Gratitude Lists: Celebrating 2016

Colorful High Definition

This is inspired by myambivalentexistence‘s post “What I Gained from 2016.” Great idea!

Here’s a tip from age 23: gratitude lists.

I used to do these everyday when I was recovering from my psychotic break. When I first started writing gratitude lists, the only things I could think of to be grateful for were things like “air” or “sleep” (and some days not even that because I wished I was dead). Those lists grew over time until I could find tons of things to be grateful for even though my life was far from how I wanted it to be.

So, here is a gratitude list for 2016:

2016 was a tough year in a lot of ways.

I regret quite a few things – like how I handled challenges, the opportunities I turned down because I was afraid or depressed, and how I disrespected my body with eating disordered behavior.

2016, however was also a great year in many ways.

Having gratitude and seeing the positive is definitely something I want to do more of in 2017.

So, without further ado:

Here is my 2016 gratitude list:

  • I graduated from college (despite medical leaves, hospitalizations, bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, and substance abuse issues)
  • I ended a dysfunctional relationship
  • I resolved to only become involved with people who respect me, even if that means being alone sometimes
  • I accepted my imperfections and let people see my flaws
  • I ended my restrictive diet (of 1.5 years) and began eating all types of foods
  • I became independent from my family
  • I traveled the world, met amazing people, and had incredible experiences
  • I started this blog to finally face my past and write without shame about my bipolar disorder, eating disorder recovery, and sobriety
  • I resumed a writing project from a couple of years ago that has great personal significance (I wrote it while recovering from my psychotic episode)
  • I stopped bingeing in a sustainable and healthy way not driven by willpower or self hatred
  • I’m now 3 years sober
  • I haven’t purged in 2 years

And here are other things I am grateful for:

  • Being alive
  • My health
  • My family that loves me unconditionally
  • Friends who know about my struggles and accept me
  • Opportunities to travel
  • This beautiful world full of diverse cultures and people
  • Food
  • My brain’s neuroplasticity that allows me to change and grow regardless of my past
  • My intelligence, courage, and resourcefulness
  • My commitment to eating disorder recovery and sobriety
  • This incredible network of strong individuals I’ve met through blogging and being real
  • My sanity
  • The kindness of strangers
  • Healing and forgiveness
  • Letting go of the past little by little
  • My optimism and resolve to make 2017 the best year ever!

I hope you all have a happy New Year’s Eve!

Best wishes,

Signature: Twenty-Three (Dear Cookie Monster)

Twenty-Three (age 23)

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Fear of Failure: A Downward Spiral by Dear Cookie Monster

Fear of Failure: A Downward Spiral

Dear All of You,

Here is my (Twenty, age 20) answer to the writing prompt:

What would you do if you weren’t afraid? What can you do now to make that a reality?

I’ll do the same thing as both Ana (age 25) and Twenty-Three (age 23) and list my fears, how I handle them, and what I want to do differently.

My fears, in no particular order:

  • Failing my classes
  • Not getting into graduate school
  • Getting fat
  • Getting caught with drugs
  • Boys not liking me
  • Bingeing

Maybe there are more, but it’s been 5 years since I was in the driver’s seat and I might have forgotten a few things.

How I handled those fears:

  • I took drugs to study and pulled all-nighters
  • I worried
  • I purged any food I binged
  • I found a second doctor to give me the prescriptions I abused by pretending I had ADD.
  • I gave the second doctor lots of presents and was overly charming so he wouldn’t ask me questions
  • I put the pills inside empty chapstick cases so they weren’t obvious
  • I wore revealing clothes, got drunk, and threw myself at boys so they would like me
  • I never said “no” no matter how uncomfortable boys made me
  • I dissociated if they did things I really didn’t want to do so I wouldn’t experience it
  • I looked at lots of thinspo and took drugs so I wouldn’t feel hungry

The base fear: failure

I was bridging two worlds: school and partying. I wanted to be the best at both and things quickly fell apart on both fronts. I couldn’t party care-free without becoming a drunk / high mess because of how worried I was about school. I couldn’t do well at school because recovering from being a drunk / high mess plus throwing up my food all the time was time-consuming and energy-draining.

If I wasn’t afraid I would…

  • Tell boys “no”
  • Tell boys “no” even after they bought me drinks
  • Tell boys “no” if I didn’t want to go further – I always felt guilty stopping the show, like I had lead them on

Looking back, there are so many things that would have helped:

Not partying as hard, scaling back on the academic pressure, investing in eating disorder recovery. In the moment, however, addressing those issues didn’t seem possible. I was lost. Only stuff with boys was something I think I could have approached.

