Breakups, The Greatest Love, & Healthy vs. Unhealthy Ways to Cope with Painful Emotions

Heartbreak: It’s a killer. If you’ve experienced a breakup before, you’re familiar with the emotional, mental, and physical toll it takes on us. Whether it’s the end of a friendship, a dating relationship, or a marriage, the breakup and grieving process can come with intense pain.

A few months ago, I went through a breakup.

Feelings of loss and insecurity especially bothered me at first. These are some of my specifically “triggering” emotions, causing me to think thoughts that made me vulnerable to my struggles. To be honest with you, in my initial moments of weakness, I didn’t choose to use healthy coping tools. I wanted to isolate myself at home, I didn’t reach out to many people, and I even found myself returning to old eating disorder behaviors…

The one healthy thing that I did choose to do was pray for guidance and healing. But even though I was asking God to help me, I still turned inward and turned to my body for security. 

At the gym I tried to make myself feel better. But rather than inflate my self-esteem, I  ended up with the same deflated heart. 

I was trying to console myself on my own – trying to feel “good enough” and “lovable” without leaning on any other person. Despite my rebellion, God swooped in and reminded me that I already am worthy; and that he loves me enough to pursue me.

God pursued me. 

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those whose spirits are crushed.”

Psalm 121:2 “He heals the brokenhearted.”

The day after the breakup, I felt this gentle nudge on my heart that I should go to an event at church. Surprisingly, I decided to emerge from my cave of grief that evening. I didn’t try to hide my melancholy mood at church, but I didn’t go seeking sympathy, attention, or connection.

However, while I was there, three people came to me and initiated some very special and unexpected conversations. They were people who I wouldn’t necessarily go to for help; yet I received love, validation, hugs, and words of encouragement from them. When I went to bed that night, my heart was full; and I remembered that I’m worthy of love. 

I really felt like God was using his people – the church family – to speak truth and show his love to me when I needed it most. 

The next day, I turned to some of my not-so-helpful “coping tools” again. But God’s love proved stronger than my rebellion. Again, he pursued me through his people. While I was at home, three different people sent me texts saying things like, “Hey Jess, I was just thinking about you,” “How are you?”, “Can we talk soon?”, and “Let’s set up a time to hang out!” 

As much as I wanted to isolate myself during my time of insecurity, people were coming to me, pulling me out of my pity, showing me that I was worth their time and connection, and loving me at the right time.

Those connections, and the words of encouragement that followed, quickly began to build me up. People supported me. They inadvertently made me realize that I didn’t need to be so insecure or question my value. It’s cool to me that those friends reached out to me, not knowing what I had been feeling. I truly think this was an act of God.

Psalm 94:18-19 “Your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”

What’s even cooler is that this pattern continued for the next few days: I would turn to my Eating Disorder, but then I would connect with someone; they would encourage me; and I would momentarily snap out of my mental turmoil. 

To end that week, God reminded me of my value in an even more unique and powerful way. I attended my friend’s baptism service. Seeing my friend joyfully and publicly display how Jesus had transformed his life filled my heart with happiness. But what made the moment even sweeter was remembering that I was the one who introduced him to Jesus Christ. 

As I sat there, I could hear God saying to me, “Jessica, not only are you worthy and loved by me and by others, but you have the ability to change people’s lives! The most important thing about you is not your body or what others think about you – it’s that you can draw people into my Kingdom. 

Right then I started to tear up, and I felt the weight of all my insecurities fall off my shoulders. 

There’s two things I’d love for you to take away from this story:

1.) God loves us enough to pursue us! His love is stronger than our rebellion. He can draw near to us in our heartbreak, loneliness, and feelings of inadequacy, and remind us that we’re made whole and complete in him. And I think sometimes he specifically uses his people to clearly and audibly speak the truths that we need to hear.

I love that when God chases after us, we get to remember that we’re cared for and seen by our heavenly Father; and we learn that it’s okay to rely on him when we feel weak. Like these verses say:

2 Corinthians 1:4-5, 9 “[God] comforts us in all our troubles. . .our comfort abounds through Christ. . .that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.”

2.)  The other point that I want to stress is this:

The coping tools that I turned to (my eating disorder and isolation) did not cure my insecurities.

I think that a lot of us turn to self-destructive or unhelpful things when we’re insecure, lonely, heartbroken, etc. And those with eating disordered or introverted tendencies especially turn to our bodies or isolation when we feel insecure. But I found that what really made me feel better was connecting with people. Connection paired with a little bit of vulnerability created the opportunity for so much encouragement and healing! 

In Paul’s letter to the Romans in chapter 13, he urged the Christians not to “think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” I won’t go into full Bible student mode to explain what this means; but I know that turning to my body for feelings of control and security would qualify as a fleshly desire. Paul advised them instead to “clothe” themselves with Jesus and to fight their battles with “the armor of light.” I love this! To me it reaffirms that Jesus is the key to getting through external pressures and trials and to overcoming internal conflicts as well.

So my friend, I want to remind you that you are valuable and loved. If God would pursue me, I know he would easily come after you too! He wants to be the source of your security and for you to feel whole and complete, because you’re his child. the Bible says clearly that nothing can separate us from his love, and that he’s close to the brokenhearted. He wants to hold our hand through the trials of life and for us to depend on his fatherly affection rather than trying to do everything and feel good enough on our own strength.

Comments and questions are welcomed! Have a nice week!

