Category: Journey/Progress

When the Process Feels Slow or Imperfect

While this post is somewhat of a personal update, I also discuss recovery, therapy, and the concept of slow change and goal-achieving. I believe you can get something out of it, even if you don’t relate to the recovery aspect of it. I hope it leaves you encouraged!

When I was a senior in high school, I was struggling with panic attacks, anxiety, and an eating disorder. But during my senior year I was also accepted to my dream university. At some point I realized that if I didn’t get professional help for the things that were ailing me, I would probably hinder myself from getting the most out of my time at the wonderful school I wanted to go to. Or maybe I wouldn’t be healthy enough to go at all!

So, with new motivation regarding my future, I began seeing a therapist. It happened to be during the first week of my freshman year of college. I had always planned on going to community college for at least two years, so this worked out just fine. Going to my dream school as a junior was still a possibility, as long as I was well enough!

My plan became to fully recover from my disorders before transferring to the university. I became motivated by the image of my future self walking onto campus, being a totally new woman – completely free, happy, and healthy.

I fully expected to “get better” in at least two years, before moving away for my junior year. In the beginning I thought, “Oh yeah, I got this! Two years is more than enough time to do this recovery thing!” I remember telling my mom, “I bet I can do it in like 6-12 months.” But as I came to find out, recovering from an eating disorder and anxiety disorder together is like a full-time job! I totally underestimated how long and hard the process was going to be…

Now, as I’m writing this post, I’m a few days away from my long-awaited Junior year. So I can report that my time in therapy actually lasted 23 months (that’s only one month less than the full two years I had available)!

Something I learned during those 23 months – 99 weeks – is that sometimes change takes a long time, especially in the case of recovery. But in a more general sense, sometimes the things we want to accomplish – the goals we have – take a long time to achieve. If you’re like me, having patience in the waiting and through the struggles is difficult. In the process of waiting for something good, there can be a lot of disappointment, pain, anxiety, and self-doubt, along with the effort we’re trying so hard to put in to our goals.

If you’re in the process or the middle of some kind of  waiting, changing, recovering, or goal-achieving, I would really like to advise you to be realistic about a possible timeline, and to give yourself grace when you feel like you are the thing hindering the process. I wish I would have done this!

You see, I wasn’t very realistic about my own timeline. I had sub-consciously created one in my head. As a result, I remember multiple instances where I felt extremely disappointed in myself for how long recovery was taking. I cried to my therapist and my parents, “I should be better by now! I shouldn’t still be struggling with X, Y, and Z!” Everything took longer than I had expected.

As motivated as I was to get better, I wanted it to happen too quickly. I was making black-and-white “should” statements. So when I evaluated where I was at in recovery, and what I had left to accomplish, I would feel overwhelmed and call myself a failure. My frustration would cause me to temporarily lose steam. The mean little perfectionistic voice in my head would shame me.

And shame is not a good motivator for change. It certainly set me back. I think a better motivating voice is one that sounds like encouragement, gentleness, and grace.

Thankfully, whenever I was hard on myself, my therapist would be that voice for me. She would graciously remind me that there’s no such thing as a perfect timeline. In my case, she wanted me to remember that recovering from a deeply rooted mental illness is pretty hard work!

By creating my own timeline and making “should” statements, I was setting myself up for anxiety and disappointment. She would tell me to give myself grace and to remember that, in the grand scheme of life, two years (or a little more) was nothing!

She assured me that every minute of effort now was going to be worth it later on. This helped me to persevere.

When I began to be a little more gentle and gracious with myself, my goals became smaller, more realistic, and less daunting. I began to recognize and celebrate the small victories and to tell myself “good job!” At some point, I was able to say, “Okay, even if I’m not 100% ‘better’ by the start of my junior year, that doesn’t mean I have failed. Realistically, recovery is still going to be an ongoing choice for me to say ‘yes’ to every day, even when I’m done with therapy.”

My anxiety about the process decreased, and I started focussing on the tangible steps that I could take in the next few months, to get to an even more secure, stable place. I decided to meet myself where I was at. It made a significant difference in my attitude and outlook!

