So close, yet so incredibly far

I realize this post could easily get into the boo-hoo my life sucks realm rather quickly, so this is going to be a little disclaimer that I'm not wallowing in self-pity. It's more of what one of my Aussie friends would call a good little bitch 'n whinge.

I know that I've made plenty of progress in recovery over the past six months. I'm not trying to deny that. But considering that I'm in a fairly protected situation, it's easy for me to forget just how far I have to go. Swimming in a pool is different than swimming in an ocean with currents and riptides. I'm in a pool right now (metaphorically- the thought of wearing a bathing suit sends me into a panic), but the world out there is one big, big ocean. And every now and again, I realize that the pool and the ocean are very different places.

I was out with my parents all day yesterday, and I managed lunch just fine (which is progress, I know), but the afternoon snack was much more anxiety-provoking. I was in an unfamiliar area that had several places where we could stop. My mom asked "Would you like to stop for a snack?" and although I get that she was trying to be all nice and supportive, I really wanted to say "No, actually, I'd rather not stop for a snack!" But seeing as that wasn't an option, I started thinking of all of the different places where we could go. My mom encouraged me to pick something, and I just stood there, totally and utterly unable to decide what to do or where to go. My dad was getting impatient, as stopping for a snack wasn't on his agenda (we were shopping for furniture and only furniture, and snacktime and poking through the bins at Crate and Barrel were not Part Of The Plan), so he just hustled us along and I ended up eating some of the snacks we had packed for precisely just an emergency.

I talked to my therapist about this, and I can see that I was reasonably effective. I didn't skimp on my snack because I was anxious or couldn't decide. Again, progress. But what caught me off guard was how anxious that decision still made me. It wasn't the prospect of eating that made me all twitchy, it was having to decide what to eat. I have a meal plan, I have supervision, I haven't had any urges to binge or overeat, so I can be reasonably confident that I'm not going to drastically exceed what my body needs. Also, my hunger and fullness cues are in (reasonably) good working order, so it's really not the eating part that causes the crippling anxiety anymore. But the task of deciding what to eat? Holy cats. Massive anxiety.

Part of the anxiety comes from this internal dialogue of trying to decide whether ED is calling the shots or healthy Carrie is calling the shots. One of the upsides of anorexia--if you can call it that--was that I didn't have to ask myself what I wanted. Eating was a big part of that, obviously, because I was always full or had just eaten or [insert random reason here]. But as long as I could figure out which decision would help me lose weight, I could decide. Easily. I'm not used to asking myself what I want to eat, and having to decide is so hard. I do pick out and serve my own snacks at home, but there's a relatively limited array of options to choose from. No one is getting antsy for me to make up my mind so we can price out that sectional.

Besides the anxiety of figuring out what I want, there's the anxiety of wondering if I made the right decision. Because, as we all know, perfection is possible in an afternoon snack...right? The rational part of me understands that not ordering the perfect item at the perfect place is hardly a life and death matter. I could order something different next time and the world would not end. However, very little about an eating disorder is rational. I worry about potential calorie differences in the snacks at Place A and the snacks at Place B. I worry what other people might think of me if they see me walking around with something from Place A instead of Place B. I worry what people must think of me if they see me eating, period. I worry about cost. I worry about where other people might want to go. I worry about looking like a slack-jawed freak as I stand in the middle of the mall, not moving, as I try to decide between Place A and Place B, but then what about Place C just around the corner?

And on and on it goes.

I get that these worries are pretty darn irrational (okay, completely and utterly irrational), but they're still very real, and they're part of the reason why a simple question like "Do you want a snack?" can leave me frozen in my tracks. I can probably find something wherever I end up--which is one of the upsides to being given plates of food with relatively little input--however much I might not like the options. And if somebody says "Let's go to Place A," and I really want to go to Place B, I am feeling more free to suggest Place B unless the other person really wants to go to A and I don't have a huge preference for B. But if that somebody asked "Where do you want to eat?" or even "Do you want to eat at Place A or Place B?" it's like that anxiety immediately kicks in and I start second-guessing everything.

I guess we can add this to the never-ending list of Things I Need To Work On In Therapy.

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A:) said...

Wow, I think you just stole EXACTLY what has been going through my head this weekend.

The pool is VERY VERY different from the ocean.

Similar to your outing (but I guess more drastic) I planned a trip to Montreal with friends and figured it would be OK because it was only two days and two nine hour busrides. . .

