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.

 

Portrayal of Eating Disorders in Media

“To the Bone” is a new Netflix original coming out soon presenting the story of a young woman who goes to treatment for an eating disorder. At first, I was really looking forward to watching this film and was so glad that the truth about eating disorders was finally being brought to light. However, I realized that after watching the trailer, I went to bed that night thinking maybe, just maybe, I could do that again; I could starve myself and be “perfect”. But then I caught myself; there is nothing perfect about eating disorders. For a split second, I had forgotten about the grueling side effects onset by an eating disorder. I forgot about the life threatening aspect of this disease. I forgot about the isolation, anxiety, self hate as well as the other uglinesses that come with it.

I questioned myself as to how I could allow two minutes of a simple trailer get to me. I realized that it was because the trailer was not an accurate representation of what fighting anorexia looks like. I understand that the producers of this film were attempting to spread awareness about eating disorders in an entertaining way, but the problem is that there is nothing entertaining about mental illnesses. Gathered from the “To the Bone” trailer as well as various other films regarding mental illnesses (which I will not list due to potentially triggering content) are a couple myths debunked. Here is the raw truth of what struggling with and fighting anorexia is like:

062017-to-the-boneMyth 1: People with eating disorders proudly recite the calories of everything on their plate.

Truth: Calories are secretly and shamefully counted in the mind. Even when you try really hard not to think about it, your mind will automatically remind you of how many calories everything contains and as a result will create guilt regarding food. Calorie counting is a trapping obsession, not a prideful activity.

Myth 2: You will find the love of your life in residential treatment.

Truth: When you’re in residential treatment, you have a couple other pressing issues on your mind aside from finding your true love. If you’re not busy in DBT, CBT or ACT group, and you’re not talking to your therapist, dietician, doctor or psychiatrist, you’re most probably too busy crying to get out of treatment and longing to go back home to your family. Any time with other clients is strictly supervised by counselors and nurses, which makes it somewhat difficult to have meaningful conversations with them aside from mental illnesses. It’s hard to fall in love when you don’t love yourself, or by that means, you don’t even tolerate yourself.

Myth 3: The psych hospital is a place where you get to play games and have fun with those around you.

Truth: The psych hospital is not fun and it is not like summer camp. It is a facility where patients are held to (literally) prevent them from ending their life. The staff there doesn’t necessarily remind you of butterflies, rainbows and all things beautiful in life. They are strict and abide by rigid rules to keep all patients in check. Most patients admitted aren’t quite in the mood to play games and do arts and crafts since they undergoing mental turmoil. It is an intense period in people’s lives and is a place where some patients are sectioned to against their will. Leaving the psych hospital does not indicate that you are “cured” from feeling depressed or suicidal. It simply means that you can now focus on the long road of recovery awaiting ahead.

Myth 4: Doctors will not try to help people who do not want to recover from their eating disorders.

Truth: Many sufferers going to their doctors with an eating disorder aren’t usually hunky dory about recovering. Recovery is a long, strenuous, difficult, but also rewarding journey. The idea of recovering and getting “rid” of their eating disorder can be very intimidating. It is scary to imagine a life without an eating disorder when an eating disorder has served as a comforting coping mechanism for so long. Treatment programs are in place to provide support for those trying to strive for a life that does not revolve around food, weight and numbers. Passion and motivation for recovery increases as treatment progresses.

Myth 5: Doctors take everyone in residential outside to dance and have fun in the rain.

Truth: Definitely wish this had some truth to it, because then inpatient might have been a little more tolerable. But what really happens, is that doctors, therapists, nurses, counselors and any other staff who may be around are constantly reminding you to stay seated. For the first few weeks, you get the “royal treatment” and aren’t even allowed to clean up your dishes after meals, since they don’t want you to faint on the walk over to the dishwasher. And if you would like to go outside, a staff member needs to accompany you while you are seated on a wheelchair.

Myth 6: It’s easy to “trick the system” during treatment by water loading or stuffing weights in your clothes.

Truth: If tricks like these are shown on movies and tv shows, be assured that the health care professionals providing treatment are well aware of them. Every few days, weights are taken by nurses while you are fully gowned. They also monitor amounts of fluid intake and make you pee in a cup before being weighed…not fun, and frankly quite humiliating.

Myth 7: You need to be underweight to get help.

Truth: This is INCREDIBLY misleading and false! The prognosis of an eating disorder can be influenced by how quickly intervention takes place. The “eating disorder voice” will tell you that you are not thin enough, not sick enough, not bony enough along with whatever else it may add on to make you feel unworthy of reaching out for help. Eating disorders are mental illnesses with physical symptoms. Weight can not be a sole indicator of the amount of mental suffering taking place.