Category Archives: Mental Illness

The most important thing to know about eating disorders

One thing you should know about eating disorders is that there’s more than one thing to know, because eating disorders are multi-dimensional mental illnesses. In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week  I want to give you my top three things that are important to understand about eating disorders, whether you have one, think you might have one, or have a friend/family member who is struggling with one.

1) Eating disorders have no single cause. Eating disorders are biological, psychological, physiological, social and familial, which means experiences, beliefs, trauma, and behaviors that start/happen in any of these areas will be exacerbated and distorted by experiences, beliefs, trauma, and behaviors in the other areas.

For example, I grew up in a household with emotional and mental trauma (familial, psychological); experienced bullying in school and had an abusive romantic-relationship (social & psychological); believed I was slow, ugly, and stupid (psychological); had disordered eating habits/behaviors that threw off both my metabolism and ability to read my body cues properly (biological and physiological); and struggled with anxiety and depression (familial, psychological, physiological)

So, if anyone has ever asked you “Why do you have an eating disorder?” or you’ve asked yourself, “Why does my loved one have an eating disorder?”–there are many reasons!

2)   Eating disorders don’t make sense to those who don’t have one. There is nothing logical about starving yourself (anorexia), eating more than your body can handle (binge eating disorder), throwing up after you eat (bulimia nervosa), or eating a strictly righteous “healthy only” diet (orthorexia nervosa). It’s important to understand that all of these eating disorders have nothing to do with the food itself or even the symptoms of the disorders. Eating disorders are diagnosed by the compulsive behaviors and thought patterns that stem from distorted beliefs about the body and food and overall self. You can’t attach logic or use logic to solve or change behaviors that are rooted in distorted beliefs. The beliefs have to change before the behaviors will, and that takes professional help!

If you’ve ever said to yourself or to a loved one “Just eat” or “Just stop binging” or “Just stop throwing up,” please understand that no one with an eating disorder can “just” do or not do anything. It would be like the brakes in your car failing and your passenger telling you to “just stop.” You can’t because the brakes are broken. With eating disorders, the brain is broken; eating disorders are mental illnesses.

3). Eating disorder recovery is 100% possible! Recovery takes professional help with a team of specialists who deeply understand the nature of eating disorders, who know how to properly care for the physical damage done by the disorder, and who are extensively sensitive to the mental misfires that are happening in the brain.

There are different schools of thought on whether or not eating disorders can be completely healed or if you simply remain in recovery your whole life, similar to that of an alcoholic. I can say from personal experience that my body is completely healed from the damage done by anorexia; however, my brain is still recovery and may always be because the mental paths worn by the eating disorder for 13 years are deep and automatic, especially when I am stressed, sad, disappointed, or even just tired. My healthy voice (healthy beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors learned in recovery) take effort when the eating disorder is loud. But most days my healthy-self is intuitive and strong.

Last but not least–

If you think you might have an eating disorder or want to seek help for a loved one you can call the National Eating Disorder Association helpline: 1(800) 931-2237 or they have an online chat option.

You can also visit my Resources page for some helpful places to get started.

Green is…

I’m feeling better. Several hours after writing my last post, I lay down on my living room floor, looked over at my cat, Romey, and asked, “What is my deal? Why am I so full of angst?” I closed my eyes and prayed, “God, help me understand.”

Clear as day a memory flooded my mind from late November 2014–it was week three of my anorexia rehab. I was at my friend Jen’s art studio painting a canvas for a creative non-fiction piece I had written for my friend Kelcey called “Green Is.” I was so nervous; I was afraid of painting something wrong–mixing the colors wrong, making the lines wrong, making a complete mess of the vision that was in my head. The piece was supposed to be green and gold with the writing placed in the middle of the canvas.

As Jen guided me through the process, it didn’t take long to see why God had led me to the studio. Among other things, this session was a lesson in patience.  As I had finished applying the paint to the canvas, I was pleased with what I saw. “Great! All done,” I said. Jen grinned. “Art is never done in one application. You have to go back and fill in all the thin spots.” She held my canvas up to the window and streams of light filtered through my green and gold landscape.

I huffed.

“It takes patience.” Jen said.

///

Here I was again, lying impatiently on my living room floor praying to God to help me understand why my eating disorder was triggered. I thought I was better. I’d done the hard work and even went back and uprooted my childhood with my dad. We were healing. What’s the deal, man?

Patience, dear one. I’m not done yet. Don’t let go of Me. 

Then I had the strong urge to revisit the Bible verse that had helped me compose the piece:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Reading it, taking it in, has brought me peace. There are things about my journey I can’t see and don’t understand. It’s going to take patience on my part when I am feeling frustrations of my mental illness.  Despite the mundane-ness, my leaves are still green and I am still bearing fruit… progress is happening and I am being made new.

