Tag Archives: mental health

Goodbye, Martha

Spokane at night: courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Spokane at night: courtesy Wikimedia Commons

My dietitian is moving back home to Spokane, WA. This is a very big deal. I didn’t think it was at first. I was happy to hear that God was speaking into Martha’s life, as to what the next steps in the Plan were for her and that she was listening. She never wanted to move back to her hometown.

Here’s the first lesson: never say “never” with God because he’s likely to stick you smack in the middle of where you declare you’ll never go.

I once told God I would never ask for healing for my anorexia because the disease kept me close to Him. (Conveniently it also kept me skinny.) Nine months later I found myself in anorexia rehab, specifically sitting in Martha’s office.

You guys, I am not being dramatic when I say Martha is half the team that saved my life. When I sat in Martha’s office on November 3, 2014, I was dying. I had no idea how close to death I was, of course, but Martha did. She was so tender and understanding with me, simply listening to my story. Despite all the tragic details in my thoughts, behaviors and attitudes about food and my body, I didn’t want to be there in that office with Martha. I didn’t trust her. I believed she was there to make me fat.

Martha wasn’t offended. She didn’t turn her back on me or chastise me. Instead, she listened and asked me sensitive questions and offered grace. Never once did she judge me, tell me that my thoughts and behaviors were wrong or “bad,” or warn me that I was dying. Instead she developed a meal plan for me. Because I was starving and her first priority was to feed me.

The re-feeding process was arduous and painful, not because of Martha, but because my body didn’t know what to do with the food I was feeding it. My metabolism was severely damaged. It would take almost eight more weeks of eating on my plan before my metabolism even “turned on” again, and several more months before it was healed and working properly. The whole time, Martha was by my side listening to my laments, my confusion, and my bewailing in response to the physical side effects and emotional turmoil that came with eating again. She answered my questions, explained what my body was doing, and helped me understand that even though I had completely disconnected from my body and tried to kill it (my words, not hers), my body was trying to protect me to keep me alive. My body was working really hard to get better.

It's not a program. Or a lifestyle change. Its tapping back into your innate ability to feed yourself well.

It’s not a program. Or a lifestyle change. Its tapping back into your innate ability to feed yourself well.

In the midst of this process, Martha introduced me to the idea of intuitive eating. I’ll never forget the day she told me I could “trust my body.” I had bought in so deeply, even went into debt, on the notion that my body was bad and all the food I had been eating or wanted to eat was bad. Our culture teaches that food can’t be trusted and our bodies are not okay unless we strictly control them. We’re taught that we have to restrict what we eat, how much we eat, when we eat, how we eat, and how often we eat. This is why we have 14,000 different diets to choose from. On top of that, culture says we should concentrate on exercise to burn the calories and the fat and the carbs. Not only do we need to burn off the food, but we should also be sculpting and toning and chiseling our bodies into “that” perfect shape.

So when Martha said, “Your body knows what it’s doing. It knows what you need and what to do with. But it requires that you first listen to what your body is telling you and then to trust your body to do what it does once you give it what it needs and wants,”– this was revolutionary thinking for me. And refreshing. And terrifying. (Read more about intuitive eating here) Oh and exercise? Yes, of course. But do so for the joy of the movement, not for the burn.

In March of this year I had fully transitioned out of my re-feeding meal plan and into intuitive Healthyandwelleating. It’s a long process learning how to trust my body, but my body and mind have never been healthier than it is today. Is my brain completely healed yet? No. It’s getting there. Is my body healed and healthy? Yes! (It isn’t fat either. And I eat carbs… and sugar. And fat. So there.)

I have Martha to thank and a good God who deserves the glory!

Martha was a God-send for me. Literally. I was dying; God sent Martha to bring me back to life. So it is a big deal that she is leaving now. I am sad she that she has to go; I am scared to not have her by my side as I continue navigating my recovery. But Martha has set me up for continued and life-long health (not mention advocacy for intuitive eating). There are people in Spokane who need her now; I respectfully and prayerfully say goodbye knowing she’s in the hands of  mighty God who has special plans for her life and the lives of the people she’ll encounter.  I trust God to stay by my side through the rest of my recovery (I still have my therapist, Tamara, who is the other half of the team that saved my life!).