So, here I am, about to start this next chapter of my life. But you know what? Being done with therapy doesn’t mean that I’m 100% free from some disordered, unhealthy thought patterns and urges. However, I am healthy enough and equipped with enough “tools” to be able to go to away for school and to continue on my journey. I’m not where I had expected to be when I was a freshman. But now I see that the past two years of effort were a tremendous accomplishment, I worked really hard, and I get to be proud of myself for all the things I have overcome and improved on.

I recognize that I’m still in an ongoing process, and I’ll have to keep saying yes to recovery every day for a long time. But because of the work I’ve done in the past two years, the decision to say yes is much easier and quicker now.

So, I want to encourage you to be realistic about how long something might take in your life. Embrace the process of waiting or changing, and soak up all that it has to offer you. Don’t rush yourself; be gentle; be gracious; and be your own cheer leader! Whenever you hear that shaming, self-doubting, impatient voice, remind it that there are no perfect timelines in life. 

 

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

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.

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!

To My Friends & Family (6 Personalized Notes To You)

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on May 20, 2017.  It was a cathartic post for me at the time and incredibly personal. A weight was lifted from my shoulders after this, and I felt like I could let go of my old self a bit. 

(Writing this is part of the positive process of moving on from my past.)

Grab a drink to sip and maybe some tissues if you get easily emotional. I feel that this is going to be one of the most important and personal posts I’ve written so far. I’m going to address several specific groups of people in my life and release some thoughts that have been burdening me lately. Please read the beginning few paragraphs and at least the numbered section below that relates to you.

This post is about my mental and physical health struggles and their affects on my relationships with people: With YOU, the reader. I choose to be open about them, because it helps me heal from them.

When I look back, I see that my disorders really began to take hold of me at age 15 – sometime during my freshman year of high school. They worsened during my sophomore year, but I was still somewhat healthy. They peaked at junior year, and I was dangerously ill. At senior year I realized that I wanted to heal, but I felt like it was impossible. I had such unhealthy thought patterns built up, and I was still engaging in disordered behaviors. Despite those barriers to recovering, I did start pursing health during senior year.

Now, I’m a freshman in college. Since this school year started, I’ve been rapidly changing. I’ve been seeing a new therapist, learning so much about my disorders, pressing into God like never before, and facing multiple challenges that come with recovering. I haven’t reached some kind of end-goal and received a prize that says, “congratulations, you’ve recovered!” Though my parents, nutritionist, and therapist have all affirmed my incredible progress, I’m still on the journey. And I will still struggle.

For the most part – in my mind – I feel like such a different person today (in a good way!) However, I know that you guys can’t fully understand the changes I’ve been through in my mind. For you, my friends and family, I’m sure it’s been difficult to understand me at times. Some days I’m doing really well, feeling great, and feeling secure. Other days I’m feeling crappy, struggling, or feeling insecure. My mood is easily swayed by my circumstances. If you’ve ever been confused or uncomfortable when interacting with me, I don’t blame you. I can be unpredictable…It’s frustrating to me, and I’m sure it’s odd for you. But please know that I’m still in the process of learning new things about myself, learning about God, growing, and “being transformed by the renewing of my mind” as Romans 12:2 says.

That is why I’m going to write these notes. To explain the changes you may have noticed.

