It’s been a hot minute since I’ve written anything here. I’ll admit, I feel some guilt over not having written a post to my dad on the fourth anniversary of his death. It’s the first year I haven’t written to him. The day did not go unnoticed, but I did not write. This year was a complicated amalgamation of different experiences, emotions, and milestones. Looking back, I can’t believe that they all fit into one short calendar year. I’ve had a little space from them now, and although I am just beginning my own personal processing of the year, I wanted to share a few things with all of you that I feel need to be said.
This time last year, I began the second semester of my first year of grad school at UGA. Oh, how I love being in school again. I love learning, being a part of a community of like-minded, creative people, being able to be my nerdy, musical self, and above all I loved teaching. I taught freshman level Aural Skills and fell in love with my students and with music theory (I know, who EVER would have thought??). Deepening my love, commitment, and progress (albeit with frustration!) with the bassoon and teaching my students was the homecoming that I didn’t realize my heart had been waiting for.
In July, I had to say goodbye to my beloved car Rhonda the Honda in a serious accident. To say I was shaken up would be an understatement. I was lucky beyond words to climb out of my car with nothing more than cuts and bruises, but the accident was a physical and emotional battering.
In December, I got to meet my first nephew, Noah Kenneth, who has nestled his way into my heart in a way I couldn’t have imagined. A new little person, a person who shares my DNA, who is the child of my brother and precious sister-in-law, who I will know for his entire life. I held this new little person and I fell even more in love with my family than I knew was possible. I am so excited to spend the rest of my life as Aunt Kristen.
That brings us to now, this time THIS year, and although I would give anything to be back in the orchestra and the classroom, I’m not. I’m taking my second semester off to continue giving my body and mind space to heal from the Eating Disorder that crept back into my life despite all the wonderful things that were happening. Life is life, after all, and there is no specifically “good” or “bad” time. Life is complicated and multifaceted and for me, this is just my natural inclination to deal with stress.
I haven’t advertised my experience with the ED over the last year with flashing lights to everyone I come in contact with, but neither do I want it to be a shameful secret. The truth is, save for the last 5-6 years where I’ve experienced pretty solid recovery, some sort of disordered eating has been a part of my life since I was in elementary school. The back story here is not my main goal with this post, either, however, so I will let that be for now.
By August, it was fairly clear that I was going to need some additional help and support to deal with the eating disorder that was beginning to take a serious toll on my health and well-being. It was also clear that school would not be an immediate option for the fall. I was devastated. Reluctantly, after a short hospital stay in Athens, and with the support of my amazing treatment team, Sam and I decided that it would be best if I flew out to Denver, CO to Eating Recovery Center to start the process of getting back on track. You guys, this was legit the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life. Had I known exactly what to expect, I probably would not have gone.
Eating Disorder treatment is no joke. You lose your privacy, your ability to make your own decisions. They take away what you have considered to be your lifeline to safety in life. I could tell you about the “flush checks,” the meal plans, the ng tubes, the 15 minute fresh air breaks you earn only if you finish your meals and snacks, the not-quite-opaque gowns you are weighed in every single morning after peeing in a cup, the “team rounds” that resemble being sent to the principal’s office (which, really I can only imagine because I’ve never actually experienced that)… I could go on.
But for now, I’m not going to. Not that my experiences aren’t worth talking about or explaining or remembering– they are. (If you want to know more, please ask. I’ll be happy to tell you all about it). But what I wanted to highlight with this post is what I gained in exchange for all of the things I felt like I “lost.” In all reality, ERC saved my life. My doctor told me that had I not gone to treatment, I had about two weeks to live. I had no concept of this (it’s still hard to take in). I did not feel that bad. How could it be that bad? But once I arrived at ERC, scared and numb, I found nothing but acceptance, gentleness, and a group of people ready to help me save myself from this insidious disease. From the incredible nurses to the amazing BHCs (behavioral health counselors), every single person met me with compassion, a “no bullshit” attitude, and an unwavering stance that we were worth more than a life of pain and starvation for goals we will never meet. I had never been in an environment where I felt truly understood and supported, and where everyone was rallying around each other to stamp out the nasty ED voices in our heads. My therapist told me before I left for Denver that I was going to ERC to “let someone else fight my eating disorder for me until I was strong enough to do it myself.” That is exactly what I found. Those precious souls, the BHCs and nurses, those people who have now left permanent imprints on my life, fought tooth an nail against my eating disorder (and sometimes against me) to breathe life back into the shell of who I had become.
Do not misunderstand, though– this was no easy process. This IS no easy process. The game isn’t over. This isn’t a happy ending story because it’s still ongoing. That’s just how life works. It is a fight every single day, every hour, sometimes every minute. It is not fun and I pretty much hate every bit of it. It is a literal rewiring of thought processes, changing behaviors through “opposite action,” and beginning to learn who I really am as opposed to who I have trained myself to be to fit into the box everyone else’s expectations. You guys, it’s a process. Sometimes a shitty one.
My time at ERC also allowed me to cross paths with some of the most amazing people in this world. My fellow patients made this experience what it was– one of laughing and tears, growth, new friendships, new insight, understanding, and unparalleled compassion. I will not mention any names, but you all know who you are. You have changed me. I would not trade this experience, the tears, the anger, the gut-wrenching moments, none of it, as that would mean that I would not have met you. You have touched me and you have changed me.
So here I am, back at home after 15 weeks of inpatient eating disorder treatment. I’m not done with my process, but I’m not dying anymore. I’m moving forward (and some back and up and down, but forward). What I want you to take from this, dear reader, is that sometimes life is wonderful and that sometimes it is really, really hard. Sometimes those things co-exist at the same time. We all have our demons to fight. If you need help with yours, ask. You know what I did not find, in any of my experiences over the last few months? Shame. I felt shame, but nobody brought that to me, nobody encouraged it. Everyone from my professors, to my friends and family, to the incredible people at ERC and my amazing team here at home has been nothing but supportive of me during this time. I have been floored. I have felt overwhelmingly lifted up and held. People will be supportive of you, too. There are a million ways to escape when life gets hard– video games, alcohol, working too hard, drugs, shopping, eating disorders. None of it is worth shame. But you deserve better, just like I do. Reach out. To me, to anyone. I promise that there is SOMEONE out there that is ready to offer to you what I have so graciously been offered. Asking for help is hard, and accepting the help is even harder, don’t I know it. Just know that it is possible. Whatever it is you’re struggling with (because everyone has something– we are human, after all) there is hope.
**If you have any questions about anything I’ve written or said, please ask. I am not going to share the raw or intimate experiences or anything that may violate HIPPA on social media, but I also do not want to be closed and ashamed of my experiences.