Hide and Seek (and Recover)

In my recent post on living life with an active voice, my friend Angela pointed out that recently, I had begun to post more authentically, and (this is perhaps what stood out the most for me) I wasn't intellectualizing everything and hiding behind it. Intellectualizing everything is a habit I've had for years. Everyone knew me as The Smart One. I wasn't good at sports, I wasn't good at art, I was decent at music but far from the next Mozart or even American Idol. I also wasn't really bad at anything- I didn't achieve renown for being the Bad Girl or She Who Sucked At [fill-in-the-blank]. No, I was the Smart One, and I fell into the role rather eagerly. Social interactions were never my strong point, but I could handle brainy stuff.

Not surprising to think that this followed me into my eating disorder.

I thought a lot this past decade about recovery and anorexia. I did research. I read books. I talked to experts. And then I thought some more. I never really lacked insight--but I did lack skills for reaching out to others, for shoring myself up in ways that didn't require extensive brainpower, for dealing with the emotional messiness that accompanies an eating disorder. Simply put, I tried to think my way out of my eating disorder.

An oh-so-helpful reviewer of my first book wrote that I was doomed to relapse because I intellectualized everything. Besides the fact that I had relapsed already by the time they posted their comment, my basic response teetered between "You don't know shit about me" and "So I intellectualize everything? So what?" Yes, the spirit of the comment wasn't necessarily friendly or helpful, but the person did have a point. What I struggle with is how not to intellectualize everything. Outside of the eating disorder, I'd have to say my intellectual side has served me rather well.

But there's still that eating disorder. It's still here. Maybe not as severe as it has been, but it's here. I don't know what role my constant intellectualizing plays in my ongoing saga, nor am I exactly sure what "intellectualizing" really means. I know that when I want to learn about anger, say, or depression, that I look it up on Google or in PubMed. I can tell you about brain abnormalities and neurotransmitter deficiencies and excesses, but here's the thing: when I get mad or sad or anxious or any number of emotions that make me feel ick (read: like using ED symptoms), I don't know what to do. One of my good friends, who happens to have severe anxiety, asked me how I coped. I blinked and answered: the eating disorder.

Anorexia was my ultimate intellectualization. I could justify anything in that state. I didn't have to feel; I barely had to exist. My body was beside the point. I saw starving myself as this battle of mind over matter. I could think my way out of any problem, because I could figure out a way to make Situation A turn into Result B, which was restricting and losing weight.

I need to stop hiding behind my brains. I know I'm smart, although I don't often feel smart. That's not the point. The point isn't to dumb myself down or to stop thinking about things. The point is to stop neglecting my emotional side (assuming, of course, that I have one! :). To do this, I'm going to focus less on blogging about research stuff and more on blogging my recovery and the issues therein.

I have loved blogging about the science of eating disorders, and I don't intend to stop forever. I also don't intend never to blog about research in the coming months. I often found it useful to use an interesting new study as a jumping off point to explore a new issue, frequently one I never thought about before. I also reserve the right to blog about super-cool, hot off the presses research if the mood strikes me. But for now, I think I need to start focusing on ME and MY recovery rather than research and outreach and awareness-raising.

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Tiptoe said...

Great post, Carrie. I have the intellectualization problem too. It's gotten better, but I still have moments of reminding myself that I am human. I think it is one reason why I am reminding other people of this as well. We forget this or think we are not allowed to be.

I'm really glad that you will be posting more on you and your recovery. I think it's a subject many are interested in--(we want to know more of other sides of
Carrie) There are a lot of people who gain value from not only what you have written but also your experiences.

jadedchalice said...

I can also relate to this. My first therapist said to me in our first session...."wow hold on, i feel like im in psych 101 again" So i bet you think you understand your disorder well enough that you should be able to recover based on understanding alone right? And I said "one would think so" And he said "ok well then why are you here and why aren't you already better" I sat in silence for a good few minutes then answered "you tell me"

rr said...

You might not believe this but I was just thinking about your blog the other day and what you said about yourself in this post is kind of what I had been thinking.

I was thinking about why your blog felt 'safe' for me to read, sort of regardless of what my eating disorder had to say about me that day, and I realized it was because it was more of an intellectual level that you were writing on and that was the level that I tend to be able to quash my eating disorder. I also wondered a little about whether it was actually helpful for you in your recovery, or if it was a convenient way for you to spin your wheels and feel like you were making progress. Unfortunately work does not always equal progress.

I'm really happy to hear you are going to try to write more from the heart and less from the brain. But even more than that I am really glad to hear that you are not going all heart all the time. My therapist would call that living in the gray, which is apparently what people do all the time, but i guess is one of the things that people with EDs have a hard time with. (I know I do)

So nice work on admitting what work you need to do and taking steps toward doing it! I'm really excited to follow along (and give encouragement when needed/asked for)

now.is.now said...