 

Why Eating Disorder Recovery is Worth it

Between Instagram and real life,  I have befriended and followed hundreds of girls who
have eating disorders (EDs). If you don’t have an ED, you might be surprised to hear about this; but there are thousands of “recovery accounts” on Instagram, where people fullsizeoutput_11b4document their journeys and support one-another.  It’s a beautiful “recovery community” that has supported me in significant ways. At this point in my recovery process, I’m probably giving support more than I’m receiving it; and that’s just where I’m at right now! Recently, though, my heart has been breaking for some of my friends who are struggling to recover.

In the past month, I’ve watched as a lot of sweet girls have been admitting that they want to give up: Their hope is lost. Eating seems impossible. Food creates instant anxiety. Social fears and body image are crippling. Laxatives are being abused. Purging and exercising addictions are keeping them trapped. Insomnia or extreme fatigue are taking over. Joy is lost…My dear sisters are sacrificing almost anything, in order to maintain this perceived control. When it comes down to it, nothing seems more appealing and desirable than being thin and in control. I’m not passing judgement, because I used to be entrenched in that lifestyle, too. I understand how we get to that point.

Now that I’m in a stable recovery, seeing my friends struggle in their EDs makes my heart ache. I know the pain. But, I have discovered that it can get better, and recovery is possible. I’m going to share with you why I believe recovery is worth more than an ideal body and having a feeling of constant control. I hope that sharing about the freedom I feel encourages my recovery sisters to keep walking towards the light at the end of the dark tunnel. If you don’t have an eating disorder, I hope this brings awareness to the experience of this mental disorder.

  1. Meals & Hard Choices 

I used to wake up, lay in bed for a long time, and contemplate whether or not I was going to have breakfast that day. Questions would go through my mind, like: Was I “too bloated” that morning? “What did I eat yesterday, and am I allowed to eat breakfast now?” “If I do eat breakfast, what’s my calorie limit?”

These thoughts didn’t stop after breakfast, though. Similar thoughts would cycle through my brain all day and before other meals and snacks. It was truly exhausting and no fun! I thought that my strict rules and self-regulations would achieve ultimate satisfaction, because they would somehow get me to the body that I wanted. In reality, these thoughts and choices left little room for me to think about more important matters in my life. They also made food a scary thing that I felt the need to control and watch out for.

Now, meals are non-negotiable for me. I rarely ruminate on food thoughts, and I have way more brain space for my other priorities! It feels so good to just eat, move on, and focus on relationships, school, work, fun, hobbies, and my faith in God!

2.  Anxiety Level

I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve found out that my anxiety disorder was largely linked to my eating disorder. I can speak for everyone by saying that eating disorders create anxiety. One reason for this is that our nervous system becomes negativly affected and less effective when we’re constantly worrying about food, planning workouts, and obsessing over calories and changes in our bodies. Also, when our bodies are depleted of nourishment, they send us signals to tell us something is wrong. Those signals feel a lot like anxiety!

Once we feed our body and brain, though, they begin to trust us, heal, improve the nervous system, and even lighten our moods! My panic attacks have almost entirely disappeared since being healthy and in a stable phase of recovery. Little moments of food and body related anxiety have also stopped hindering me in large ways. It feels so much nicer to be able to finally relax and rest! I save my worries for school stress. 😉

3. Guilt & Shame

I’m gonna enter some uncomfortable territory for a second. I think that deep down inside of everyone, whether we have a set of religious morals or not, there is a feeling of guilt created by our disordered behaviors and thoughts. Even when we have convinced ourselves that maybe we need these behaviors, we’re trapped by them, they’re safe, nobody will find out, there’s nothing wrong, or that they’re just part of  our life now…No matter what we tell ourselves, I believe that deep down we all know and feel there’s something wrong about our mindset and rebellious behaviors. We tiptoe around our families and make up all kinds of excuses to our friends. We feel unsettled. We feel the barriers that our Eating Disorder sets up between us and other things.

I always felt so conflicted about my Eating Disorder. I wanted to engage in it; yet it went against so much of what I believed. It put barriers between me and other people, my health, life experiences, my spiritual life, my academic success, my energy, and so much more. Since letting go of so many of the behaviors and doing the hard work of therapy, I can tell you that it feels awesome to no longer carry the weight of guilt on my shoulders!

4. Digestive Problems 

I remember when I was in the beginning steps of recovery and the re-feeding process. It’s brutal…Introducing so much food to the body again wreaks havoc on the G.I. system. So much stomach pain…Bloat for days…Constipation…It’s very unpleasant; and to make matters worse, it creates anxiety. But our bodies need time to adjust to the changes. My friend once told me, “it’s one of the necessary evils of recovery,” and she was right.

If you fight through that stage, though, it can get so much better! I know it’s difficult and requires patience, but you just have to trust the process. Our bodies were born with this complex digestive system, and they know what to do with food. Eventually, you might not suffer with all of those symptoms I listed above. Which, in turn, creates less anxiety and bloat! Yay!

    5. Passion, Interests, Hobbies, & Potential 

With an Eating Disorder, I think we lose sight of what matters most in life. I think we become so focused on achieving this one goal within ourself that we actually forget about everything else we enjoy about life. Even our dreams from childhood – of who we wanted to become and what we wanted to accomplish– disappear.

I had once convinced myself that I “liked to run,” and  I was “interested in nutrition.”  In reality, those things aren’t my calling in life or what I enjoy most. I spent time pursuing my disorder, partially because it felt like the only thing I was good at.