///

“Green Is” is what I call a “color profile” of my friend Kelcey. I write color profiles about people I love, combining the psychological and Biblical meanings of a color with what I know to be true of the person about whom I am writing:

Natural and raw and unmasked, green hides nothing and exposes a balance of the heart. Green is shades of jade, not of judgment and querimonious brood but of life, compassion, and mercy. Abundant in strength and zeal, green constantly flourishes in growth; it boasts endless seasons of spiritual and emotional generosity and spreads a wealth of renewal for withering meadows.  It is the healing Chroma not easily faded, for its peaceful vibrancy remains bold against grey.  Green does not burn in firestorms, rather it braves that which threatens to destroy life and draws upon the waters of faith rooted in the depths of the heart. Green bestows and honors organic love.

Soft are the hues of this lush color in times of revival, planting tender seeds of security and peace, and promising vitality for those who rest upon the nurturing stem of the emerald spirit. Green is a canopy under which lies introspective energy and safety; a refreshing refuge for the weary and fearful.  Verdant harmonies, cast from the warmth of optimism and the coolness of insight, produce the richest of hope for mournful souls. Green is the purest giver of gentle spiritedness among an earthly grove of living treasures.

Purple Is

Cyan Is

Orange Is

Gray Is

Mental Illness is NOT scary

TheGatheringonMentalhealth

Houston, we have a problem. There’s a social epidemic wreaking havoc on our nation’s people. Unfortunately it’s an issue that remains hidden behind walls of stigma and mask’s of false reality.

Mental illness (don’t click away! Hang with me for a few, pretty please?)

I recently attended The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church at Saddleback in California; (This is bestselling author Rick Warren’s church, in case that rings a bell for you.) I’ve been an advocate for mental health since going through my own recovery for anorexia and anxiety. As a co-leader for my church’s brand new Shattering Stigma mental health ministry, attending this conference was a special opportunity. Continue reading

Exposing the heart of all that matters

IMG_20150420_085125

In my last post, I lamented about how God is asking me to surrender my perfectionism. It turns out that I am not really a perfectionist, rather perfectionism is a shield I built to ward off feelings of shame when I’m just being me.

Using my experience at the Shattering Stigma conference, I told you that I wasn’t prepared. I gave my presentation without notes–without organizing my “stuff” into a presentable and tidy speech with bullet points.

I lied (without realizing it).

I was prepared. I was prepared because I had prayed, sought words and ideas through Scripture, and heard the voice of the Holy Spirit in my heart. God had prepared my heart for the day. I gave a presentation from my heart but my trust was fully immersed in notes that didn’t exist. If God lives in my heart, then I can trust God will shine through me–not my notes. Or PowerPoint. Or anything else I squeeze nice and neat into a box.

This is what I was trying to say but failed to make clear that point. I apologize.

But guess what? While this is a very valuable lesson in spiritual growth for me and an incredible step in my relationship with Christ, none of this is about me.

Did you catch the platform upon which God was teaching me? Shattering Stigma with Stories: Mental Health and the Church. He placed me with a group of other people at an event where the whole point is to be 100% vulnerable, raw, and transparent about how not perfect life is.

This conference was not about me and losing my shield of perfectionism. This conference was about shattering the stigma that shields the community from connecting with those living with mental illness. 

  • This day was about the Allen family bravely sharing their story about Andrew, a son, grandson, brother, and brother-in-law who has been battling bipolar disorder since he was in the eighth grade.Allen Family
  • This day was about a highly educated professional, Dr. Rand Michael, revealing that no amount of education or skill will ever prepare us for the beauty, challenges, and lessons we’ll experience with mental illness. Dr. Michael
  • This day was about a wife, Kelcey, living with both bipolar and schizoaffective disorder, describing how her husband has loved her “in sickness” through psychosis, mania, and suicide attempts (not because she wanted to die but because voices instructed her to).IMG_20150530_134724867_HDR (1)
  • This day was about an aunt, Tara, with nieces who suffer severe mental illnesses and how loving them fiercely wasn’t enough to make them all better.
  • This day was about moms, Tess and Casey, who battle depression and anxiety while learning how to best love their kids and navigate the journey of raising families.

Every single story was raw in honesty and emotion about why mental illness is hard and how we’ve experienced the stigma from our communities. Every single story showed what healing looks like. Every single story showed how God has made himself known in the battle despite the lack of confidence we and/or our families have felt in our journeys.

Loving God is hard when you live with the challenges of mental illness because it’s hard to know if He’s really there. Yet every story showed that it’s through love of people that God makes himself most obviously present. 

Stigmas and stereotypes act as protective barriers against understanding people who are difficult to love. For God, no one is too hard to love. We have to break down the barriers to love like God. In doing so, we show the love of God to people who believe they don’t matter. Love is the heart of all that matters.

In the name of Jesus and for the sake of shattering stigma, I proudly present to you my imperfect, note-free shattering stigma story:

*Conference photos courtesy of Sovann Pen; special thanks to my sister-friend Kelcey Rockhold for recording my talk.

A letter to my body

What you are about to read was an assignment given to me by my dietitian, who has been an integral and God-given guide in leading me back to health from a 13-year battle with anorexia. In an effort to connect with my body, and to begin healing my distorted view of my body image, this exercise proved to be as powerful as it was awkward. While I still severely dislike what I see in the mirror, this letter was a starting point for disarming the shame associated with what I see every morning when I step out of the shower, and reaffirming me as a vessel for a heavenly Spirit. 

