Summer of my discontent

I'm exhausted these days. From the outside, it looks like I am unencumbered by my eating disorder. Although I am certainly less encumbered than I used to be, I am by no means free of my eating disorder. Little things that other people take for granted--things like getting dressed, deciding what to pack for lunch, and keeping everything organized--suck so much energy out of me because I think about them so intensely.

I have made peace with my need for meal planning (my friend with no eating disorder but with 3 girls under the age of four is quite possibly the most consummate meal planner I know and quite frequently puts me to utter shame), although I wish it didn't suck so much emotional energy out of me. I have to meet my nutritional requirements using ingredients on hand in combinations that are both tasty and non-repetitive. I constantly second-guess myself, wondering if I'm eating too much, if the ED is slipping back in when I feel full before I'm finished eating. This basically means my brain sucks up a lot of energy. When you combine that with a physically demanding job that also requires mental energy not to bitch slap people for whining about their thighs and the bakery goodies, followed by trying to work on freelance writing stuff, I'm beat.

I know I've blogged about this before, about how I kind of want someone to recognize how much energy and effort recovery takes, even after all this time, and yet I'm embarrassed that I want other people to notice and understand when I'm crotchety or yawning (or both). Yes, recovery has gotten easier. There's no doubt about that. It doesn't consume every waking thought and I am learning some rudimentary flexibility around food and eating. But at this point in time, my recovery still demands much time and energy, and I start feeling sorry for myself and rather jealous of all those people who don't have to think about their basic needs so damn much.

There was a wise quote I read a long time ago that said: "Everyone is entitled to a little pity. Just don't treat it like an all-you-can-eat salad bar." I don't like to whine too much on this blog because it's not all that productive. My life doesn't suck, on the whole. And recovery is definitely worth it.

It helps to remind myself that we all have our struggles and difficulties, and that other things that come rather easily to me may not be simple for others. It also helps to remind myself that I'm allowed to think that recovery sucks sometimes and to acknowledge my resentment so that I don't marinate in it. In my more Zen moments, I can say that I will use this discontent to keep pushing forward in recovery so that one day, I won't have to think about recovery so much. In my more usual moments, I just whinge that this f*cking sucks and it's not fair.

It isn't fair. It fundamentally isn't. But what really is?

I think, perhaps, what I'm really frustrated about is how my internal experience (still struggling with ED thoughts) doesn't really match the external experience (I look healthy). This is the part that they don't prepare you for: the long stretch of time where your body looks normal but your mind is still seriously messed up. People might tell you it will happen, but they don't prepare you for the sheer amount of disconnect, or how long it lasts, or when it will end.

Others who have recovered tell me that it will end, and sometimes, that's what keeps me going.

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EmilyH said...

Yup, you said it all pretty accurately, especially the part about how jealous and angry I get that other girls don't have ED and yet are measured to the same standards in the professional world.

Last weekend, I had a dance audition where I didn't do as well as I could have because I haven't built back my endurance and energy level. I tried my hardest not to get angry at the other girls for being able to attend the audition without ED hanging on their backs. You're right that it doesn't do much good to feel sorry for ourselves. Sometimes, I just wish that people knew so that could have some understanding of why I am having trouble reaching my full potential in various aspects of life (friendships, professionally, dance, etc).

Thank you for taking the time to share your feelings.


Kiersten said...

I struggled a lot with the inside vs. outside experience too. My experience was the opposite though: I started to feel great inside and was making a lot of progress, but outside I still looked sick. I know you've heard it before, but it WILL get better. You'll progress slowly, a day at a time. Then one day you'll just wake up and realize how far you've come. If you asked me a few months ago how far along in recovery I'd be I would have said not very far. I have proved myself wrong and come such a long way. My ED is almost never on my mind anymore, food is rarely an issue, I love my body/self, and I am happy. I'm sorry you're still struggling. Just stay strong and keep looking towards the day when you will be free!

Katie Green said...

Ugh Carrie, I hated this experience of recovery the most. I felt like I was waiting, waiting for it to be over. I think its really important that you're sharing it as its a part of recovery that doesn't often get talked about.

I hope it helps to add another voice to the ones you've heard telling you that it will change. There is an end to it. I thought it would never be over but, for me, it is. I don't doubt for a moment that it will be soon for you too.

livelaughlovehopeeat said...