I also convinced myself that “I didn’t want to go to college,” “I was not talented or passionate about anything,” “People were annoying to spend time with,” and so many other things like this. The general theme here is that my eating disorder distracted me from so much goodness; and it convinced me that I was worth nothing if I didn’t have the ideal body.

Through recovery, I’ve discovered so many things that I like more than my disorder! I have healthy, real goals and hope for the future. I try new things,  enjoy having fun with people, and care more about things that matter to me.

   6. Exercise & Movement 

I think that when we’re in an eating disorder, its’s basically impossible to exercise with a 100% healthy mindset. I tried it for a long time, but I always felt wrong about it. I felt the rebellious side of me mistreating my body and ignoring my intuition and energy level. So, one of my favorite things about recovering is being able to finally move my body in a respectful and fun way!

When I do go to the gym, I try really hard to tune out other people and focus on me. I stay mindful of the clock and don’t make myself stay longer than I should. I fuel up before and after, so that I know I’m taking care of myself. I do the kind of workouts that I like, instead of what I think I “should” do. I also listen to podcasts and music that make me happy; and I’ll even watch Netflix on my phone while doing cardio. It has become a time for me to stop thinking about school and focus my mind on other things. It’s way more fun to move my body now that my conscious is clear and I respect myself!

7. Social Life

Before recovery, my social life was different. It’s hard to explain, but I always felt like I had to hide certain things about myself. I felt like sharing my hard personal issues with people was not okay, and that sharing good things would make me seem like a faker. As a result, I had a hard time being authentic with people. I was insecure about the words that would come out of my mouth and about the body and life I was portraying to people. I had little confidence or dignity.

Now, I’m still working on embracing my identity and the good parts of my personality. I’m working on recognizing the potential that I have to positively impact others when I walk into a room. So far, it feels so much better to be around people! I feel like I’ve let some walls down that never needed to be up in the first place. Relating to people is such a wonderful thing, and it enables me to have more genuine fun and laughter! My friendships and family relationships also feel healthier.

 8. Story 

Recovering has given me a story to tell. It’s a powerful story of enduring through hard times and transforming in ways that I never believed were possible. It’s a story that I’ll proudly be able to share with others for the rest of my life. Just like all good stories, it has a conflict that took a lot of time and overcoming obstacles to resolve. But I know it has a happy ending. And it makes me who I am.

***

I won’t lie and say that I don’t miss my old body sometimes. But I never really miss the lifestyle. There are several more reasons why recovery is worth it, but these are the ones that came to mind today. My prayer for you is that no matter what hard thing you’re dealing with today, you’ll find the strength to get through it. Be persistent, and believe that freedom is possible for you. Life after an eating disorder looks and feels beautiful.fullsizeoutput_11a8

Tales of Recovering in College Pt. 1 – “Oh My Gosh, She’s Eating!”

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on December 7, 2017. 

As you may or may not know, I committed to the process of mental and physical healing from my eating disorder and trauma the same week I began college. “Recovering” while simultaneously being a full-time college student has been the most difficult, rewarding, and eye-opening time of my life.

I’ve always been an observant girl, but recovery – and education gained from therapy – has granted me with such a unique perspective on the things that happen around me. In addition, recovery has provided me with some special opportunities for learning, growth, and outreach. I would love to share with you some random, personal stories from this season of my life.

  1. “Oh my gosh, she’s eating!”

Something I’ve grappled with and struggled through is watching how other college students and teachers treat food at school. When I started my first few months of school, I was quite sick, and it was crucial for me to stick to a meal plan of 3 meals and 2 snacks a day. Now, at that point, it was a struggle for me to follow the meal plan, because I was not far in my recovery. Food felt like an obstacle for me to overcome every day. I was severely uncomfortable with my body and with the idea of eating around people. To make things more challenging, most of my classes were around lunch time.

In one of my classes – during my first year – I had a stern teacher who made it an actual rule that we couldn’t eat in her classroom. This was really bad for me and my sensitive blood sugar, and I often left her class feeling dizzy or faint. I don’t understand why she was so against the idea of eating, because her class was from 11:30-1:20.

In the classes where I was allowed to eat, it was almost equally challenging. In two other lunch time classes, I knew that I needed to eat my lunch. However, I can promise you that I was the only one who ever ate in those classes…It perplexes me. As a girl who was (at the time) fighting against personal urges to skip meals, it certainly didn’t help to feel like the odd one out. Yet, I chose to take care of myself. I’ll probably never forget the boy who sat next to me and made comments about my food choices every single day. He always drew attention to my lunch, making me feel like I was weird for eating.

(Pause: You’re probably thinking, “Jeez girl, just stop scheduling classes at lunch time.” But it’s not that simple. I had to take specific classes, and most often, the ones I needed were at that time.)

My therapist always encouraged me, saying, “I bet if you continue to eat in class, others will get the courage to do the same.” Yet, our hope never came to be.

I remember walking into a new class one day and seeing that we were going to sit in a circle instead of rows of desks. I knew that if I were to eat, people would certainly be able to watch me. Time went by, and again, nobody else ate in that class during the lunch time hours.

One day I had a sandwich and some veggies, and it was probably the most agonizing lunch I’ve had at school. The boy next to me commented on it, and I was sure the crunching of the sliced bell peppers could be heard by several people. So, I got creative and started making smoothies for that class. I felt like pulling a cup out of my backpack and drinking out of a straw would be less distracting to others, and would keep their eyes off of me.

But hold on! Why should I have to feel alienated? Why should I care or change because of what people might be thinking about my food choices and my decision to eat at school? Sure, crunching can be slightly distracting, but I don’t think it’ll ruin anyone’s day. It’s not like I’m chomping away during a test.