Martha and I and my children did a radio interview with Rose City Forum about intuitive eating.

Martha and I and my children did a radio interview with Rose City Forum about intuitive eating.

Listen to the interview here: http://recordings.talkshoe.com/rss134258.xml

Exposing the heart of all that matters

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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

Noticeably Imperfect

The reality of recovery is this: The healthier we get, the more noticeably imperfect we become. This is really uncomfortable for me, and today I find myself sitting in depression because of this truth.

Addiction of any kind, but specifically, for me, anorexia (the addiction to starving my body), serves as a sort of protection against being noticeably reflectingimperfect. I’ve been imperfect my whole life, and unfortunately in my formidable years, was bullied into believing that because of my imperfections I was ugly, invalid, unworthy, and unacceptable. I was outspoken and brave for a little while, which made things worse for me, and by eighth grade I placed myself along the wall where I wouldn’t be noticed as much.

As I entered into my adult years, the bullying ended but the world supported my invalidity and ugliness through cleverly disguised messaging : “Oh it’s okay. Nobody is perfect, but here are 500 billion ways to be perfect.” The world is filled with information, diets, medication, tips, products, and “secrets” that will make me better, to perfect those things that supposedly aren’t so great. So sure, I am not perfect but I am not good enough as I am either.

It’s maddening.

I had coped with the madness by developing an eating disorder and an obsession with perfectionism, hiding my imperfect self behind what I thought was more acceptable according to the way of the world–a super thin perfectly beautiful body, with a quiet and agreeable disposition and orderly lifestyle. This (seemingly) served me well for the last 13 years or so, until I reached a fork in my journey and was faced with two choices: die or recover.

I chose recovery. With recovery comes the revealing and rediscovering of the girl I had hidden away and had mostly forgotten about. As she begins to emerge, I find myself ashamed and uneasy about my imperfections and my voice (the part of me that speaks my place in this world); I am scared to death to let me show and be heard… because remember, I’ve been told my imperfections are ugly, invalid, and unacceptable by a harsh world. But I can’t have recovery and hide at the same time–if I choose recovery then I choose to be noticeably imperfect.

IMG_20150317_090306I’m discovering and learning to accept that I have a normal-sized body with curves (that thrives on food with carbohydrates, sugar, and fats), dry skin, an insatiable sweet-tooth, and a trick stomach that’s easily upset; I have a type-A personality that notices details, anxiously desires order, and doesn’t handle stress well; I am a woman in love with Jesus and hears/obeys his voice on a regular basis (this alone makes me wacky in a worldly sense); I adore the people who sit sheepishly alone on the wall whom the world deems as strange and useless; I have a nasally voice that, when I’m feeling brave, speaks strongly against the tide of popular thinking for the sake of Truth; I’m a mother who doesn’t like volunteering in her kids’ school (there, I said it.); and I’m a writer who constantly trips over the line into verbosity because I have a lot to say about stuff.

When I get scared and feel completely unworthy of boldly taking my place out-of-place in the world, like I feel today, I am tempted to run back into the disorder–to go back to the hidden path I walked so certainly for the last 13 years. But it leads to death. I can’t go back to that. I don’t want to go back to that. But I don’t want to be noticeably imperfect either because it makes me vulnerable.

So I sit down in the middle of the road, depressed, and cry.

It’s then that I am comforted by my (seemingly wacky) friend, Jesus, who says:

Remember that it’s the world that tells you your imperfectness–your unique humanness as Leanne–is not good enough.  But, My grace is sufficient for you for my power is perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) I know the plans I have for you… plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11).  He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion (Philippians 1:6), [so] do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

 

Calories are not bad for you

WARNING: What I am about to say is radical and contradictory to cultural norms!!

Calories are not bad for you. Food is not bad for you.

*gasp*

I know. Mind blown, right?