It takes SO FREAKIN' much away...... why do our lives have to be so much more difficult. Something that some people enjoy and have as part of the relaxing part of their day.... thats the hardest part for us. And we still have all the other problems and worries the rest of the world has....
there is my little rant.
hope you enjoyed

Libby said...

Yes, yes, yes. I get it. I understand it. Nope, it's not fair at all. *hug* I get mad sometimes that my boyfriend is able to eat weird things at weird hours and go for long periods without eating and then eat too much and not feel guilty and then snack whenever he wants without thinking about it... and still be "normal" about food. If I had his behaviors, I would NOT be doing well, and it's NOT fair. My dietitian said to me once, "Nope... it's not fair. But it's yours to carry. Whether he knows it or not, he's got other stuff that HE carries." I try and remember that. Sometimes it's helpful.

Abby said...

I've just recently re-upped the recovery efforts and forgot how absolutely mentally draining it really is. I was going along status quo, and taking a good look at what I needed to do was/is an eye-opener.

I don't want to think anymore. I don't want to worry that I'm eating too much or not enough. I don't want to spend forever stressing over a meal plan that meets requirements, preparing the food and then finding distractions. Like you, I get resentful and just want to be some level of "normal." I think that's why treatment is slightly freeing on some levels, as in a controlled setting the work of actually "thinking" about the food is taken out. But that's not real life. Along with using all this mental energy for recovery, I still have to work full time and deal with real life.

So, like you, I am going to just try and take it meal to meal, moment to moment and trust that everyone who says it gets easier is right. Right now, I am not comfortable and I find it hard to believe, but I will have to keep trying. So do you ;)

Edna said...

Thanks Carrie! Sad to hear it is so tough for you right now, and understand the inside/outside frustration. I'm really struggling at the moment and having lots of thought of chucking in recovery because it all just feels too hard. But then I remember that living with an eating disorder is too hard too and might actually kill me. It's not a fun place when either path is hard and painful. Yet only one of them has a light at the end of the tunnel, so I've got to keep choosing the pain of recovery, and like you keep believing that one day, some day it will get a little easier. Keep on keeping on, one annoying meal at a time.

Caroline said...

this is truly the most bizarre part of recovery - looking well on the outside, but knowing you are still working on it on the inside. people automatically assume "you're all better! welcome to normal life!" and they don't see that you're still ascending a slippery slope.

i think this blogpost is just one more step upwards... like you said, acknowledging it so that it doesn't become something you're dwelling on.

an on top of that? everything you blog about on your journey helps me, and so many others to keep going - i can't tell you the number of times you've prepared me for things to come.

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...

You pretty much said it all. I don't think you are whining - you are one of the most positive and inspiring people I know - I just think sometimes you get tired.

Your title really caught my eye - I told my husband that this is "the summer of my discontent just the other day."

Right now I'm trying to do one graduate class - studying used to come so easy to me; I could read things and comprehend them without the huge effort it now takes because I am trying to recovery (i.e. cram extra calories in my body and then try not to think about it.) Now it seems I drag myself to my books, drag myself to classes; trying to plan for a better future while trying to have a future.

It's this in-between stage - you are working toward recovery, maybe you look better on the outside, but on the inside ED won't shut the hell up sometimes - that sucks. Then you look around and everyone else seems to not have to think about what they eat, or how their clothes fit differently, or how their *body* fits differently and still feels foreign. I try to remember they might have problems I don't know about, and that life is hard for just about everybody.

Whine all you want - I think you've earned it! :)

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty exhausted right now myself. But, reading this post is really affirming, because it tells me that I was not "crazy" during all those years when I still felt like I was struggling and others perceived me as finally all better. I think this tension between the way I looked and the way I was actually fed into some of the self-loathing that I experience during that time and probably even made recovery harder.

Have you had any positive experiences explaining this phenomenon to non-eating disordered people? I've had trouble articulating it in a way others will "get" -- even when talking to some therapists. (Other therapists, however, have been very understanding.)

Sarah said...

It does get easier! I am starting to live through most days with only 1/20 of my thoughts being related to an eating disorder. It used to be like 1/2 of my thoughts, or even 3/4. It gets WAY better, Carrie. Just keep pushing through because if you allow yourself to relapse then you'll be back to square freaking one and won't be able to continue to make your life meaningful like you want to. I know you can do it! We all have faith in you, even if you don't have faith in yourself. Don't let this lame disease get the best of you; you're so much cooler than that :)

A:) said...

