Side Notes: The Next Step: Counseling
I’m obviously slow to my own game here and never posted about therapy during NEDA week, but at least I’m writing about it, right?! It just took me a while to find the time to sit down and talk about it. I wanted this to be a quality post, not something I just threw out there and say, “Yes, go to therapy.” Although, essentially I will say that.
When it comes to eating disorders of any type, I have found through all the men and women I have talked to, believe they can cure themselves. At one point, I thought the same thing too. I spent hours upon hours reading book after book about anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, EDNOS (eating disorders not otherwise specified), emotional eating, overeating…you name it, I got my hands on it and read it. I spent hours upon hours on message boards (when they still existed) on WebMD, communicating and trying to relate to other girls having the same problems. But it really just wasn’t enough.
You can read the words on the paper and believe, “Ok, that’s how I think. The book says I should just think the other way…so I’ll do that and I’ll be all better!” I mean yes, you could think that and tell yourself every single day, but sometimes, it just doesn’t stick. That’s what happened for me.
When I left you on my last post about how my eating disorder started, I talked about the turning point in my eating disorder and really, it was the start of my very long road to recovery. A friend of mine in my dorm hall finally confronted me about my drastic weight loss and I say threatened, but obviously she was doing it out of her big ol’ caring heart, me that if I didn’t get some help asap by going to the school counseling center, she was going to tell my parents. I was terrified and didn’t want my parents to know (although in reality they did, but they didn’t know what to say to me to help, that’s for a whole other post), so I went.
I remember vividly walking into the counseling center and my friend telling the receptionist that I needed to see a counselor. I was just standing there, terrified out of my mind when he asked, “Would you like to see someone today or at a later date?” She immediately responded “TODAY,” while I said “LATER,” all at the same time. We both looked at each other, then the receptionist, and she said, “NOW.” I sat down with her and immediately spent what felt like forever filling out a bunch of paperwork, and then heading into the office of my new counselor.
I remember the gentleman introducing himself, and me doing the same, and him asking how I was doing. I said fine, and then the tears came. I cried…and cried. Oh, and I CRIED. He sat quietly and let me do my thing, knowing I would eventually say something. At that point in my life and eating disorder, I literally could not say the word “ANOREXIA.” I simply couldn’t. I could say anything that was round-about, but not the actual word. I could mutter “Eating Disorder” but even that was hard and felt like metal in my mouth.
I was in denial, that was obvious enough. I knew there was something wrong with me, but I didn’t want to admit it. I was supposed to be “perfect” (reference my last post for that explanation) and to admit that I couldn’t control my thoughts or my food was a huge failure in my book. I don’t remember much else from that first session, just the majority of the time I spent crying over it, and then leaving. I don’t remember if my friend was still there waiting for me…but I remember the dread as I walked out of that office.
But, even with the overwhelming amount of emotions that meeting brought out, from my sadness to anger and frustration, I went back twice a week, every week, for the rest of that year. I still struggled with going every time, I remember lying like crazy, and when I say lying I mean I told him things were better little by little, when really they weren’t and I was having a very hard time. But to admit to an absolute stranger that you are afraid to eat because you are afraid to get FAT overnight, is not an easy thing to say. I remember turning in fake eating journals with more food and less exercise than I had actually been doing, believing that I could do this without this man and there was nothing wrong with me.
That was my second semester my freshman year of college. It was a hard semester, both with school and with that counseling. I never told ANYONE where I was going except my friend that brought me there. It bothered me that I was lying to my friends about where I was going, but at the time I was so ashamed that I was going that I simply couldn’t admit to them I was seeking counseling. But my friend made sure I went, and I would. I was scared every time, but I kept going. I never really wanted to go, but I still went. There was something pulling me to come back every single time…something I can’t describe. But it was there and I went along with it.
At the end of the semester I had three months off until my sophomore year and I knew the summer was going to be hard. But my counselor and I agreed we would see each other first thing that next semester. And as reluctant as I was to return to that office, I did. And I did it my entire sophomore year. I still tip toed around telling my friends were I was, but by going and talking about what was going on with my eating disorder, I was able to tell a few more friends, and most importantly, my parents. Part of my was super relieved to have told someone, especially my parents, but at the same time I had admitted there was something wrong with me.
