Exceptionalism versus being average

First of all I have to share a realization I just had. I had always thought that eating disorder behavior is what gave me that feeling of control that I want in order to feel safe but that isn’t my truth any longer. Getting back on track, back to my regular routine has given me a greater sense of control than any behavior ever has. When did it change?

My nutrition appt was delayed a day due to snow which turned out to be an ideal situation. I was surprised how difficult it would was to eat normal portions again till I tried on Tuesday. I figured I couldn’t do a full portion so I put together a half portion and gave it a go. It was very, very uncomfortable. It was difficult to tolerate but I was determined and managed by setting a timer every 30″ to re-evaluate how I felt, and didn’t have anything else the rest of the night. Wednesday, when I was supposed to see him, I tried again. I made the portions smaller but added some nuts to each meal. By the evening I felt like I would explode but again, tolerated it. Obviously I had some concerns. So I cut down risking a spiral downward or do I do the other obvious behavior choice? However, I gave it a try and tried to make an effort to get back on track before seeing him. I felt it was important to make a start because it would be my choice, my decision, rather than waiting for him to tell me what I already knew I needed to do. Today I put together my meals as best as I could. I leave early for iOP so have to pack 3 meals. When I saw him we had a good, rational, conversation. He looked at what I had started with and heard my concern of eating more than I could handle at this point and asked what I could add tomorrow. I said I’d add a lipid at breakfast. I then panicked trying to figure out how to add “everything else.” He brought me back and said not to think beyond each day which emotionally makes it manageable. I asked if he could help me find something I could give myself a kudos for in all this. I feel it’s important to honor even small steps of progress. We agreed that my taking the initiative on my own was well worth acknowledgement so I decided to feel good about that. At this pint I can’t “just” feel good about myself but I definitely can make a decision to feel good about myself.

My therapist, who I saw yesterday, helped me sort what it is I need from my nutritionist. Without a plan I usually go in and just cry…. “oh poor me, this is intolerable, I will never get better,” and so forth. This time I walked in and told him straight out that I’m struggling and need his expertise and experience in helping me get on track. Another thing I’m working on is removing my tendency toward exceptionalism. I told him that I’m keeping in mind that this slip, these past couple of weeks, isn’t anything unique. This is what many people with eating disorders experience; I’m simply one more person. It’s not awful or unbearable or even a relapse. Rather, it’s uncomfortable, distressing, not dangerous; manageable. It’s not the beginning of a slide that ends in a treatment program. I also said that I don’t want to be in a position of having to be told what to do; I’d rather us be collaborators with the same goal of getting me well, healthy.

I’m beginning to recognize that one of the symptoms or traps of an eating disorder is exceptionalism. Examples of my (unconscious) exceptionalism: I’ve had an ED the longest, or the worst; destroyed my body, will never truly recover, will always have to face ED thoughts and temptations; I’m different, no one can possibly understand, mine is more. Complicated because I have chronic pain, fibromyalgia, am older, have bipolar, an exercise addict… on and on and on. Here’s the truth: everyone’s life is complicated in their own way, many people have more than one diagnosis, most people with EDs do some kind of damage. Another truth: I still have a good heart and kidneys, my teeth, hair and skin are healthy again, I’m still upright and walking. I’m able to read again and much of my concentration has returned. Yes, I have other permanent damage that creates difficulties but they are manageable and when I eat, I manage.

If you’ve read my blog for awhile you may have noticed I quit being specific about having anorexia and started saying eating disorder. I stopped using specific words like “restriction” and now say “behavior” where possible. I was invested in the anorexic identity. In my mind it gave me status, empowerment and yes, a sense of being exceptional. “Look at how I can control my life through food, exercise, weight.” (Other thoughts I had I am too ashamed to admit here.) Every time I downsized my clothes I got a power surge. Even when I was laying on the couch utterly exhausted and unable to attend to things, when I could no longer focus to read or have a normal conversation, I felt exceptional in my control. I had to let that go. I had to quit segmenting myself from the rest of the ED community.

I can’t tell you how many (non-anorexic) eating disorder blogs I’ve read and related to. There are so many versions of eating disorders, not just the media promoted anorexia. Why was I excluding myself? What was the point? Was I really any different? No… I’m not different neither am I exceptional. I related to many people because my thoughts are not, in fact, unique. My feelings, thoughts and reactions are pretty average. Is that a bad thing? No! It allows me to feel understood by many people, it allows me to empathize with many people. It widens my world. It’s helped to remove the sense of being utterly alone in my struggle.