I, too, had noticed that you've been blogging more about you than you have in the past. I don't know if this means anything, but I love reading about you. Just as much (okay, probably more) than I loved reading about the research. I relate more to the post that way.

You are always allowed to blog about whatever you want to. It's easy to feel like your blog has been labeled and then tailor your entries to fit what you perceive others are expecting. Just beware of that and stay true to blogging about what you want to write about and about what is helpful to you.

mariposai said...

I too enjoy reading about you and your recovery. I love the research you bring us, but at the same time you should be able to use blogging for you when you want/need to, and I would find it just as useful and engaging to read about, if not more so.

Sarah x

Cathy (UK) said...

Interesting.... I was actually drawn to your post precisely BECAUSE you intellectualise everything - just as I do. The hardest part of my recovery has been to identify and talk about my emotions - to anyone. Furthermore, I am not so sure that this has been the main step in my recovery.

Even when I am able to identify my emotions I don't like talking about them. I am always 'matter of fact'. This is strongly linked to my Asperger characteristics. It is not that I don't have feelings - for myself or for other people. I feel some things very strongly, but I find it easier to develop logical solutions to my problems and follow the logic, rather than seek emotional support from others.

From a personal perspective I disagree with the statement made by your first reviewer - about being doomed to relapse if [one] intellectualises everything. Some people's minds work differently. It's not necessarily about how one wants to portray themselves to others - e.g. as The Smart One. Social interactions are not my strongest point either and I tend to write down my feelings and e-mail them to my therapist because to talk about feelings face-to-face is so uncomfortable.

Before I sound 'cold' or 'unfeeling' I will emphasise that my matter-of-fact attitude actually hides strong compassion for other people (and animals). I look forward to reading what you have to say about your thoughts and feelings. Oh, and please remember to include some 'nerd' stuff now and again will you? :)

Telstaar said...

Ooooh! Not that you'd know it from my blog, but you SOOO describe me! I am the epitome of calm and in control and intellect in my every day life... when I am hit with emotions, they completely envelope and overwhelm me, because like you mention... what the hell do you do with them??!?!

Last week, I was walking home from therapy and in tears because I'd had a crap session and I"m like, "What the hell is wrong with me? Why do I feel down? It doesn't make sense, there is no reason for al lthis to be happening!" and I was getting so very frustrated because if it was just about teaching someone why the hypotenuse was the best route to take from point A to point B... that would be FINE, it makes sense...

It's just tricky. Emotions essentially cannot be intellectualised and that is scary.

If its worth anything, I like your more scientific posts, but I also have noticed the increase in "being real" and I like that a lot, because there is SOOO much more to you then you're ability to think and then your eating disorder! Your mind isn't gonna disappear :), its STILL very much a part of you but I do like the idea tha tmaybe you are gonna trial something a bit new, and that you're doing it for you :).

Very cool girl! xox

Sarah said...

I had noticed that you had been blogging more about you, and had really enjoyed reading it. I sensed that it was sort of difficult for you to put yourself out there, but I also appreciated what you brought to the blogging community. Still, this is so great, Carrie! I look forward to continuing to get to know the "real" you :) I look forward to seeing how this helps you progress further in recovery.

Sarah said...

(I mean, no pressure, haha!)

Katie said...

I would read your blog whatever you wrote about ;) and I really relate to this post. In my case I think I latched on so tightly to being 'smart' because I didn't think I had any other redeeming characteristics. I wasn't popular or pretty or good at sport, but people did say I was clever. I also agree that people can't intellectualize their way into recovery - I took that approach to trying to work out the 'causes' of my problems for over a decade and got nowhere other than wanting to beat myself up even more because what I knew logically and what I felt and did were so divorced from each other. What actually helped in the end was combining intellectualizing and reason with the practical steps like gaining weight, and then learning to deal with the emotions that were uncovered as I went along. I'm definitely still learning on that front!

I think it's great that you've been blogging more about yourself and your recovery and I really hope this shift helps :)

jessa said...

Intellectualizing has been big for me, too. I intellectualize things to avoid feelings in my real life or to justify them to myself or whatever I need at the time. I also intellectualize a lot in therapy. I have out-smarted a lot of therapists and, in doing so, managed to avoid talking about the things that most need talking about. On one hand, I still stand by what I did: I didn't trust these therapists to be able to do something useful with these things once I confessed them, especially since they hadn't made it worthwhile for me to have confessed to the things I did confess to them.