I appreciate how you all are starting to acknowledge my past state and accept that, rather than look down on me from the future and shame me for things I couldn’t possibly understand.

We’ve come a long way.

Yours,

Signature: Twenty (Dear Cookie Monster)

Twenty (age 20)

Life Update

As for the life update, I think it should be limited to 3 sentences. These letters are getting way too long.

So: 1. Still no bingeing (almost 1.5 weeks I think). 2. Official job offer came through – is super fancy and I’m excited (besides it being in the middle of no where). 3. I’m hanging out with people and that feels awesome.

 

Future Visualization for Breaking Habits

I’ve decided to start writing down recovery tips to remind myself what I know.

I’ve learned so much over the years of treatment and personal experience, but they’re easy to forget in the moment!

So, for the first tip, here’s a visualization exercise.

It’s immensely helpful to bring up these images when I’m about to do a maladaptive behavior I’m trying to stop, or engage in a new healthy behavior I don’t necessarily feel like doing:

Future Visualization for Breaking Habits by Dear Cookie Monster

Answer the following questions:

  1. Where do you want to be in 5 years?
  2. In 10 years?
  3. In 20 years?
  4. What do you need to do to get there?
  5. Where will you be instead in 5 years if nothing changes?
  6. In 10 years?
  7. In 20 years?

When answering these questions, try to use all 5 senses and be specific as possible:

  • How you feel in your body?
  • What your relationships are like?
  • What you do for a living?
  • What you do for fun or personal growth?
  • What are your emotions?
  • Where do you live?
  • What do you look like?
  • How do you dress?
  • What sort of example do you set for people you care about?

For me, the most impactful images from this exercise are 20 years out.

What will happen if I keep doing what I’m doing:

If I keep bingeing, hiding inside, avoiding people, giving up on my dreams, stewing over the past, and wearing baggy clothes to hide my size – I don’t like what I see.

  • I picture myself in a ratty old nightdress that I wear over and over again because nothing else fits and I don’t want to do laundry.
  • My body is always sore and bloated and uncomfortable.
  • I don’t have any close friends, my parents are now deceased, my brother has long since stopped talking to me, and I don’t have a family of my own.
  • I have some sort of job that I hate but pays the bills (barely).
  • I don’t do anything for fun or personal growth besides binge and watch videos online to pass the time.
  • I feel numb from the food. When I do feel, I am depressed about my life, angry that things turned out this way, and resentful of everyone whose life is better than mine. I hate myself and am disgusted with how I live my life.
  • My unhealthy lifestyle has exacerbated my bipolar disorder, and I’ve been in and out of the hospital a few more times. Each time I get worse because I have no support system to help me get back on my feet.
  • I’m in some dingy little apartment, maybe just renting a room because I can’t afford anything more.
  • My hair is straggly and unkept, my skin is blotchy from all the food, I wear clothes that are loose and baggy.
  • I set an example of what not to be like.

What will happen if I change:

If I eat normally, go outside and meet people, pursue my dreams, and dress for the body I have – I have a shot at a great life.

  • I feel alive in my body with lots of energy. I sleep well and wake up well-rested. I can run, move, climb, hike.
  • I have close friends that I see regularly, coworkers, and I have a family of my own – a husband with kids and his extended family. Even if my parents are deceased and my brother doesn’t want to know me, I still have people in my life I can call family.
  • I’ve pursued my dreams and they pay the bills, or I’ve found a fulfilling job that does while I pursue those dreams on the side. I’ve maybe gone back to school for that advanced degree that lets me work the job I’ve always wanted.
  • For fun and personal growth, I go hiking, I rock climb, I read books, I write, I play with my kids and kiss my husband.
  • I have a deep sense of contentment beneath whatever surface emotions come and go. I’ve learned how to live with bipolar disorder and can manage the small fluctuations like a pro. My family all know this and love and support me just the way I am.
  • I live with my family in a nice flat in the city we can afford because we are responsible adults when it comes to our finances.
  • I look healthy because I am healthy and I take care of my body. I wear clothes that I like rather than because they hide my body. They have colors and the fabric is nice.
  • I set a great example for my kids, for my coworkers, for other people in recovery, and for people in general trying to live a fulfilling life.

