Our area got clobbered by some pretty serious storms tonight--thankfully I had saved my work and turned off my computer before the power went out briefly. Watching through the front window, my dad said he saw a pine tree in the yard bent over at almost a 90 degree angle.

Wind that powerful should have splintered that tree, broken it in two, sent it crashing to the ground.

But it didn't.

What saved our pine tree wasn't necessarily its strength, but its flexibility.

I wondered whether a similar but inflexible tree would have survived that wind. Would the storm have broken the tree that couldn't adapt to the (temporary) harsh conditions?


I'm not a flexible person. If you alter my plans or habits, I freak. I don't like it. I like things in the same way, the same order, and any wind just totally uproots me (to continue the metaphor). The "winds" of life have previously either uprooted me entirely or snapped me in two and sent me crashing to the ground. When the going gets tough, the inflexible cling to their routines.

Our tree that bent and swayed in the wind didn't need to stay perfectly upright. It was able to "go with the flow," so to speak. And it stayed standing.


I can do the physical kind just fine, but the mental/emotional stuff? Not so much. And increasing my flexibility has been one of the hardest things to tackle in recovery. I don't expect that I will become a happy-go-lucky, chipper, impulsive type of person. That's not the point. To some extent, I like my inflexibility--or at least I recognize when it's useful and that it's not going anywhere.

There are, however, times when my inflexibility is not so useful. When I have "rules" that box in every aspect of my life: no sleeping until all my homework is done, no resting until I have done X amount of exercise, no eating until I have done X amount of exercise, no speaking up among strangers, no breaks while working. I could go on and on. These rules are irrational and occasionally irritating and they often keep me from being a fully happy, useful person. And when life stirs things up, these routines become utterly sacrosanct. The harder the wind blows, the more entrenched these rituals get.

We all have rituals that help us feel grounded and secure--I'm not talking about these. Those are more like the roots of a tree than an incapability to be flexible.

Trees that can bend don't break as much. They spring back. They recover. They don't shatter and they don't blow over and they end up just freaking fine.

I need to remember this more often.

Image credit: Jimmedia


Miriam said...

That is a beautiful analogy. I really do hope that you can remember it at all times. Just because you bend doesn't mean you don't have strength - it stops you from breaking! :)

Fellow OCD Sufferer said...

I second that. Your analogy is beautiful. I found myself relating in my own way with my OCD rules. When I was at my worst, and the most inflexible, the world could seem to fall apart at the slightest mishap. Whereas before I could enjoy the adventure of a change in plans, OCD rendered me frail and brittle. The slightest thing, the smallest doubt or questionable circumstance, could lead to hours of ritual because I couldn't bend with the unpredictability of life. I felt like things had to always be one way, but maintaining that false reality was impossible. In a way, exposure therapy is kind of like retraining yourself to be flexible. As you exposure yourself to more and more difficult triggers, you learn how to bend again and tolerate the discomfort in the meantime!

Cathy (UK) said...

I relate so much to this post. My parents complained that right from being a small child I was "rigid and inflexible" (as well as obsessive-compulsive, anxious etc...).

If something happens that is unexpected I 'freak out' and panic. At one time this could be as simple as someone calling me and asking me if I'd like to go for coffee. It wasn't drinking coffee that freaked me out; it was the fact that the activity hadn't been planned. I just don't 'do' spontaneity.

Yasi said...

I loved this post! I am also insanely rigid in my plans. It does stem from my ED. I hate when things are unplanned, especially situations that involved food. I freak out.

I need to be more flexible :)

Thank you for the post.

Charlotte Bevan UK said...


Once again a clever insight into why my daughter freaks when I move a chair two inches to the left to clean and then don't move it back!

Thank you for deepening my understand and helping the Bevan family recover from anorexia as a unified and understanding force rather than a slightly bewildered collection of individuals!

Without your help, I don't think we would be in such a good place - thank you, Carrie

Anonymous said...

Carrie, you are too young to remember the BioDome experiment in the Southwest. In the 80s, someone built an enormous and expensive geodesic greenhouse in the desert, completely sealed from the outside, trying to recreate a mini-Earth that could be replicated in space. The idea was that there would be all the different biosystems, enough plants to support O2 and food for a handful of humans who lived in the dome for something like two years.

It didn't work.

But here's the thing that stuck in my mind. There were large trees inside this dome. The humans had to be very careful when walking under them because the trees had a habit of dropping limbs unexpectedly. Just kaPOW!! Why? No wind. Because the trees had never suffered from any stress and the wood was both weak and brittle as a result.

The take-home message for me was that we NEED stress in our lives. Stress--and how we react to it--allows us to develop both strength and flexibility. Too much stress is like a hurricane--branches snapping and trees uprooted. But normal stress, day-to-day stress, is what makes us able to withstand the occasional hurricane-force gust with minimal damage. The flip side is true too: that cocooning ourselves from stress leads to both brittleness and weakness.

I suspect that ED can act as a cocoon for normal day-to-day stress...a way to avoid it. It keeps you from growing stronger and more flexible.


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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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Have any questions or comments about this blog? Feel free to email me at carrie@edbites.com

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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