That was a turning point for me. By the end of my first year, I was really tired of feeling like I had to hide or feel like I was “wrong” for eating. It was really inhibiting me from being able to relax and focus on academics as much as I wanted to.

I decided that I didn’t want food to feel like an obstacle at school anymore. Year two rolled around, and I was ready for things to be different.

Of course, then, on the first day of Biology, my teacher said “You can’t eat in this class, because there could be chemicals in the lab. Only drinks are acceptable.” While I understood the safety hazard, I was not sure how I’d get through 12:30-3:20 without eating. (And I had a class that ended at 12:20, so eating lunch before that class wasn’t an option.) But, I care too much about my health to neglect to nourish my body anymore. So, even though I don’t prefer substituting lunch with a smoothie, I had to make lunch fit in a cup. But let me tell you: I have become the best darn smoothie maker there is; and I had fun finding creative ways to pack enough calories and density into my cup.

In that class, I would unashamedly pull out my clear smoothie cup, and others could see it. Sadly, most classmates were often dozing off, having difficulty focussing, complaining of hunger, and running on coffee for three hours. There were a few instances where my classmates would say, “I’m so hungry! This class is so long, and right during lunch time!” In response, I would always say, “Yeah, that’s why I bring big smoothies every day!” But none of them ever did the same. So, yet again, I was the only one who fueled myself each day. I’m guessing some people were able to eat before that class began; but judging on so many people’s comments and tiredness, I think many of them did not.

All of this has made me so curious, and I’ve been trying to broaden my perspective to figure it out. A friend and I were trying to solve this mystery of why people don’t eat in classes at our school, and she pointed out: “For a lot of people, I think eating is like sleeping. It’s a normal thing to do, but we prefer to only do it in front of people we’re comfortable with.” I think this is a good point. It seems like there’s a general stigma or discomfort about the idea of eating in classes. Though, I’m not sure where this discomfort is stemming from. While my personal discomfort stemmed from an eating disorder, I don’t suspect everyone else has the same issues I had. Why aren’t the average, healthy students bringing food to classes?

Possible reasons are that some people eat beforehand; others say they don’t have enough time to make food; and in some classes, engaging activities could prohibit one from eating. Now, I can’t get inside everyone’s heads, but it looks like a lot of people don’t feel comfortable eating in front of others; and some people do not prioritize it. This is something I’d love to see change.

You see, eating is a natural, survival instinct and action. I really think is should be treated as a normalized thing to do at school. I don’t want to feel alienated for being the only person eating lunch. I shouldn’t have to look forward to the days when I getto eat lunch at home, because I won’t feel people’s eyes glide over to me and silently judge (or envy) my food.

Food is necessary. Eating to fuel for success in school is necessary. Eating is normal. Let’s all treat it as normal. Let’s feel comfortable taking care of ourselves.

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Fear, Breakthroughs, & Rewards (Part 2)

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on September 30, 2017. 

This is part 2 of my 2-part blog post. If you did not read the first post, you may want to go back and read it first.

A wise and wonderful friend of mine once said something so true and so powerful to me. It was right after I decided to get help for my eating disorder and right before I actually started the hard work of therapy and treatment. In this season of intense conviction and anxiety, it was a difficult yet encouraging statement to hear. She said:  “The moments before my biggest breakthroughs and blessings always involved a battle of anxiety and fear; But it was worth it every time.”

At the time, I could only imagine blurry images of these so-called “blessings” that she said would come to me; and I could not comprehend what sort of “breakthroughs” I would have. I was too focused on my fears and on the obstacles I would have to overcome first. Anxiety kept my mind on the negatives instead of the potential positives.

However, now that I have submitted to the process of recovery for over a year, I’ve discovered that she was right. The battles that I fought were indeed worth it. Now I’ve been able to believe and apply this concept in other areas, as well.

But let’s rewind a bit. . .What happened after I pushed past my fear and started therapy and recovery?

Well, life certainly did not get easier for a while. I walked around with worry and anticipation during the weeks leading up to my first appointment.  I constantly questioned whether I had made the right choice in pursuing “recovery.” I was so fearful.

In the months to come, I had to do a lot of very uncomfortable things. Recovery is an ongoing process of, “Okay Jessica, now we need to talk about this___,  and work on this ___. You’re going to have to stop doing this ___, and cope with life without this ___.” An eating disorder is, in many ways, like an addiction. It’s not easy or glamorous to give up. I’ve had to change my behavior, my coping skills, my thoughts, and go against my instincts so many times. It was miserable some days.

But something cool happened over time. For every hard day that I got through, I realized I had the power to do something I deemed impossible, before. I think this is a good example of the kind of “breakthrough” my friend was talking about. It’s a positive, uplifting, and eye-opening experience. It’s an “Aha!” moment where we learn something new about ourself, and we let it really sink into our brain.

Every time I got through a day without using one of my eating disordered “behaviors” or unhealthy coping tools, I regained some of my dignity and sense of inner-strength. Even when I had a bad day, I realized that a lot of my fears were coming from made-up scenarios in my mind, and that the pains of recovery were not as unbearable as I had expected. My anxiety and fear have significantly decreased around the things I used to have panic attacks over. By enduring hardships and functioning through them, I learned more about life and about my capabilities; and this has allowed me to fundamentally change in positive ways. The changes in my life and thoughts have been the breakthrough that my friend predicted.

