icky icky and I don't like it one bit. I also don't like hospitals and ERs and (sorry, Mom and Dad) living at home, so I take the bargain.

These are my shadows- these and many other things. Traumas from treatments (learning the girls at the facility had been reading my journal as a social activity for FOUR MONTHS was a spectacular low point and the only time in which I had to be restrained from bitch slapping someone- in this case my roommate, the leader of the f*cked up Motley Crue) follow me, as do those from other times in my life.

I have found a sense of peace in accepting that shadows--whether these or others like them--will always be with me. But I can move, make the shadows bigger or (hopefully) smaller, position them in a place where I can accept them and move on. A position where they won't interfere with my life, even though they are very real and very much still there.

And like I did last year, I'm going to close with the same quote from Grey's Anatomy:

Maybe we're not supposed to be happy. Maybe gratitude has nothing to do with joy. Maybe being grateful means recognizing what you have for what it is. Appreciating small victories. Admiring the struggle it takes simply to be human. Maybe we're thankful for the familiar things we know. And maybe we're thankful for the things we'll never know. At the end of the day, the fact that we have the courage to still be standing is reason enough to celebrate.

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samsi77 said...

Mission if you chose to accept is embracing the shawdows without judgement as if not for where you have been you would not be where you currently are or all of the incredible places you shall go ........forward forever!

Lisa said...

Oh my. The first paragraph bowled me over - I started reading your blog this summer and didn't know.

Your courage is so admirable. I wish you all the help and hope you need to do battle with the shadows, because yours is a voice that needs to be heard. You've already reached so many people and I think your future carries many more opportunities.

Carrie Arnold said...

And the part of the metaphor that I didn't get into: you can't dance in the moonlight without creating shadows. It's just a part of life.

Yes, I still beat myself up about it. ;) But I'm on my way to acceptance.



Tiptoe said...

I remembered when you posted about this and how 1) incredibly happy that you survived and 2) how incredibly sad for you to have experienced such a horrible low.

You've certainly learned a lot from the good and bad experiences. The shadows may remain, but having the ability to see them for what they are, counteract them when needed, and to embrace them too, shows how far you have come in your journey.

sannanina said...

This post hits a little too close to home... There are a million things that go through my mind about this, but I cannot really talk about them yet, at least not in a constructive way. Suffice it to say that I, too, took an overdose in July 2007. I wish I could say I was better now, but that wouldn't be true (although I won't take another overdose for various reasons). I wish I could "celebrate" my victories, but I am not sure that they are victories at all. In contrast to you I do at this moment not fulfill my obligations - for one, I am not getting on with my studies, and I am dependent on my parents financial support. I am thankful to my family, very much so, and not just because of the money - they are and always have been incredibly supportive (and so have many of my professors). But that does not change the fact that they should not have to take care of me at this point in my life (I am 29 after all). It's like being frozen - I manage to "survive", but not to "live", or as I usually put it, I am ageing without growing, and yes, despite the depression I guess this might be partially my fault.

mary said...

You've climbed mountains in the last 2 yrs. Carrie! I know it's been hard work. Use your shadows well (shadow puppets)and remember to live in the light. It's one of those essential things.
I went out and bought a bunch of day light bulbs this year. (those energy ones DO NOT last as long as promised anyway)
I also like to hang crystal prisms in the windows for the great rainbows they throw. Any crystal will do...I also have a vintage crystal salt shaker sitting in the window. Colors are so important...just painted my kitchen a warm peach so it'd be bright all winter long.
Anyway, I hope you keep on keeping on cause there will be some awesome days ahead. Some crappy ones too no doubt. Nothing you can't handle though!

Kim said...

This is an amazing post. Thank you. It's such a comfort to hear your honesty. I think we'd all rather think that the shadows just go away, but they don't. And you remind me that we can learn to step out from their darkness. I think it really is all about acceptance, not judging ourselves... Thank you for your courage and for sharing your journey. Your blog is a daily source of energy for me.

Sarah said...

Oh, Carrie, wow.

That was quite a day for us.

I'm so glad we're still here.


ASHY91906 said...


If only for a selfish reason, I am so thankful for what you do. You put so eloquently the thoughts that run through my head, and it has become a part of my daily routine to check your blog. There are days when I don't feel like I have a shadow but a dark cloud, and then there are other days when the sun shines (if only metaphorically since the sun hibernates during Michigan winters).

So thank YOU for doing what you do. Eventually babies learn to run, and we will too. Until then, we wobble from side to side and fall on our butts, and then we get back up and try again.

Thanks again!

Laura Collins said...

Breathtaking, Carrie - really.

Note to Sannaana: parents don't WANT to be relieved of that service to their kids when we are needed. Helping you is just a part of loving you. There are no "shoulds" in these things - it isn't a burden.

Libby said...

Carrie, I am grateful for you!!

MelissaS said...

i've been there too. all of it -- close to death, then living with the family, too depressed and crying to get out of bed, too anxious to call my best friend -day-after-day, too hungry and weak to move, too obsessed with my eating disorder to breathe.

but i'm not there now. and i do not believe that we must JUST be grateful. while gratitude is wonderful and important, HAPPINESS is there for you too. relief is possible. for me, it took time, but i do feel happy in happy times, and i can get through the day often forgetting my eating disorder. hang in there. it gets better.

A:) said...

thank you carrie,

I am glad you were brave enough to share that. I am glad that you overcame your struggles at that point in your life so you could live a life.

I needed this to tell me that there is hope -- that I will move beyond this nightmare.

Check your facebook email :)


Kyla said...

I'm glad you're doing better, but sorry you're still struggling. I think the key is to, on average, get a little better and better over time. Love the quote.

Jane said...

I've very happy you're still here Carrie, and hope you have easier days ahead. You have so much to offer all of us.

As an aside, I just found out I won your book in the NEDA auction--YAY!

Harriet said...


Beautiful post. I can relate to it on many levels. Have you read the book "When Things Fall Apart" by Pema Chodron? That book changed my life. Chodron writes, so simply, that we spend so much energy trying to avoid the shadows when it is impossible. If you embrace them without judgment, as Stefanie said, they are so much easier to navigate.

I look forward to meeting you in person someday, Carrie. You're a special person.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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