  1. To My Friends From My Home School Co-op (ELT):

During my time at ELT, I was a mess. My insecurities began to take control of me the same year I started ELT. In fact, ELT was a huge reason my eating disorder came about. Why? First of all, when I joined ELT, I did not feel very pretty. I was overweight my freshman year, and I felt trapped in my body. I was also the new girl, and I had a hard time making friends quickly. I compared myself to every girl in the gym each week (like most high school girls do). I felt awkward, and I just wanted to fit in. The second reason I struggled was because of the stupid nutrition classes I took…I took 2 different nutrition class in the same term, and they fed me a lot of awful information. Because I was already insecure about my body, these classes made me want to “get healthy.” However, the classes were not professionally taught, and the approaches they suggested were not safe. I was vulnerable, and these classes made me want tocontrol my food and exercise. My teachers told me a lot of bull crap about “healthy” food, GMO’s, glass water bottles, and what not to eat. I began to feel ashamed of the ways I was eating and living, because my teachers were not sensitive to the dangerous messages they were giving. Lastly, during the first two years of ELT, I was struggling because of some relationship issues, and they made me feel very insecure. Maybe you recognize the pattern now…I was just a really insecure girl, trying to figure things out. All the while, I was beginning to seek control and validation through my body and outward image. My ability to have healthy relationships was probably damaged a bit because of my insecurities. So, my ELT friends, I’m sorry you had to know me at my very worst state. I was just struggling a lot in high school. I don’t want you to think that I was being a “faker” or anything like that. I don’t want you to think I was crazy. I was still a fairly normal girl, but I was not very confident in myself then. When I took a break from ELT because of my health, you all seemed concerned and tried to understand why I needed to leave. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you exactly why. Thank you for sticking with me through it all. You guys have been some of the most loyal friends I’ve ever had. Brenna, Cassie, Sam, Jonathan, Kezia, Bekah, Bryanna, Sarah, and anyone else (moms included!) who may be reading this: I hope this helps you understand me a bit better. As I’m now figuring out how to be secure in who I am, please keep talking to me about my journey! Keep getting to know me and notice the changes in me. You may encounter me on a great day, or you may encounter me on a rough day. Either way, I am not the same girl I was in ELT. I am on a great journey of healthy change. 

     2. To My Church Friends, Highlife Leaders, and Community Group:

Right now, I’m on a wonderful and hard journey towards whole health. I love Jesus a bunch. I’m pursuing God, and my relationship with him is very strong! But: At church, I often struggle. I struggle to figure out what kind of face I’m going to wear when I walk in the doors. I want to be joyful, inviting, and smile, because I’m at church. That’s how I should feel, right? But some days I don’t feel like that would be genuine. Some days are just difficult, because I’m still recovering from a mental disorder. Every week, I also know that I’m guaranteed to be asked “how are you?” The hard thing for me is that I don’t always know how to answer. Some days I’m honestly doing so great, and some days I’m feeling severely insecure or anxious. I know that church is a safe place to tell people the truth, however, I don’t always know how to explain the complexities of my mind…So during the socializing time, sometimes I just kind of “shut down” and come off as uninterested in people. I’m sorry about this. I’m trying to work it out.

On another note: I want my highlife friends to know that leaving Highlife was a hard but very important choice for me. I loved Jesus just as much then as I do now. I believe I would have been fine and well equipped to keep leading a small group; but leaving allowed me to have the time to go to therapy and to work harder on recovering from my disorder. I know I’ll dive back in to ministry one day, whether it’s highlife or not. When I do, I’ll be even better than before!

     3. To My Skit Theatre Friends: 

During my time at Skit theatre, I was awkward. Haha, it makes me cringe to think of how awkward I probably acted. In high school, I did not know who I was. I was quite “up and down,” and I was beginning to develop a mental disorder because of my insecurities. During Skit rehearsals I compared myself to other girls in the plays, and I felt insecure and jealous in the relationship aspects of Skit. During Anne of Green Gables and Go Dog Go/ JGP, my eating disorder was beginning. This took up a lot of my brain space. And sadly, during Narnia, I was at my absolute worst point. Not only was I having health problems totally unrelated to my disorder, but I was also depressed, anxious, and not eating a lot. That is why I didn’t do a play during my senior year. So, my Skit friends, I’m sorry you had to know me at my very worst state. I was just struggling. Thank you, though, for bringing me so much joy and laughter during that time. Thank you for caring about me and remaining my friend after Narnia. I love that Skit gave me some of the most amazing friends. Christian, Maddy, Katie, Kim, Jacob, Maddi, Drew, Elysa, and everyone else you all rock my world. Now that I’m in a healthier mindset, I hope you’ll not ignore what I’ve gone through, but take me where I’m at. Talk to me about my journey, and make new memories with me!

     4. To My Long Time Friends (from church, childhood, etc.)

Hey you guys. Maybe you were a large part of my story, or maybe we didn’t talk a lot during my struggles. Some of you are my biggest supporters; some of you have offered prayers; some of you have only kept up with me through social media. Whatever the nature of our relationship has been, I just want you to know that I’m still figuring out who I am and how to be totally secure. I really value our friendship and that you’ve stuck with me through all of my high’s and low’s! In the future, some days I’ll be feeling wonderful, and some days I’ll be feeling “meh.” I need you to do something for me, though. Please don’t ignore what I’ve gone through. Please don’t feel awkward talking about it or listening to me talk about it. Ask me questions, pray with me, tell me the truth about myself. I can’t fight alone, and I need friends to keep me grounded.