I know these two examples are extreme, and maybe neither would ever be a reality, but they have been two shining beacons guiding my choices.

If I want to binge, I think of myself standing in front of a mirror in that ratty nightdress with blotchy skin and straggly hair.

I’ll then see myself having a picnic instead with my future family in a nice big park with green grass. The stark contrast makes the choice easy.

I also hammer it home that the choice begins today.

That’s why doing the visualization in increments (5 years, 10 years, 20 years) is so helpful. I can see how that change would progress over time. Those come in handy when I say “that’s so far in the future, one more time wouldn’t hurt.

It would. Because choosing that life over and over again will make it a reality.

Bringing back this visualization is what helped me to quit bingeing cold turkey over a week ago. After bingeing for over 5 months, this is the longest I’ve gone since I started. And it hasn’t felt like work. The choice is so easy and obvious when I make it this black and white.

It’s even worked the few instances when I’ve overeaten, felt out of control, and just wanted to go binge until I couldn’t breathe. This NEVER happens. If I overeat, a binge is basically guaranteed.

Anyway, this has been a good reminder for me. I hope anyone who reads will also find it useful!

Best,

Ana (age 25)

P.S.

Maybe we should each give a tip from our respective ages? I (Ana, age 25) have definitely forgotten tips that Twenty-Three (age 23) or Fifteen (age 15) used. Cookie Monster (age 11) surely has ways to cope with stress that we’ve all long forgotten.

PTSD Fears: When "Bravery" Doesn't Seem Like an Option by Dear Cookie Monster

PTSD Fear: When “Bravery” Doesn’t Seem Like an Option

Dear All of you,

Here’s my (Twenty-Three, age 23) answer to the writing prompt.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid? What can you do now to make this a reality?

I’ll do the same thing Ana (age 25) did yesterday: list my fears, how I handle them, and how I want to handle them differently.

My fears, in no particular order:

  • Never being able to go back to my college because I can’t handle the stress
  • Having to go to a community college instead
  • Having to live at home forever because I can’t take care of myself
  • My (sort of) ex showing people the crazy text messages I sent him while I was psychotic
  • Having to work a really low-paying job because I can’t handle the stress of getting an advanced degree
  • People (especially at work) learning I’m bipolar
  • People (especially at work) learning I have an eating disorder
  • A bunch of PTSD fears that Ana (age 25) has, but MUCH worse:
    • Police officers
    • Hospitals
    • Loud noises
    • Being trapped
    • Being approached by strangers
    • Being watched (while walking, taking public transport, etc)
    • Public transportation
    • Being detained or arrested
    • The wind
    • People finding out where I live
    • Having another psychotic episode
    • Not being able to sleep and becoming manic again
    • Panic attacks
  • Eating in front of people
  • Dolls
  • Boats

How I handle these fears:

  • I write, hoping I might be able to turn that into a career so I wouldn’t have to work a “crappy” job
  • I force myself not to think about the future so I don’t have a panic attack
  • I binge when I can’t force myself to not think
  • I work 2 jobs so I’m at home as little as possible
  • I don’t tell people anything personal about me
  • I avoid things I’m afraid of
  • I listen to audiobooks and music when I’m outside
  • I take medication for sleep
  • I take public transport as little as possible
  • I don’t eat in front of people
  • Stopped talking to all friends & using Facebook

The base fear: psychosis

I’m terrified it will happen again. I’m also scared that it’s ruined my life forever and I will never be able to get over that.

If I wasn’t afraid I would…

I have no idea. I can’t picture not being afraid. Disregarding my fears seems like suicide – they protect me from bad things happening. At this time, I didn’t necessarily recognize that I was doing anything that needed to change – my only concern was protecting myself.

There were, however, still healthy things I did despite fear:

(Already listed, here explained)

  • Worked 2 jobs: exposed me to people, loud noises, walking outside
  • Stopped purging, which made going back to school possible
  • Wrote fiction, which gave me an outlet
  • Ran, which gave me an outlet and got me outside (albeit when it was dark)
  • Listened to audiobooks, which gave me a healthy escape

Here’s some perspective from the future:

  • Graduating from college, even though it was with an “easier” and “useless” degree was still a huge accomplishment
  • Thinking your current “crappy” job is beneath you is quite snobby. It’s giving you character, a slice of humble pie, paying the bills, and helping you gain independence from your family – for which you should be immensely thankful.
  • Your old life is indeed “ruined,” but you now have the opportunity to build a new life. You also can one day pursue that advanced degree if you want – but hopefully after you’ve built up your strength and recovered a bit more.