The night before I realized. . .
a) I was going to have to eat out B, L, D, Sx2
b) I was NOT going to be able to go for my scheduled walks
c) I was going to have to be social 24/7 and dress for clubs/restaurants (big trigger)
d) I was going to have to eat unfamiliar food
e) I was going to have to SIT like a LUMP on a bus for 9 hours

Needless to say, I had a panic attack the night before when I realized these things and had to cancel/plead a family emergency. The odd thing is, I COMPLETELY thought I could handle the trip until I sat down and thought abuot the logistics.

I never realized until then how I have traded many of my rigid ED behaviours for "safe" recovery behaviours. I have enclosed myself in my own recovery "bubble" such that I am more stable than when I was actively anorexic but still SO SO limited in what I can do because my routine cannot be altered. . .

A recovering friend suggested that I get used to these breaks in routine in a slower process as opposed to trying to do it in a single weekend. Perhaps you could do the same?

It is a relief to hear that you also still have trouble with these things.


Amy said...

I call those If You Give a Mouse a Cookie moments. Will giving the mouse a cookie wind up snowballing? I'd wager not, but it doesn't make them seem any less plausible at the time.

I'm glad you're at a point where you can recognize that this is something that needs to be worked on. That, too, is a big step.

Lastly, you're fabulous.

mariposai said...

Thanks for being so honest in this post. By sharing these experiences you are really helping people like me, who are also in recovery and trying to learn more about the transition between the pool and the ocean.

I guess it's never going to be an easy swim out in the ocean, but the more we do it, the stronger and more confident our strokes become.

Like A:), I also feel that many of my ED behaviours have been replaced by safe recovery alternatives, and your post has helped me to realise that.

This blog has really helped me make more sense of the complexities inherent in the recovery process.

Sarah x

Kim said...

I know what you mean about the pool versus the ocean. Sometimes, I feel like I'm doing so well, but I realize that I keep things pretty structured. I'm usually in my home environment, and meals out are usually my call (Larryis very easygoing). When I have spontaneous eating situations or dinner parties or whatever, I see how far I still have to go. I try not to beat myself up about this, but I don't always succeed ;)

Like you, most of my anxiety is not about the eating itself, but about the choice. I want to eat "perfectly" so there's a lot of pressure on a simple decision. Plus, I've got to balance "healthy Kim" with "anorexic Kim." Say I want an apple. I think, "Well, is that enough? Do I really just want an apple, or is that anorexia talking?" I get very confused. I envy "normal" people who just know what they want, trust that, and don't overthink it to the point of crying. Usually, once I make a decision and move on, I'm fine...but, man, the anxiety in that decision-making process is crippling. I just want a nutritionist on my shoulder, coaching me, always. I guess that shows that I don't trust myself too much. Working on that one...

Abby said...

Could have written this post myself, and seeing as I have a five-day work trip coming up, the issue is even more jarring this week. Like you, I do great in the pool, so to speak. And even though I like my freedom--obviously--when I was IP, I may not have liked the situation, but what I did like was not having to decide.

I didn't have to decide if what I was eating was enough or too much, I didn't have to decide if taking care of myself was necessary, I didn't have to decide between exercising more or not or eating X or Y. I was just given the props and I played the part. No real problems.

Once I got home, I had to trust myself, something I struggle with on a daily basis. Do I really like oatmeal as much as I do or do I only really like it because it's "safe" for me? Do I really like almond milk better than normal, or is it the disorder? Oy...I feel like I can't differentiate between the "real" me and the "sick" me when it comes to these things.

Long ramble, but I just wanted to thank you for your honesty. I know how far you've come, and this is probably just life giving you a reminder that it's a process. You're farther along than you think, but there's still work to do. :) For all of us...

Laurel said...

Even though these "symptoms" suck, it is nice to know that these are "normal", or that I am not the only one who feels/experiences them. I could quote (and probably have) many of your statements word for word. I often stand awestruck in from of my fridge or my "food closet" having no idea what to eat, but basing it solely on the amount of calories invovled.

Like I said, it sucks. Thank you for speaking the language, there must be an end...somewhere.

Kathryn said...

I know how you feel. I have sat in restaurants before and cried while looking at the menu because I couldn't possibly decide about what to eat. It's still SO HARD to figure it out. I know HOW MUCH to eat (hunger/fullness awareness) ... it's just the content of my meals that drives me batty. Don't feel as though you're alone in this feeling.

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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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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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