     5. To My New Friends:

Maybe we don’t know each other super well yet, but I want you to know that while I have a complicated past, I’ve been changed and transformed through the healing of Jesus Christ. I like talking about what God has done for me, and it’s one of the most important things to me. I’m passionate about Him, and He shapes how I live.

    6. To My Family (in Salem, Vancouver, California, and Illinois)

Last but not least……Guys. Each of you has played a different kind of role in my life and struggles. I guess I just want to thank you for your prayers and for not taking my struggles lightly. I’ve realized recently that I’m being “transformed by the renewing of my mind” (Romans 12:2). I’m really relying on God, and He’s still transforming me and changing the way I think today. I hope my life will forever be evidence to you of God’s goodness and power. The girl you see today has learned a lot about life, suffering, joy, healing, and faith. I can guarantee you I’m going to keep learning and being transformed. But I will have bad days. I will feel weak and need you to encourage me. Never assume I’m doing great, and never assume I’m not doing great. Ask me genuinely, and I’ll tell you. You’re the most valuable people to me. I love you. Thanks for loving me.

“Do not conform 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

My Frenemies: The Mirror and the Scale

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on February 10, 2017. It’s one of my personal favorites!

I can’t count how many times I have looked at myself in the mirror and felt negatively about my reflection.

I can’t count how many times I have stepped onto the scale and felt my heart sink.

I can’t count how many times I stared at my thighs or the number on the scale, hoping and waiting for them to change.

So much anxiety, so many tears, and so much self-disgust have resulted from what I saw on a piece of glass and a metal, square thing.

The truth is, I have allowed the mirror and the numbers on the scale to determine the way I feel about myself for the majority of my life; But now I’m done with that!

I have recently discovered how to separate my emotions from these two objects, and they no longer hold the same power over me that they used to.

How have I done this? What has changed? Let me tell you. It’s pretty simple, actually.

fullsizerenderThe first step was covering my full length mirror! I took the challenge by someone I respect, and I successfully kept it covered it for about 10 weeks (I still used my bathroom mirror for my hair and makeup).  At first it was difficult, and I felt really weird when I’d hop out of bed every morning and not see myself on the wall. But I quickly realized that the mirror was something I sought comfort and validation from. In a strange way, the reflection I saw first thing in the morning was able to set the tone for my whole day. If I happened to feel good about my body, I’d go about my day with more ease. On the other hand, if I didn’t like what I saw, I would feel glum and distracted by  it most of the day. I would most likely wear clothes that were baggier and maybe even eat less.

Once I realized the behavioral tendencies and unhealthy emotional connection I had with my mirror, I was sad. These realizations, however, motivated me to disconnect myself from the mirror and keep it covered it up.

After a month or so, I noticed that I was much less insecure about my appearance; I cared less about my insecure areas; and I flinched less at my reflection when I looked in public mirrors. After another month, I felt almost zero body negativity. Eventually I was able to look at my full body and accept it in its daily state. I have also been able to appreciate all that my body does for me instead of fixating on how it looks.

Next came the scale.

I have always known I shouldn’t let the number bother me. I’ve always known that weighing myself obsessively was not healthy. Yet, in my eating disorder, I couldn’t stop.

Well, several weeks ago I was fed up with it. Because I’m in a much healthier state of mind than I used to be, I know that my over-all holistic “health” is not solely defined by pounds. Whether I’m gaining, losing, or stabilizing weight only tells me a small bit of information about how healthy I am. Realistically, I probably should only be having my doctor or dietician weigh me. They can use the information to help me make changes if needed.

So, in order to separate myself from my feelings attached to the scale, there was only one thing to do. After 5 years of having it in my bathroom, I put the scale away. And guess what: I don’t miss it! It was much easier to give up than I thought. I don’t miss the ritual of dread and anxiety that I used to engage in. I have decided to measure whether I’m “gaining weight” only by paying attention to how my clothes fit. I have allowed my dietician to weigh me instead.