The blessings I have received from this difficult process of recovery are numerous: Resilience, true joy, more peace, self-care skills, incredible energy, new passions, empathy, connections with some of the best people I’ve ever met, a more genuine heart, a deeper understanding of my self-worth, and an understanding of what it means to rely on God in times of desperation.

But remember:  before I gained the blessing and breakthroughs, I had intense anxiety and fear to push through.

Now that I’ve told you my experience, let me give you another example.  My story is just one example of what can happen when we choose to fight through the anxiety and fears we have about something.

Let’s say someone is about to start a new job. They’re intimidated by everything they have to learn, and they’re anxious about making mistakes. They feel inadequate to fill their position. But after a while, they start to get the hang of things. Over many months, they make mistakes, get embarrassed, have to prove their skills to their own self, their boss, their co-wokers, and their clients. They’re exhausted, but they haven’t given up. Eventually, they learn that they are not only capable of doing this job, but they’re also getting really good at it. Through the years of determination, they get promoted and are highly respected by everyone who knows them in this job. They now have confidence in them self, new passion for their job, new skills, and maybe even better opportunities.

If that person had not fought through the anxiety, fear, and initial hardships, they wouldn’t have gained the blessings and breakthroughs.

Here’s another example: New moms often feel terrified before their first child is born. And many often feel doubtful, anxious, and inadequate during those first few months and years of mothering. But they also often endure those hard days, become better mothers, gain the blessings of being a mom, and realize they can handle more than they thought.

I can think of more examples, but I think you get the point. Now, I want to encourage  you to dig deep, and do some reflecting. What kind of blessings and breakthroughs could possibly await you on the other side of your own fear and anxiety? My guess is that if you choose to struggle through something that isn’t easy for you right now, you will eventually be rewarded with feelings of accomplishment and strength; you’ll gain insight; you’ll become more resilient to life’s trials; and you’ll possibly even find joy from other blessings that you can’t imagine yet.

(Also, because of who I am, I can’t leave out the impact that the scriptures have had on me. My motivation to do hard things often truly comes from knowing that God promises to strengthen me, sustain me, provide a better future, and lead me on the best paths. Here are some of my favorite verses for times of anxiety.)

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” – Galatians 6:9

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” – 2 Corinthians 4:16

“”For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” – Jeremiah 29:11

“apart from me you can do nothing. . .If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  – John 15:5,7

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16

Fear, Breakthroughs, & Rewards (Part 1)

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on August 29, 2017.

This will be a two part post: Part 1 is mainly a personal account and background story. Part 2 will be more of a practical application, encouragement, and some insight for others.

There is a part of my story that I’ve only shared it with a handful of people. Now that I’m ready to talk about it openly, what better day to post about it than the anniversary of when it happened?

One year ago from the day I’m posting this – August 29th of 2016 – was one of the most pivotal days of my life. But I need to rewind the story a bit to explain why.

I’ve been aware of my struggle with disordered eating and body dysmorphia for a few years. At some point along the way, I heard about this process of “recovery.” Through social media, I discovered that thousands of girls (and boys)  like me were working towards freedom from disorders. At that point, I did not really want to give in to the process myself, but I was afraid for my life…So I began self-motivated recovery.

For many months before last August, I had been trying to improve my suffering health. I tried to eat more, set healthy boundaries with exercise, and focus on my spiritual growth. I was reading books about recovery and talking to the few people who knew what I was struggling with. However, since I had minimal accountability, my efforts would often fail. It was a roller coaster of small victories and major setbacks.

Last summer, I became increasingly aware that my energy levels were abnormally low; my mood was often unstable; and my mental “space” was often occupied with thoughts about my body and insecurities.

For several weeks, I had this nagging feeling that something had to change. I could not continue living this way, especially as a new college student. When I though about college, I became petrified…How could I focus on lectures and take good notes if I was tired, foggy-headed, and anxious most of the time? How could I be a good student if 80% of my thoughts were focussed on my body and my self? How could I walk around from class to class if my muscles felt weak?

I finally admitted to myself that my suffering surpassed the “benefits” I felt I was getting from my disorder. I was exhausted; I was tired; and my anxiety was intense. However, I felt stuck. I did not know how to move past the point I was at, because clearly my efforts were not enough. My disordered thought patterns were deeply ingrained and creating a prison in my mind.

Full recovery seemed impossible. When I felt like giving up, though, God would remind me of verses like Philippians 4:13, which says:

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Or Jeremiah 29:11:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

And especially Galatians 6:9:

“So do not get tired of doing what is good. For at just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we do not give up.”

So, I did not lose full hope; But I knew I still needed something to change.

The idea of finding a therapist popped into my mind. I wrestled with the idea silently for a while. I would waiver between, “No, I can power through on my own,” and “I definitely need professional help.”

Out of embarrassment, I really did not want to see a professional. I also wondered, “Am I skinny enough to be sick? Will the therapist turn me away?” Among other things, I thought going to therapy would mean I was admitting that I was “troubled” and weak. It would mean I would have to take time out of my schedule to sit in an office and have uncomfortable conversations. It would affect my family’s finances. It would mean surrendering control, giving up my behaviors, revealing my secrets, and probably gaining weight. There seemed to be way more cons than pros!

Yet, I still felt that nagging feeling that I needed to get help; and this feeling increased until I finally gave in.

On August 29th,  I sat on my bed, full of fear. I remember being wrapped in a blanket and shaking with anxiety. In one hand, I held a piece of paper with my doctor clinic’s mental health line phone number; and in the other hand, I held my cell phone.

