The Mundane-ness of Mental Illness

I’m annoyed with my mental illness. I’ve been trucking along in anorexia recovery for about a year and a half now. I’ve worked really hard to get better, re-feeding my body, re-learning how to listen to and oblige my body cues for food, rest, and movement, digging under the thick layers of pain and distorted beliefs to root out the truth, and traversing through an emotional healing journey with my dad.  I’m better, and sometimes I even feel like I am all better.

Until a random trigger crops up out of no where and rolls around my brain like a pebble in my shoe. I don’t know where the pebble came from, and when I try to shake out the pebble to get on with my life, I realize the damn thing is still in my shoe.

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My mom graduated from Linfield College this past Sunday. It was a challenging and exhilarating six-year feat that my mom conquered with graceful (and coffee-fueled) perseverance. We took lots of pictures, one of which was this sweet shot of my brother, Carl, my  mom, dad, and me:

 

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I love this picture. I hate this picture. The joy and pride and love we have as a family and for my mom is real. Genuine. My heart is happy and warm when I look at this photo as a whole portrait.

But my brain, which has wonky wiring that I’m working hard to reprogram, is spewing all sorts of terrible lies about how I look in this picture. It has triggered up the volume on my eating disorder voice.

You need to know that I hate writing about this and didn’t want to because I am feeling a lot of shame for feeling how I feel. But in an effort to help you (and me) understand the eating disorder, I need to unpack this fresh, real-life moment inside the illness. Because I thought I was better. And I am, but I still have this pebble rolling around in my life called anorexia.

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The eating disorder tells me that in this picture:

  • I look fat and mis-shapen
  • I haven’t been paying attention to my eating
  • I can’t trust my body to intuitive eating
  • I am a fraud with all this intuitive eating shit
  • This body happened without my knowing, without my control
  • I need to lose weight

Shame is telling me:

  • I’m selfish for focusing on myself when it’s my mom’s big day
  • No one wants to hear about my disorder because it’s boring and getting mundane
  • I have become complacent in my recovery
  • Why can’t I just be better already?
  • It’s ridiculous to let an innocent picture trigger me into a tailspin

I spent Sunday fighting the urge to restrict and battling the voice that told me I was weak when I did eat. Monday I tried to work out my anxiety through yoga and running… swearing I wasn’t running to work out my body but to work out my angst and find my healthy voice. I was able to grasp on to enough positive truth to propel me through a good date-day with my husband, who, by the way, was at a loss as to how to help me. He thought I was fine too; this trigger sent us both flailing.

Thankfully I had therapy yesterday, and while my coping strategy with yoga and running worked okay temporarily, my therapist helped me see how the eating disorder manipulated running into a “healthy” choice when my actual healthy self had already questioned the choice as a healthy solution.

“I wonder,” said Tamara, “how things might have been different if instead of running or doing yoga to get rid of the ‘yuck’ you were feeling, you would have… what?”

“Sat in it,” I filled in the blank.

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Sometimes in my illness I try to run away from it. Literally, I guess. When I feel bad, I don’t want to feel bad so I do things to distract or feel better… like running and yoga and cleaning and organizing and even cooking. It’s me trying to “shake out the pebble”– to shake off the shame and shake out the eating disorder. Please understand these activities are perfectly fine when I do them from a healthy space. But when doing them in response to trigger, none of these activities are helpful and can just feed my disorder.

It isn’t until I sit down, still, and let myself feel–usually in prayer–that I uncover what is really going on–why the trigger was such a trigger. I have to take the pebble out with my hands, examine it, figure out where it came from, and decide what to do with it. The process is hard, and after a year and a half of being in recovery… doing this so. many. times., sitting in my feelings feels mundane and annoying because I think I should be all better now. I am better. And what I am going through right now is also normal in recovery. I’m not sick but I’m also not all better. There is no clear box for me to stand in, and I suppose that’s also annoying since I like things organized in their own little boxes.

I don’t have a neat ending to this post. I haven’t yet sat still. I’m fidgety and anxious today, struggling to keep in touch with my body cues. I haven’t approached God yet, and I don’t know why. I usually run to Him first, but I think I am afraid. My brain tells me God is going to tell me I am selfish and self-centered or that I have done something wrong. This trigger is my fault. My heart knows these are lies, but the illness makes me uncertain, and the illness is really loud right now.