Now that the mirror and scale hold less power over me, I feel so much better about myself! Sure, I have bad days. Sure, I don’t always love the way I look. But I’m much quicker to measure my self-worth by my internal characteristics and to thank my body for its hard work. The two things that used to make me cry – my weight and the “cushioning” on top of my bones – seem much less important now.

The reason I share this story with you is because I know that I am not the only one who allows the mirror and scale to dictate my feelings. I want to remind you of a couple things.

1. When you look at yourself in the mirror, your perception is largely influenced by “your mind’s eye. In other words, you might look at yourself and make a totally false judgement about your body, weight, or what other people must think about you, because you have your own unique standards and opinion of yourself. Even if you hyper-focus on one “flaw” or roll, or think to yourself “AHH, I’m gaining weight!” other people probably aren’t judging you as harshly. It’s all about our unique perceptions.

2. The mirror and scale are not the best measuring tools for us, and they tend to generate a lot of negativity. Why torture yourself?

3. If you truly want to track whether you are healthy, try determining that in other ways.

4. Just like any addiction or bad habit, the best way to let go of these two harmful things is to give them up. I promise that it’s not impossible.

5. You are beautiful and wonderful no matter what that number says and no matter how much “fat” you see on the mirror. You are one of God’s masterpieces. He made no mistakes with you.

6. Focus on the functionality of your body. If you appreciate what your body and mind do for you each day, you won’t be so easily disappointed next time you step on the scale or look in the mirror.

I hope this helps or encourages someone! Go out today, and use your body to change the world!

A Letter to Those With Mental Battles

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on January 27, 2017. 

This is for all who are fighting mental battles.

As an observant, self-proclaimed “people-reader,” it’s not hard for me to spot when someone is struggling. Lately I have been noticing how many people around me seem to be going through something difficult. My heart aches with you; and I want to help.

I can read your emotions, your Twitter posts, your subtle hints, your change of mood, etc… I know that there’s something secret going on in your life. Or something that you pretend is not a big deal by keeping it quiet. I know, because I have been there – in that lonesome place – feeling like nobody could possibly “get it.”

I know that you don’t want to open up to anyone about your troubles. You don’t want to be “a burden” on anyone. You’re also afraid of what might happen when you vulnerably admit what is going on in your mind.

You’re afraid of judgement and the stigmas attached to your problem. But listen to me:

You are not a burden. You are not a disease. You are worthy of human help. You are not alone. You are worthy of healing and attention. You can fight through this; and it’s okay if you need help. 

Maybe you have a disorder: anxiety, depression, eating disorder, bipolar, multiple personality disorder, body dysmorphia, etc. Maybe you have an addiction, suicidal thoughts, severe insecurity, or doubt in your faith in God. Maybe you’re living with the pain that comes with being a part of the less accepted LGBTQ community.

I don’t know where you are on the spectrum; but I don’t want to minimize the fact that WHATEVER you are dealing with has got to be hard…I have figured out that mental disorders, and just the mental battles that accompany our insecurities and troubles, are agonizing and isolating things.

The enemy will tell you lies and try to keep you from getting proper help. He will tempt you to just get comfortable with your issue, become friends with it, and deny healing or outside comfort.

But I need you to know that life is meant to be lived abundantly (John 10:10), and that God’s plan for you is not to suffer for the rest of your life on earth. I promise you there is something you can do to escape the torment in your mind. (In some cases, even if you can’t get rid of it altogether, you can at least do something to make life more bearable with it.) You may not be able to see it now, but beyond your life today is a much brighter time. You just have to take one step at a time. And normally, that first step is admitting to someone what you’re dealing with.

We’re privileged to have so many tools to help us: counselors, doctors, like-minded people, friends, prayer, wise spiritual leaders, books, medicine, endless information, and all kinds of other things to aid us in “recovery” (or whatever your healing process might look like). USE THEM. There is no shame in getting help! I can’t stress this enough.

Maybe you won’t be able to make fast progress. Maybe freedom will take years to achieve. Maybe you will face some of the fears that come when you’re vulnerable with someone. But it is worth is, because your life is valuable and full of potential!

Don’t keep suffering in your present state. Don’t let your problems hold you back from the quality of life that you’re worthy of. Don’t let the enemy tell you that you’re stuck. Instead, grab someone who loves you; tell them what you need; get outside of your head; and start fighting for your life.

You’ve got this!

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”. – John 10:10