IMG_3554I was scared, lonely, and filled with regret that I had allowed myself to get the point that I was at. I felt like a failure and a fraud. I thought about all of those cons that I associated with therapy. But because I have hope in the promises and forgiveness of my savior Jesus Christ, I made the best decision I have ever made: I ignored the screaming voices of my perfectionism, the stigmas of therapy, and everything in me that wanted me to remain silent and sick; and I called that phone number.

A man from the clinic gave me an “assessment” over the phone and directed me to a therapist, who I started seeing a few weeks later.

August 29th is important to me, because it was the day I overcame the overwhelming fear, anxiety, stigmas, pride, and vanity that were holding me back from living an abundant life, pursuing a better future, and trusting God. I walked into something that I knew would be painful, but I trusted that it would eventually pay off. That day was the day I said yes to recovery and yes to God’s plans for my future. It was the day that the course of my life fundamentally changed. It was pivotal

One reason I’m sharing this is because I’m proud of myself for doing what was so incredibly difficult; and I know I would be suffering so hard today if I hadn’t taken that step of faith. Just as importantly, I also believe and hope my story can encourage you to overcome hard things, too.

If you’re not sure you can really get past the fear in your life, I will hopefully persuade you in Part 2 of this post…Stay tuned.

 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” – 2 Corinthians 3:17

” So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed every day.  For this light momentary trouble is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-17

An Unexpected Part of the Process

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on August 11, 2017. It is my most popular, viewed, and shared post to date. 

I recently experienced something unfamiliar. I lost control for a moment. It was scary. It was ugly. It was uncomfortable; and it was more important than I realized in the moment.

It was during one of my weekly support group sessions. (Yes, I go to group therapy.) As usual, everyone was going around the circle to “check-in,” and share their thoughts and struggles. It just so happened that my turn would be last.

Some parts of the heavy discussion were just really resonating with me that night. The others’ vulnerability was giving me tons of insight into my own self; and I was mentally “connecting the dots.” As we neared the end of the night, I had come to some pretty  significant realizations about why my eating disorder developed in the first place, and how it has deeply impacted my life. (But those may be shared in a separate blog post).

I felt an extreme emotional wave. My face went somber. My stomach tensed up. My pulse rose. Tears welled up in my eyes.

“NO! DON’T CRY. NOT HERE. NOT IN FRONT OF A GROUP OF PEOPLE,” I thought to myself. The song from Frozen may as well have been playing: “CONCEAL, DON’T FEEL. DON’T LET THEM KNOW!”

You see, I don’t typically cry in front of others. I don’t like it; I don’t like people to see my weakness; I don’t even like the way it feels. However, as soon as my therapist looked at me and said a word to me, I lost itThe flood gates opened; the tears came; and all eyes were on me.

My therapist later explained to me – and I further processed – that I had truly connected to my emotions in that moment at therapy. I felt my feelings, and I let myself express them. Normally, I shove those strong feelings down, and they sit in my stomach in the form of anxiety, until the “wave” of emotions passes. Or in the past, I would use my eating disorder behaviors as coping tools. I know these aren’t the best means of dealing with my emotions, but for the longest time I have feared the vulnerability of  crying in front of people, feeling weak, or pondering painful memories.

In fact, two days prior, I had a strong emotional experience in church. As I was listening to the sermon, I reflected, felt convicted, and felt tears form behind my eyes. But what did I do about it? I shoved the feelings down and let anxiety build up instead. Despite the fact that I did connect to my emotions that night, I chose to hide them.

I don’t know what caused me to give in to the tears and reveal my true feelings that night at therapy; but it seems to have been a turning point for me. My therapist actually informed me that my healthy emotional release was something that happens to anyone who is in the process of healing and recovering from an eating disorder! I had no idea!

It turns out that most people with eating disorders have a hard time recognizing, regulating, coping with, and healthfully expressing painful emotions. An article I found explains that most of us turn to “restriction, binging, purging, or exercise” as a way to numb the pain. I think the following paragraph explains it perfectly:

“Eating Disorder behaviors are often ‘used’ to serve the one suffering. . .He or she turns to eating disordered behavior to keep from pulling up the deeper emotional ‘roots,’ and deal with those face to face. Instead, they may binge to escape from feeling painful things or avoid feeling at all. They may restrict to pursue numbness, suppress difficult memories or decisions before they even reach consciousness. All of these behaviors serve to unhealthfully suppress the proper recognition, regulation and expression of emotional states.”

I may have thought I had dealt with the hardest parts of my recovery already; but it turns out that I still have some over-due emotional healing to do. Thankfully, I know that this process is in full effect. Just three days ago I was talking to a good friend about some serious stuff. We were processing something difficult, mourning together, and supporting each-other. As I was affirming her, I instantly felt tears well up again. It caught me so off guard. But this time, I let them come. And ya know what? She cried with me! It was beautiful.

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It was absolutely liberating! To be able to finally cry in front of someone – without fear of judgement – was new and amazing. To share an intimate moment with a friend – and feel a strong connection with her – was beautiful! To be completely vulnerable – and still accepted – was healing for me.

It seems that I’m flourishing into a more emotionally healthy girl; and I’m so excited about what this means for my future. Not only will I gain a healthier mental state, but also deeper bonds with people, more genuine conversations, and a softened heart.

Beauty

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This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on July 3, 2017. 

One of the most frustrating things about being a female is the ever-changing and multi-faceted beauty standards.