I am not a dietitian or nutritionist or a health coach or a doctor. I am a woman who is in treatment for a 13-year+ battle with anorexia. I am working closely with a (phenomenal) dietitian and a therapist who specialize in eating disorders; I am becoming awakened to faulty beliefs about food.

Our nation has done a pretty good job of scaring people to death (literally) of eating. The media touts the obesity epidemic and plasters 100,001 ways to lose weight, not gain weight, watch weight, manage weight, control weight, maximize weight, minimize weight. We’re instructed to avoid carbs of all types, bread, grain, sugar, fats and many protein sources like legumes and dark meats. We’re successfully whittling down our diets to 100-calorie packs and organic greens. We’re constantly in each other’s foods with judgement and warning, “Are you going to eat that? It causes cancer.” “That’s bad for you.”

As a result, I dare say, it isn’t an obesity epidemic our nation is dealing with. We’re dealing with a disordered eating epidemic. Obesity is just easier to see. Anorexia, bulimia, and orthorexia are much easier to hide, accept as “normal,” and completely misunderstood.

Food is not bad for anybody. There aren’t even certain foods that are bad for the body. It’s habits that are unhealthy. Eating too much or too little of any kind of food isn’t good for the body. Too much ice cream is just as harmful as too much  broccoli. Too much soda can be just as hard on the body as too much kale or blueberries or flax. Ice cream in itself is not “bad”; soda is not “bad”; carbs are not “bad”; beans are not “bad”; the “badness” of food is not the food’s fault–it’s the habits by which you consume or not consume the food according to what your body needs that deserve the scrutiny.

The human body operates on calories. It will use anything you feed it… to give you energy, to help you think, to help you digest, to help you build muscle, to help you feel happy, to help you function. Your body is really good at telling you what it needs if you know how to listen. Ever eat too much candy? You get a belly ache. Eating too much cheese lately? You get constipated. Ever avoid carbs before a workout? You get dizzy and tired half way through. The body is kind in notifying you, “Hey, yo! I need some fruit. I need water. I need fat. I need protein.” And when you oblige the body, it rewards you.

Similarly, if your body can’t handle a certain food, it will also tell you. I have celiac disease which means my body cannot utilize gluten–the protein found in wheat, barely and rye–and it lets me know with resounding borborygmus, rashes, nausea, and extreme fatigue.  This doesn’t mean gluten is evil. Nor are grains evil! It just means my body can’t read gluten properly. Some people know they can’t eat peanuts because the body says, “Hey yo! I can’t breathe when you eat these things!” This doesn’t mean peanuts are bad, but rather their body can’t read peanuts properly.

Your body is always working for you–trying to protect you. Even in disorder, the body will seek to adjust to a “normal” function within the disorder, always striving to keep you alive. But we don’t just want to eat to stay alive. We’re built to thrive, my friends! If we don’t feed the body calories and trust our body to work with the nutrition it asks for, we fall ill. We injure our metabolisms, which our body depends upon for a multitude of internal processes; we mess with our brains, which is a powerful but fragile organ; and we deplete our capacity to thrive, thus reverting to survival mode.

Trust me. I am living proof.

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Photo courtesy of my sweet friend Monet Borla!

Take a look a this box of ordinary light bulbs. The measure of light is calculated in lumens–the higher the lumens, the greater the light produced and usable for our needs. Think of calories the same way. The measure of energy in food is calculated in calories. The greater the calories, the greater the energy produced and usable for our body’s needs.  Why would you ever want to deny your body energy–life, light!

Just as we adjust our lights based on what we’re trying to do; so it is with our calories.  When we work out, we need more energy, more calories; when we’re hibernating in those cold winter months, we don’t need as many. Regardless, we always need a balanced  mixture of carbs, proteins, fat, and sugar because all these elements work together to produce full life. You omit or restrict one, well, the lights dim. Restrict the calories long enough, the lights will go out completely.

Don’t be afraid of calories. Ignore the media headlines and listen to what your own body is asking for. It won’t let you down.