I have a new therapist now. She is smart and that terrifies me. She keeps up with me; I don't know if I can outsmart her. I do feel a bit safer in being upfront with her when I'm not ready to address something rather than having to sneak around back to avoid it, but it is unnerving not to have that emergency escape plan. I can't dismiss what she tells me, when she tells me I have to talk about hard stuff and actually FEEL, right there, in the room with her. With other therapists, I could disregard what they said because it was so full of lies and useless platitudes. With my new therapist, I can't disregard what she says so easily because she actually makes sense. I am cautiously optimistic that therapy will be useful this time, but utterly terrified.

Kim said...

Oh, I'm totally guilty of intellectualizing. In fact, I've intellectualized to hide my struggles. I talk a good talk. I'm educated. I can give all sorts of statistics and information. Then there's the personal, emotional stuff that remains, in the background. I've brought it more to the foreground and have had to admit that there are a lot of things I don't really understand about anorexia and recovery. I may understand them in myself, intimately, but I can't make blanket statements like I want to. I love your science posts and your personal posts. I've never once judged your recovery experiences; I've only learned from them. The insight is so invaluable to your readers, trust me.

Cammy said...

Every professional I've ever seen has almost immediately tagged me as an intellectualizer, and as time has gone on, I've been able to gradually accept this more and more and try to work past it. I'll be honest, at times I have worried about you, because your posts were all science (don't get me wrong, I loves me some science, you know that) but had little to do with how you were really feeling or handling things. I also worry sometimes that people who involve themselves heavily in ED research somehow get stuck because they are basically swimming in information about the disorder all the time. It's hard to branch out when you're so mired in the literature that you can't forget the ED for a little while and just try to live.

Now I am not AT ALL criticizing your work or your excellent research. Just voicing a concern that I think I hadn't been brave enough to articulate until you brought it up in this post. You are definitely a Smart One, but you are much more as well, and you deserve to explore your many facets and focus on what you're feeling, also. So no apologies for less research-based posts. I think you underestimate the intrinsic appeal of Carrie. ;)

A:) said...

I'll chime in here and say I have exactly the same problem. I have often had people tell me that this may have HINDERED my recovery as opposed to helping.

I think intelluctualizing leads to overanalyzing which can lead to ruminating.

I know my intellectualizing is not just related to ED research, etc but ALSO to understanding my own emotions and responses in a logical manner. Strangely this does NOT help me regulate my emotional responses.

I find I am either very unattached to my emotions (ie no emotions)in that I never feel extremely happy or sad or depressed or excited OR I feel like crap and have TOO much emotion.

AN was very calming to me because I didn't tend to "feel" things. I had some emotional upsets and I still definately had insecurities but the emotional difficulties were NOTHING compared to the flood I experience now and often have difficulties dealing with.

Good post Carrie. I'm also glad to see you are focusing more on yourself. I often have wondered if researching EDs, etc. almost allows you to "not let go" of your ED. . .

Just some thoughts.


Tanya said...

I don't leave comments anywhere much anymore, but that is not to say I don't read and don't care. But this post made me want to say Way to go. Because yes research is great. Yes it helps improve what people know. But you know what...so does YOUR story. Your road through recovery also inspires people. Your story also spreads the word and gives people inspiration and hope. And sometimes or maybe all the time, we need to take ourselves into the picture when we are trying to help others. I think its a great idea to write more about life and add research when you want...because the info is great...but the fact that you are fighting the disease is better.

an said...

Maybe you can be both?

The Smart One with a Big Heart? Just because a person doesn't easily express feelings, doesn't mean that they don't have them. They may be quite sensitive and get overwhelmed by them. Or not feel comfortable or safe sharing them with others. But they are there, quite huge inside.

Actually, Carrie, it strikes me that you're big heart DOES indeed come out in your writing. You're a good writer, a clear thinker, and also someone with a lot of compassion for others too.

I disagree that you're all intellect. And writing is such a wonderful outlet for saying what it is sometimes hard to say directly, face to face, to someone else (that is very true for me too).

Just being a little mirror out here and reflecting back what I see of you from your sparkling wit and writing.

Carrie Arnold said...

Wow- thank you for all of your comments/feedback! I was very unsure of how the (temporary) moratorium on pure nerd research posts would go.

It's hard for me to grasp that my detailed understanding of eating disorders hasn't really gotten me to a lasting recovery. Actually, I think I've found the first thing in life that I couldn't just think my way out of (and that didn't go away on its own!).


I must say I think you hit the nail on the head. My goal with this is not to rid myself of being smart, but more to let that emotional side out, too. Unless I push myself, that part of my brain doesn't get fair play.

Libby said...

I think that the insight in this post is amazing and a huge step for you. *love and hugs*

Jane Cawley said...

I'll add a hearty second to Katie's "I would read your blog whatever you wrote about." Look forward to reading all you have to offer.

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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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