When I was young, I spent a lot of time watching Disney princess movies and playing with Barbies and Polly Pockets. All of the female characters I had in front of me shared the same qualities: small waists, flat stomachs, long legs, and skinny arms. Along these lines, the mannequins in clothing stores have always had those same features. So, growing up, I naturally believed that those physical features were the norm. They seemed to be the marks of a beautiful woman.


I also remember being exposed to the tv show “America’s Next Top Model” at a very young age and thinking, “Oh, is that what women are supposed to look like?” The women on that show were your stereotypical model: tall and skinny. Not only were they unhealthfully thin, but they were being praised and photographed in little to no clothing.

It was impossible for me to escape the image that was (at least back then) the “ideal” body.

During my younger teenage years, I thought of fitness as something to keep people healthy; to simply increase the heart rate; and to maintain a healthy weight. At some point though, a stronger emphasis on muscle definition and weight lifting seemed to arise for women. Now, fitness is even more focussed on achieving a “toned” body. It has seemingly become a new obsession. For a long time now, I’ve noticed this craze we have for perfecting our muscles and limbs.

Embarrassingly enough, the other day I caught myself in the middle of this thought process: I was at a red light in my car, and out the window I saw a woman jogging. She had a long line of definition going down her leg. While sitting there, I thought, “Wow, she looks really good. I wish I looked like that when I run. That’s some nice leg definition. Dang, I have a lot of work to do…” But then I stopped myself and thought, “WAIT WHAT AM I THINKING??!!!”

A line on my leg?! A stupid line?? Who says a line of muscle definition is a mark of beauty?!

Well sadly, our culture does. Through media, our culture sends us messages like…

Be skinny and tall.

Be toned or ripped.

Have a thigh gap and flat tummy.

Buy expensive makeup and trendy clothes.

Spend your time at the gym, and try this cool diet.

These messages have been perpetuated for decades, causing us to believe that we’ll achieve true beauty if we listen to them.

But we can’t ever achieve some perfect image, because it is ever-changing and perceived differently by every-one!

For example, some people say that “natural beauty”– less makeup – is better. While some people are avid makeup wearers who devote lots of time to it.

Or even yesterday, I was surprised to hear a guy say that “super skinny arms were not attractive” to him.

Or while the media most often emphasizes skinny, tall, and straight as the “ideals,” now days, more people are acting like curvy hips, thighs, (and yes butts) are a thing to be desired. Meghan Trainor’s song came out a while ago, proclaiming that “boys like a littlemore booty to hold.” Suddenly, a woman’s curves are like a trophy.

fullsizeoutput_b14So obviously, we have varying opinions on what is visually pleasing. That’s why it’s so important to simply embrace who YOU are!

We all have special genetics that have made us look the way we do. At our most clinically normal weight, we may not look like the media wants us to. Our natural body (without hours at the gym to tweak it) may not be what we necessarily want. We may not look like our peers, either. We all have a different looking “healthy body.” Our composition and build is unique to each of us; and it is dependent on our family tree. (Your close relatives can give you a clue as to where your extra weight may be carried and how you are proportioned). If we try to change our own genetics, we’re going to be miserable. If we compare ourselves to people who are from super different looking families, we’re only doing ourselves a disservice.

If I waited around forever to have a flat stomach and skinny arms, I’d be waiting till I die. Those things just aren’t natural for me. Even in my eating disorder, I wasn’t really able to achieve the thin arms I wanted. But I’m learning to accept this!

So maybe you have wider hips. Maybe you’re naturally tall and thin. Maybe you have a short torso and a tummy that rolls over your waistline. Maybe you have small arms and thicker thighs. No matter what you’ve got, you are beautiful. There will never be one image of an”ideal body.” There will probably never be a consensus about what is most physically attractive and desirable. So join me in embracing your own unique body, and let’s stop striving for a non-existent idea of perfection.

Your Questions/My Answers

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on June 15, 2017.

Below are some questions that people were curious about and asked me to answer. I hope you enjoy my answers and find some of my insights helpful!

Q: How do you manage or re-direct your anxiety? What are some of your coping strategies? 

A: I don’t always handle my anxiety well, to be honest. I’m still working on this and learning new “strategies” that work for me! I think that I am qualified to talk about this, though, because I used to have panic attacks quite often, but now I rarely do. I have come a long way. Here’s a few tools (besides medication):

  1. Taking time to simply breathe can help at times. Often, I unknowingly slip into shallow breathing when I’m anxious, and this is not helpful. It causes my body and stomach to tense up. If I can, I lay down or sit in a position where I can get comfortable; I release every tense muscle; and I pray.
  2. Self-talk is a good technique: I have to literally whisper truth to myself that can combat the lies I’m thinking. For example: In the morning, if something happens to trigger my anxiety, I might start thinking things like, “Today is gonna suck. I don’t want to go to school. I don’t want to eat. I can’t eat. This ___ is too hard for me to handle.” Lately, when I recognize that this is happening, I start combatting the anxiety by saying out loud, “I’ve gone through worse than this before. I’ve gotten through all my hardest days! I can get though the next 24 hours. I’m way healthier than I was before. God has never left me. Food is fuel that I need for this day.”
  3. When I’m alone, prayer is always my #1 tool. When my anxiety is severe, I feel like God is literally my only comfort – my lifeline. Plus, since I’m a verbal processor, It really helps me to talk to and cry out to God, telling Him what’s grieving me. I find some comfort in knowing that He’s with me, and He hears the cries of those who love Him and seek Him. Talking out loud about what’s stressing me out can also make me realize how illogical my thoughts are. Anxiety usually originates in our minds.
  4. Lately, when I can, I try to find someone trustworthy to talk to. This helps me get “out of my head.” I’ve learned over the years that too much isolation is not healthy for me, as an anxiety prone person. The reason is that anxiety usually comes when we think negative thoughts and allow them to progressively worsen and escalate. I do this a lot. So, having someone else – who knows me well or is level-headed – tell me the truth about my circumstances and rationalize with me is very effective.
  5. Crying…Yeah, it works for me. I don’t do it often, so when I do, it feels really good!
  6. Journaling about how I’m feeling is another good way to process what is going on in my life or swirling around my head.