I have to agree 100%.

I guess its even more different for me because I have done weight restoration so slowly (over the past two years) and at my own pace.

I am just SO TIRED of everything and I still have some weight to gain. Although it is a minimal amount, I am tired of all the rituals and body image issues and fear foods that remain despite the progress I have made gaining 22lbs. I am TIRED of the recovery process and terrified of the maintenance process and I feel like I am constantly waiting for it to get better.

I still feel like my more academic/"normal" friends are able to do so much more in terms of social life, volunteering, academics, hobbies, etc. Whereas I am confined by my own fears.

This part of recovery sucks and I think it is because recovery requires us to go AGAINST everything that feels natural -- the safety, rigidity and routine. I don't know if the opposite will ever become natural.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more.

L said...

I understand the need to vent, and I can completely relate to what you've said. The disconnect is disconcerting and upsetting and exhausting.
...But you said recovery is worth it. As someone recommitting to recovery, I'd love to read a post about WHY it's worth it!

Anonymous said...

I knew that I had an ED when I realized just how mentally exhausted I was from my thoughts were consumed by eating and not eating, and deciding that I should eat, which just made things more complex because I had to think about well what am I going to eat and how much am I going to eat and will I be able to stop and what if I'm craving something just goes on and on

I tell myself that everyone has an Achilles' heel, and I hope I've saved myself some time by recognizing what it is early in life so that it doesn't become my downfall.

lifeafteranorexia said...

Recovery does take a lot of effort. Just remember, it is always worth it. I don't know if or when it will end, because for me it hasn't yet. But it does get easier with time. It gets less stressful, less exhausting, and slowly, or at least I'm hoping, it becomes more natural and more habitual. Just know that you are doing the right thing and eventually everything will fall in place.

Rachel W. said...

Well said!!! I can totally relate. It is comforting to know that so many are going through this part of recovery...the support we can offer one another is an amazing thing!

Miriam said...

I REALLY admire you.

Anonymous said...

From somebody who's dealing with a relapse (and I know you already know this), remember the following piece of advice--being underweight will never make you happy.

It's a stand-in for something else. You won't be any happier if you lose five pounds or ten pounds. You won't be a better or more accomplished person either.

I know you feel like recovery takes a lot of effort, and it does. But for me at least, counting calories and exercising two or three hours a day takes a lot more. Think of the time you will lose writing. You have to think that there are better things to do and that your worth exists more in being a successful, happy, and functional human being.

You can get there, and it's a state you can return to.

Abby said...

I definitely agree about wanting someone to acknowledge just how well you're doing. I really frustrates me when people are on top of me if it apears I'm struggling, either with encouragement or threats. But when I'm doing well, it's like nothing ever happened. Maybe it's juvenile but I still hope for someone to pat me on the back and say "you're doing a good job Abby".

Laura (Collins) Lyster-Mensh said...

We so need to tattoo this on our brains. Caregivers, hear this!!!

We may not see it in weight or even behaviors but we need to be aware that the real work is being done when we can't see it any more and we have to be there for this stage with just as much love, patience, and admiration!!

ShareWIK said...

You are so brave and so caring for sharing your journey with others. I love your blog, and I think that others are benefitting so much from your insight. I have a website,, and would love to hear from you! ShareWIK (share What I Know) is a website devoted to bringing together women from all different situations and backgrounds (as well as a few men!) to talk about their experiences and learn from each other. We are taking about Eating Disorders this week on ShareWIK, and I would love your intake. Hope to hear from you!
- Diana Keough
P.S. And keep up the great work!

Charlotte Bevan said...

As a carer and a depression sufferer, I can sympathise and empathise with you.

When you are fighting any mental illness, even if you are relatively physically fit, it is utterly exhausting.

I have a lot of admiration for your continuing fight.

If you want a pity party anytime, let me know and I will come and hold your hand, my brave friend.


Crimson Wife said...

Recovery s*cks- it really does! But it *does* get easier as time goes on. You'll have tough days along the way, but fewer of them and farther in between. HIT!

Carrie Arnold said...


If you bring the wine, I'll take you up on your 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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