(But really, has there ever been a time in your life, when it was a horrible thing to admit there was something wrong with you and you wanted help with it? ABSOLUTELY NOT! It is ALWAYS ok to ask for help. It has taken me many years to accept that fact and thank goodness for it!)
Anyhow, my junior year was kind of a cluster f*ck (pardon my French, but you guys know me, I’m real to the core about this stuff). I spent my first semester living with strangers as all my friends were studying abroad or had left the school, but knew I had an adventure coming the next semester when I would go off to Australia and play around in the rainforest!
Well…it was an interesting semester. I was doing better at the time I left, trying to focus on letting myself live a little and enjoying the moments as they came while I was off on playing around in this other country. And I did, I was trying very hard. But not everything went quite well that semester in other parts of my life.
There are causes for relapse at every turn in your life if you’re not careful, and one of them occurred there. It all has to do with boys, and of course when you’re 19/20 you don’t know squat about relationships still and are trying to figure thing out. I don’t want to talk too much in detail about it, but lets just say heartbreak is not the easiest thing to deal with when you’re already struggling with an eating disorder. So, I ended up having a relapse. I blamed the weight loss on everything else under the sun while I was there, and really, it worked. But no one knew I was struggling with an eating disorder while I was there. Everyone just thought I was sick with some sort of stomach something-or-other and whatever lie I could come with to excuse myself from eating. Horrible notion, right? Yeah well, that shit happened and I remember, it freaking sucked.
For some reason I remember a lot of thought details from when this picture was taken. I remember a lot about how I felt about wearing that shirt and those pants; how I was afraid of how I would look in that picture and if I would be skinny enough (I HATE saying that, FYI). I remember sucking in my belly as far as possible in hopes that I would have a skinny photo (It kills me to say that too). I wish I could have been focused on the fact that I was playing with a didgeridoo that was hand carved and hand painted by an aboriginal who was trying to teach me again how to do circular breathing (when I played the flute/piccolo in jr. high I was able to do circular breathing). I wish I had been focused on the rarity of the experience, instead of how people would judge me based on how I looked.
By the the I came home from Australia and began my senior year of college, I was back down to my freshman weight and back to seeing my counselor twice a week. I MADE myself go see him because I had become sick and tired of feeling, well, sick and tired and guilty for every action I took…whether that included eating, exercising or whatever. I was overwhelmed with classes and I couldn’t afford to have this killing me in the background.
I started going less and less to my counseling meeting later in the semester and by my last semester I was going once a month. This decrease in my attendance was kind of taken out of my hands as my original counselor was moving to a different department and would no longer be able to see me, but I did see him every so often to check in, sort to speak. It was just enough though, to get me back on track, gaining some weight and working on my mentality towards recovery.
And really, in that end, that aspect is what it really boils down to. I had to be willing to go myself, to talk to this person for an hour or so whenever I had an appointment, and being honest about how I was feeling. There is no bias when you see a counselor or therapist. They are there simply to HELP YOU GET BETTER. They are not there to make you feel bad, they are there to help you heal in whatever dilemma you might be having. Until I was able to accept that, going to a counselor wasn’t going to do me any good. Accepting the fact that I had an eating disorder too was a big thing. Like I said earlier, I was unable to say that I had “anorexia” when I started counseling and by the end it had gotten easier. So had being able to tell people that I was seeing someone about the problem.
I had, and still to this day too, feel like going to see a counselor or therapist is so taboo in our world. Let me clarify something for you, IT IS NOT A BAD THING TO BE SEEKING HELP FROM A THERAPIST OR COUNSELOR. It is quite possibly one of the BEST THINGS you could do for yourself.
Do not feel ashamed.
Do not feel afraid.
Do not feel like you have failed.
You have to realize that you are doing something to make you better; to let you better yourself and let yourself heal so you can live the life you really want to live. When you are able to accept these things, counseling will do wonders beyond your greatest imagination. You will be able to THRIVE in your life and see things in a whole different light!
This is only part one of my counseling adventures. Several years later after not seeing this counselor anymore I decided to seek out another therapist when I realized things were still not going quite right, but that will be another long post (which btw, if you made it through this novel of a post I applaud you!).
If you have ANY questions about this, please feel free to email me at trying.to.heal [at] gmail.com. I am more than happy to answer any questions you have or more details about seeing a counselor.
Until next time…