 

Q: How’d you get through weight gain in your recovery? (In my eating disorder, I lost a significant amount of weight, over 3 years. I reached a weight that was dangerous for me. In order to be considered “safe,” I was told to follow a meal plan and gain weight. And I did.)

A: Weight gain is a difficult thing to feel 100% okay with. I was very resistant to the idea at first. However, once I followed the plan, I started realizing the benefits that the food was giving me. It was my medicine. After so long depriving myself, I felt so much better having vital nutrients! My headaches went away; I had energy; I didn’t need naps; My mood improved; And I was less anxious!…So, the benefits of food outweighed (no pun intended) the changes that my body started going through. Along with appreciating what food does for me…

  1. I also covered my mirror for 10 weeks, eventually put my scale away, and got rid of clothes that were uncomfortable. I realized that objects were having too much power over my self-confidence, related to my body/weight. And that’s pretty darn lame! (I do not feel the need to weigh myself anymore).
  2. Talking with a professional dietician and learning about a healthy, normal BMI was incredibly helpful! She explained to me how BMI is measured, why it’s different for everyone, what type of “frame” I am, why a healthy weight is important for women, and much more. She also told me recently that I’m sitting pretty comfortably in my healthy BMI range, and that there’s also wiggle room for me to gain weight and still be considered normal.
  3. I realized that my genetics are unique to me and my family. My extra weight will distribute differently that others’. A “thigh gap” is genetically unrealistic for me (and most people); and super thin arms are basically impossible for me to obtain. The list goes on. But that’s something I’m okay with now! Trying to force my body to be something it’s not supposed to be is exhausting.
  4. Also, I educated myself on how sick the media is, and how our culture worships the “thin ideal.” (I watched a few documentaries, did some reading and research, and learned about it in Sociology class). Once I learned how much women’s bodies are altered and edited in the media, my thoughts changed. Putting skinniness on a pedestal isn’t something I want to take part in.
  5. I accepted that the my body is no longer an adolescent body. It’s an adult body. I can’t keep it the same as it was when I was younger.

 

Q: How are you so vulnerable about your struggles with your friends and family?

A: I’ve always been pretty honest. I’m a talker. I don’t really like hiding secrets. So, with that being said, it’s pretty natural for me want to open up to people, in general. At least with people I know and trust, it has not been very difficult to tell my struggles.

When it comes to really heavy topics, though, or ones I know my family or friends may not understand, I think vulnerability came once I realized the value in opening up to people. Talking about my struggles can benefit me in a few ways: 1.) It creates accountability. 2.) It makes me feel way less pressure or awkwardness around people when I don’t feel like I have to hide something. It removes huge burden. 3. ) People sometimes surprise me with how helpful they can be! How can I get support, love, or advice from people if I don’t let them know what’s up? 4.) We are ALL broken, sinful people with struggles. So, I think people relate to me in some way when I talk about my problems. Nobody ever really reacts with disgust, shock, or disapproval. They usually say they’re impressed by my honesty. 5.) Conversations about difficult subjects can be mutually beneficial. Giving and receiving of advice, support, and prayer can happen. Plus, I think we can all learn things by listening to someone else talk about their personal difficulties. 6.) I like to educate people on the realities of anxiety and eating disorders, and I have seen God use that in multiple ways.

 

Q: What bible verse is your go-to encouragement when you are facing stressful/tough times?

A: During hard times, I always find some comfort in Romans 5:2-5″

“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

And Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Q: How should a family member or friend talk to someone who has an eating disorder? 

A: This is a hard one, because all people, situations, and relationships are unique. I don’t want to make big, blanket statements about all people with eating disorders. In general though, I have learned a few things that I believe should always apply.

  1. Talk to them in private first. Please…Don’t bring up someone’s eating disorder in a group of people. This has happened to me at 2 different parties, and it is SO frustrating. If someone bring up their disorder/struggle in a group setting, then that’s their choice. But most likely, if you bring it up in front of others, you’re going to damage trust with them. Even a small comment intended for good can make someone feel violated or uncomfortable. (Again, this is still just my opinion. Situations may vary.)
  2. If you aren’t sure if someone has an eating disorder, but you suspect that they do, tread carefully…If you genuinely want to offer them help, go to them with utmost sincerity in your eyes and voice, and tell them first what you observe about their behavior or lifestyle. Don’t make them feel personally attacked. You must come off as caring and sincere, or else they won’t be honest with you.
  3. If you’re close friends with someone who has an eating disorder, and this is an open topic of discussion, don’t tell them to “just eat” or “eat less.” The disorders are less about food and more about other issues preventing them from feeling like they can eat normally. Try to instead remind them why eating healthfully is important for their whole well-being (energy, mood, mind, body functionality).

 

Thanks for your questions! And as always, thanks for reading and supporting my blog 🙂 It’s what I love to do. Leave a question below, for next time!