***

Dear Body,

I wish this could be a love letter. It isn’t a hate letter to be sure, but it is more of an I’m-learning-to-like-you-as-I-understand-you-better letter.

I guess I never really understood you, how you work, why you function the way you do in all processes, and why your processes make me feel crummy. I don’t always feel crummy, but most of the time, at the very least, I feel uncomfortable in you.

Since entering rehabilitation, however, I am beginning to learn more about you, and as I do,  I find myself appreciating you more. Let me just say, thank you for always trying to protect me. I think the biggest lesson I am learning is that you are always, and always have been, working hard to protect me. Even when I was abusing you, starving you and ignoring you, you were trying to keep me alive. I am sorry for taking you for granted.

I ask for your patience as I continue trying to understand you, because while I am beginning to feel genuine appreciation for you, I simultaneously feel irritation, confusion, and discomfort toward and inside you.

For example, Belly, I have a love-hate relationship with you. I love that inside mypregnancy2 gut hosts the epicenter for my immunity. When you are feeling good and operating normally, you are working to protect me from illness. Also, I think it’s amazing how you stretched to accommodate my babies. While it was no picnic for me to carry around an extra human inside my body (twice), it’s pretty damn cool that you could house, feed, and grow my children . . . And shrink back down to a relatively normal size without too much evidence that I had babies. Pretty incredible. Props to you too, Uterus (I’ll get back to you in a minute).

Overall, dear Belly, I think you are pretty neat. What I struggle with, though, is that for some reason you often feel like a freshly pumped bike tire. It usually happens after I eat or drink anything. Now that I feed you regularly, I feel like a Huffy bike tire regularly. I understand that my brain is sort of broken and tends to distort reality; I probably don’t look as puffy as I feel. However I do feel like by the end of each day, after all the food and drink is in, my assessment of you is pretty accurate. It causes me angst to feel larger than I actually am. I want to understand why you puff up, and maybe if I understood better, I could have a bit more compassion and grace rather than shame when I wear a fitted shirt. Or pants.

Since we’re here, I may as well address my female reproductive team. First off, Sean and Haley Cookiesthank you for giving me children. Without the work of all the parts (ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus) there is no way I would have Sean and Haley today. I have friends who have had lots of trouble conceiving children, so I don’t take for granted what you have done for me.

Here’s the deal. You hurt and exacerbate the issue with my belly at least once a month, sometimes twice when we consider ovulation. Wouldn’t it be nice, now that the babies are born, if we could retire from the menstruation process. I know it’s a lot of work for you, and it’s no monthly vacation for me either. Once again, though, maybe if I could better understand why your process makes me feel so miserable, and why the protocol is necessary post-reproductive season, then maybe I could have more patience and understanding for you.

Body, there are parts of you that I really do try to take care of, but I feel like you don’t cooperate in return. Like my skin. I have come to accept that you don’t tan, and I have become less embarrassed by the permanent porcelain tint you have chosen for my legs (which, by the way, Legs, I like you). But I am constantly covered in rashes and bumps. Again, your blemishes, which randomly appear on my abdomen exacerbate my displeasure with Belly. What can I do to heal you and keep you rash free? And moist? You are always so dry. Do you need more water? I would love to show you confident and cool in shorts and swim suits, but it is tough when you are covered in itchy spots. People ask questions and I don’t know what to say.

As I just mentioned, I do like my legs and even my arms. You guys have good shape and the capacity for good strength. I love that I have all of you and you serve me well for walking, hugging, lifting, and holding. I am working to build the muscles and bone strength to keep you healthy and strong all the way through my senior years. Hands, I am so grateful for all you do in helping me with–everything. I don’t know what I would do with you. You are literally writing this letter!

Brain, I understand you the least, and I find myself frustrated with your thinking quite often. Why do you fight with my heart so much? What my heart knows to be true, you tend to negate and persuade me otherwise. You house the voices that try to convince me that I am invalid, unworthy, and ugly. Yet, you also feed my introspection, helping me process and express my truest thoughts that have nothing to do with those false voices. I know if I didn’t have you, my body would be lying in a hospital bed, completely dormant. You are a little bit broken, but I feel you yearning for healing and working to accept the new beliefs that debunk the lies you’ve been holding.

DearBodySo you see, Body, I am trying to improve my attitude toward you. Everything you have and do has a function. As I figure out what is harming you, like I did with gluten and starvation, I desire to heal you–to engage in better behaviors and habits that will help you thrive. I want to love you. All parts of you. Even when I don’t feel good, I know that as I learn the whys and hows around how you work, loving you will become easier.

Last but not least, in fact, most importantly, you are a home for which the Holy Spirit dwells. This is a new perspective that I hadn’t considered in earnest until today. In honor of the the One who created me, this home called Body, I simply want to respect you with care, compassion, nutritional fuel, so the Spirit can work as it was designed. I pray as we continue to heal together, the image of the God shines through.

In growing understanding,

love,

Leanne