In therapy my therapist said that I’ve connected my tolerance to compliance. When my tolerance is reduced due to stress, pain, life blowing up, whatever, my compliance is reduced, i.e., behavioral slip. I need to disconnect it so that no matter what happens in my life, compliance is a given. I do have lots of issues, all those I listed above, so my stress tolerance will drop regularly. I want to be able to deal with that with the help of my support team, in a healthy way, rather then going straight to using behavior as an anxiety reliever and mood regulation.

I spent some time thinking about my reaction versus a non-ED person’s reaction.

  • Me: week 1 was terrible gastric issues, week 2 was surgery then holiday party that I canceled due to not fitting in clothes.
  • Exceptionalistic Reaction: Awful, horrible, neeeeeeeeed behavior to deal with low tolerance and “overwhelming” anxiety. Put all energy into behavior and into justifications of said behavior.
  • Reflection/response: intolerance of making mistakes, I’m a horrible person, I’ll never recover, there’s no hope.
  • Conclusion: I’m relapsing so why bother trying.

Alternatively-

  • Average realistic reaction: Difficult, uncomfortable, increased anxiety (not overwhelming), continue normal eating and activities of daily living. Maybe rest more, drink more fluids, ask for some emotional support.
  • Reflection/response: Made several mistakes (listening to GI doc instead of nutritionist), ignored intuition about not going to the party, forgot that many people have difficulty with general anesthetic so could have been more forgiving of self.
  • Conclusion: I’ve slipped up. That happens, I’m human and make mistakes like everyone else. Sort the situation and move forward having learned a valuable lesson.

Perhaps by reflecting as I’ve done here I can slowly develop the courage to make mistakes, to allow myself to be an average person, to have ups and downs just like everyone else.

6 thoughts on “Exceptionalism versus being average

  1. I love the layout of the blog, its very calming.
    I’m glad you have been working a lot on self reflection, I’m sorry I haven’t replied to your vid but I’m only starting to recover; it will be up this week for sure
    take care over the holidays xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Please don’t stress yourself sis. If you need to have some downtime I certainly understand that! 😊 Taking the first steps toward recovery are extraordinarily hard. I feel like I’m just beginning everyday, lol. I’m happy you are but am proud of you either way. I hope you know that. I understand the burden you carry and am continually amazed at your courage. 💗💗

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, I have been so happy to find your blog and I just wanted to comment on something that struck me in particular since finding it which was this comment:
    “I quit being specific about having anorexia and started saying eating disorder. I stopped using specific words like “restriction” and now say “behavior” where possible.”

    I LOVE the first part. Not because I think you should not be encouraged to say you have anorexia if you do (because I realize, as you will see, it feeds into my next part that you should call anorexia anorexia if that’s what it is!) But it’s nice to see simply because I feel like there is still such a stigma that unfortunately isn’t going away that anorexia is the ‘desired’ eating disorder. Sure, that was my diagnosis in treatment but I felt like I’d run the gamet in my life and did NOT feel like I was more or less deserving of treatment than others dealing with a different diagnosis. (actually….I may have felt less deserving. But that was more a personality thing then a comparing ED sort of thing!)
    The “behaviors” part doesn’t bother me so much here in a personal blog setting, but I feel like I have to give it equal time compared to how I lauded the shunning of the dx. Because my first experiences with treatment (support groups, IOP) were very vehement about “we say USED BEHAVIORS!” to the point in one group where a member couldn’t even say he and friends met at Dunkin’ Donuts because POTENTIAL TRIGGER, OHEMGEE! and had to say “that coffee place with the name I can’t say” For me it is more helpful to name behaviors and maybe it’s partly because for me they’re so varied. Saying ‘I binged’ means a billion different things than saying ‘I fasted/restricted’ or ‘I exercised until I dropped’ or ‘I slept for 16 hours to avoid dealing with things I didn’t want to admit I’d done.’ Saying “I did behaviors” tells me nothing about if I can truly relate to a person or not. I can SYMPATHIZE, but it’s really something else to both sympathize and empathize.

    I’m certainly not trying to undermine your reasoning for moving toward just saying ‘behaviors.’ In fact I have a lot of respect for it since it sounds like long-time readers will KNOW and you’re just making the point that it doesn’t always have to be in-your-face “I’M RESTRICTING!” Similar to the shunning of placing the dx in the forefront. I guess the point I was making more was “I get why you’re doing this but please understand why I will not!” For me I feel like it does no good to say ‘I do behaviors’ without explaining it further. But also I recognize it does no good to say ‘My dx is blahblahblah’ as if one ED is more or less detrimental to a person’s life.

    And sorry for the book in response! I’ve already copied part of this realizing it should probably be a blog post on its own! 😀 I tend to get a little prolific…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love what you wrote and realize my response is a blog length post, lol. Would you mind if I copied this to a post and wrote my response? It won’t be negative. I agree with you and it would give me a platform to talk about “why” specific behaviors “should” be shared in iOP and programs, etc.

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