 

12 thoughts on “The Mundane-ness of Mental Illness

  1. Tena Carr

    When my self-confidence is lacking and I am having trouble believing in myself, my team leader’s (and friend) words to me are “do you believe I believe you can do it”. I share similar words with you, “Do you believe I believe you are a beautiful person, Leanne, both outside and (more importantly) inside. Your family and (real) friends will – I know – say the same. Most important – more important than me, friends, family, ANYONE – G-d thinks you are beautiful (remember he created you and he don’t make mistakes!!).

    Congrats to your mother. Despite thst inner voice trying to get in the way, I know you are super proud of her and her accomplishments.

    Reply
    1. Leanne Post author

      I believe you, Tena! Thank you. You are absolutely right. God doesn’t make mistakes and I belong to Him.

      Yes, I am so proud of my sweet mom! She’s the best.

      Reply
  2. juliesteck

    This is such a precious, honest post Leanne. You are an amazing writer! Even though I don’t struggle with anorexia I connect with your journey of healing in my own struggles. I just want to tell you that the first thought that came to mind when I saw the pictures (before I read on about your thoughts) I thought….wow, what a great picture! I love your outfit! Seriously! But I know you know that and I know the struggle is real. So I pray my friend that you continue to find healing through His grace & delight in your status that YOU are a daughter of the King every day, no matter what and He is enthralled by your beauty!

    Reply
    1. Leanne Post author

      Thank you, Julie! Your prayers are valuable and powerful… and answered! <3 Thanks for being an encouraging sister in Christ.

      Reply
  3. andrew

    When I read this I can “feel” why it was not an easy post to write. From my perspective you are definitely not selfish; God and your surrounding friends want to hear you, we care about you and it is not boring. I think it is important to remember that triggers will happen the rest of your life, they will never go away but will be spaced out more as you heal and easier to turn back as your healthy voice continues to strengthen.
    I’m glad you were not too annoyed to write about it because we want to listen and good things happen when you let the ichy feelings loose.

    Reply
    1. Leanne Post author

      Thanks, Andrew. I adore your words of love and encouragement. <3 I have definitely taken healing for granted, expecting no more triggers happen. That's just not reality, which I understand now after have a few days of space.

      Thanks for listening!

      Reply
  4. Michelle Popkes

    it’s not you, It’s the photo and the lighting. It’s heart-warming to have a photo of all of us together, but it’s a cell phone photo in poor lighting after we’d been sitting in the sun for 2 1/2 hours. None of us look our best (I so dislike the gap in my front teeth). You are beautiful inside and out. You have an amazing heart and an amazing smile. You are the perfect size and shape that God created you to be and you need answer only to Him about that, not others, not your eating disorder, and not shame. Yet, I know that for you it can be more complicated. Sometimes it’s helpful to look at what was going on during the time leading up to a trigger (true for any issue). My own thought is that you need to look at the weeks leading up to the photo for a better understanding of why it affected you the way it did. You may have been walking in the gravel when you picked up that pebble in your shoe. That gravel being perhaps the anxiety of planning an event at your house that also involved lots of food…? On that note, the party was fabulous and I had a wonderful time. You are a great hostess. Sorry this is a bit lengthy.

    Reply
    1. Leanne Post author

      Thanks, Mom. Yes, I have since realized that I was under a lot of stress, albeit positive stress, and that’s what made the trigger happen so easily. I have also come to understand it wasn’t the trigger that made me so angsty but the fact that I WAS triggered. It seems I thought now that I have rooted out my childhood stuff and gone through healing with Dad, perhaps I’d be all better now. There would be no more triggers because I’ve done all the hard work to heal.

      Turns out there’s more work to be done. God is still working on things I can’t see or even understand yet. So I’m waiting to see what He’s going to do next.

      And you’re right… on my run that morning, my healthy voice said, “Um… that picture was taken at a side angle while you were leaning caddywhompus the opposite direction. There was also some natural puffiness happening there due to heat and PMS. So, this isn’t even an accurate photo anyway.” Ha!

      Reply
  5. Lyn

    Don’t be afraid to run to your Heavenly Daddy, Leanne. You wouldn’t want your kids to keep their worries to themselves when their Mommy and Daddy are there with open arms just waiting to help them. He isn’t going to tell you you’re being selfish, He’s going to say, “Come child, we’ll do this together.” <3

    Reply
    1. Leanne Post author

      Thank you, Lyn. I have since spent time with God and He was quite gracious and revealing. I feel so much better! <3

      Reply
  6. Linda Kruschke

    Great post that will bless others because of its honesty. It’s been 18 years since I emerged from major clinical depression and I still have days like this where doubts seem to take over. As the wise King Solomon said, “This too shall pass.” Always remember you are loved — listen for God’s whisper on the wind. (See poem I wrote at Kyra’s).

    Reply

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