Grounding Through Yoga

Whether I have a million tasks to get done or have absolutely nothing to do, the presence of anxiety seems to be constantly looming. My go-to in order to manage anxiety was always running or working out. During an intense workout, I would experience peace as it was one of the few activities that would take me out of the racing thoughts in my head. However, having struggled with a restrictive eating disorder, the option of exercising or exerting tremendous physical energy was no longer sustainable. I tried several other coping skills, such as coloring, reading, and walking outside, but none were as helpful as the practice of yoga. I had been introduced to yoga while in an inpatient eating disorder treatment center, but at the time despised the idea of laying still on a mat during which catastrophic thoughts overwhelmed my mind. However, months after discharging from intensive treatment, I knew I had to find a healthy, balanced way of coping with anxiety, if I wanted to maintain the progress I had made in my recovery. This is when I decided to give yoga another try.

I read somewhere that it takes 8 weeks of practice in order to make something a habit. So that is what I set out to try with the practice of yoga. Every other day, I made time to take out my mat, and practice various forms of yoga. Some days, I tried a meditative aspect to yoga by listening to guided meditations while laying down. Other days, I did vinyasa flow routines by watching videos on YouTube. For every day I took the incentive to take out my mat and practice, whether that be for 5 minutes or an hour, I put a smiley face sticker on a calendar in my room! This continued for only a couple weeks, until practicing yoga became engrained in my everyday routine.

At first, yoga was not an efficient tool in relieving the anxieties I held. It was more like a chore to check off my to-do list. But with practice, yoga has become an effective outlet for the stress and tension I hold in my body. While moving through poses, I actively think about the functions my body performs in order to keep me living. This in turn has helped me find more gratitude for my body as whole, which gratefully has decreased the intensity of body dysmorphia I regularly struggle with. I set aside “yoga time” as my time in the day to consciously release any worries, fears or anticipations I am holding. Whenever a thought about an upcoming exam or an undermining self-belief pops up, I try to bring myself back into the present and solely focus my attention on moving deeper into a pose. With consistent practice, my body and mind soon integrated, automatically connecting yoga with mindfulness and serenity. Fitness posters, athletic brands and media usually portray specific types of yoga, but there are several different forms out there and can be tailored to meet our mental and physical needs. So don’t give up on the idea after one class or one try. Practice creates habit!

 

 

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Life after Residential

Being in a 24 hour treatment center for an eating disorder is like being in a safe, yet mentally and physically challenging bubble with only extremely supportive people. I remember on my last day at the facility, on my graduation day, I felt ready to take on the world. I had been following my meal plan 100%, stepping out of my comfort zone consistently and disputing numerous self sabotaging thoughts I often faced.

However, the “real world” outside of treatment wasn’t as optimistic and recovery focused as I had glamorized it to be. My first snack out proved to be a challenge in itself. There was no one sitting with me, watching me consume every bite, and that all too familiar voice of ED became stronger. In treatment, there were so many items censored due to its potentially triggering content, such as magazines, websites, toxic people and most forms of media. But in life, there unfortunately aren’t “trigger warnings” on everything. I was blindsided by the countless diet/weight loss ads and the number of active, athletic people I saw all around me. I had forgotten what real life was like in just the couple months I spent cooped up in a treatment facility.

Even though it was quite a shocker immediately following residential, it became a normalized challenge that I began to expect; it was just another component left to battle on my journey to recovery. It is common, and actually completely expected to face lapses and slips after higher level of care. It is the only way to learn! That said, it is all the more beneficial to have a strong support system in place after discharge. Continued care has been a crucial aspect to my continuation in recovery. Whenever I had moments when the eating disorder thoughts tried to slip back in, my treatment team was there to catch me and pull me back into my wise mind. Overall, life DOES get better after inpatient care for an eating disorder. The strict rules of treatment facilities do not linger forever. It becomes a gradual process of learning to live a life true to your authentic self.

 

The Problem with our Mental Health Treatment System

Looking back on my eating disorder recovery journey, I am grateful for the amount of help I received and the level of care I was recommended to. However, what I am not appreciative about is the extent of shaming and toll that process took on me.

I understand that health care providers and treatment team professionals are trying to keep clients thriving at the minimum amount of care necessary. But for others facing a situation similar to mine, where outpatient treatment was not adequate enough, the process it takes to finally receive an effective structure of treatment can take an extended amount of time and obstacles.

When I was seeing an outpatient therapist specialized in eating disorders, appointments were very limited. It started out as seeing her every five weeks, which in terms of beginning recovery and normalizing eating is not nearly enough support. She began weighing me during sessions, and when she saw that I lost weight, she would see me more frequently, such as every two weeks. But if my weight stayed stable, she would spread out the time between our sessions again. The message this communicated to me was that I was not deserving of help, unless my weight continued to decrease. However, I see now that this is a completely FALSE statement. Eating disorders are a serious mental illness. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses with 1 in 5 deaths resulting from suicide. Therefore, weight is not an accurate indicator of illness severity or the extent to which someone is mentally suffering.

Several months later, after continuing to make no progress with infrequent, outpatient therapy, I was referred to an Intensive Outpatient Program that met three times a week. Even after settling into this IOP program, I was not making much progress. I was overwhelmed with disordered thoughts and engaged in destructive behaviors. My treatment team there made me feel like I was failing at the requirements expected of me. The most corrupted, illogical part of this was that the professionals had made me feel like I was not trying hard enough. If I had put in more effort, had more self discipline to complete meals and take on less in life, I could have succeeded right? Absolutely not. I was putting in my all to these programs, yet the eating disorder voice was far too overwhelming. After months and months of feeling shame and frustration, while all my peers were graduating and leaving the program, I was finally referred to an inpatient, residential program.

I see now how residential had saved my life, but why was it that therapists and dietitians had made it seem like a failure for needing a higher level of care? Why was it that I had to undergo nearly a year of suffering due to receiving the wrong level of care until I was finally provided with what I needed? Programs thrive on success rates and statistics. It is also much cheaper for health care providers to keep people at the perceived minimum level of care necessary, especially when it comes to mental health treatment. Health professionals and treatment programs will try their absolute best to help a client transform while they are under their care, without needing to refer them out. But there comes a point when this intention becomes more damaging than beneficial to the client actually receiving treatment. More awareness and education needs to be spread about these pitfalls within the mental health treatment system. Victims of mental illnesses should not be feeling discouraged in terms of recovery due to the disregard and ignorance to the level of care necessary.