OK, that’s it for the writing prompt. Ana (age 25) mentioned yesterday that we should include a short (key word) life update with each letter to create context, so here we go:

Life Update:

The phenomena of the more I lose weight, the fatter I think I am has begun.

I looked in the mirror today and my face felt like a big blob of dough and my stomach a thick slab of blubber. At least I’m aware of it.

I just got a bunch of freelance work where I can just sit at home in my pajamas.

This further drives down my motivation to find temp work where I have to physically show up – which I desperately need to do to stay healthy. The offer I got turned out to be for February, and I’ll be in a different country by then, so I have to start a fresh search.

I have somehow continued to not binge.

I have no idea what day I’m on, but it’s definitely been a week by now. I actually do know how I’ve stopped bingeing, but it’s too long to explain here.

So: maybe we should have a weekly recovery tip?

Even though I often feel like I know nothing and am terrible at recovery, I’ve actually come an extremely long way. My perfectionism tells me I’ve not progressed at all, but that simply isn’t true.

Posting recovery tips would also greatly help me remember what I’ve learned. 

I’ve learned a ton of helpful things from therapy and eating disorder treatment. I actually spent about 7 months at Castlewood, which is one of the best treatment centers in the US.

Just some food for thought.

Cheers,

Signature: Twenty-Three (Dear Cookie Monster)

Twenty-Three (age 23)

P.S.

These letters are becoming extremely long. Brevity needs to make a comeback.

 

Psychosis, Boats, and People: Overcoming Fear by Dear Cookie Monster

Psychosis, Boats, and People: Overcoming Fear

Dear All of You,

Here’s my (Ana, age 25) answer to the writing prompt.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid? What can you do now to make this a reality?

I think I’ll first have to define what I’m afraid of, and then narrow it down to what I’m avoiding and how to stop doing that.

My fears, in no particular order:

  • People finding out that I’m bipolar and had a psychotic episode
  • People finding out I have an eating disorder
  • Having another psychotic episode
  • Hospitals
  • Police
  • Guns
  • Loud noises
  • Men, especially those who are attracted to me
  • Losing weight and becoming more attractive
  • Gaining weight and becoming less attractive
  • Being unavoidably visible: taking the subway, walking, working, exercising, dancing
  • Having to live with my family again, becoming dependent, and never being able to leave
  • Being on a boat
  • Dolls
  • Relapsing
  • Being physically confined
  • Strangers approaching me
  • People finding out where I live
  • Having private information made public
  • Offending people (especially as a foreigner)

How I handle these fears:

  • I don’t tell people anything personal about me
  • I worry constantly
  • I avoid things I fear
  • I avoid most people, especially men
  • I binge
  • I hate myself for bingeing
  • I prefer to go out at night when it’s harder for people to see me and most people are at home
  • I’ve moved to the other side of the planet
  • I haven’t tried to meet new people
  • I don’t drink or take recreational drugs
  • I always sit where I can both see everything and exit easily
  • I don’t post anything on Facebook

The base fear that underlies the majority of these fears is of letting people get to know me.

So: If I wasn’t afraid, I would let people get to know me.

Things I have already done:

  • Created this blog where I can talk openly about PTSD, eating disorders, and being bipolar
  • Gotten back in touch with old friends
  • Started eating at local places where I have to talk rather than just buy food at convenience stores
  • Hung out a few times with people I’ve met here
  • Bought housing with roommates so I will not be entirely alone all the time (I move in later today)
  • Stopped bingeing (it’s been almost a week now)
  • Started liking things on Facebook again. I actually wrote “happy birthday!” on someone’s wall, which will make me appear in the news feed rather than just the ticker (although that still happens sometimes when I like something)
  • Agreed to do some temp work until my next job starts

Things I want to do now:

  • Go outside during the day more often
  • Interact with people more
  • Actively look for friends by joining hiking/climbing groups
  • Let future friends get to know more about me
  • Exercise (healthily)
  • Figure out the city bike rental system here and go for rides along the river (because that just sounds really nice)
  • Someday be in a romantic relationship again (but not for quite a long while)

That was pretty much all bullet points, not really a letter. But I addressed it to you, right? So maybe it still counts?

It’s almost 5am (now almost 8am) and I haven’t gone to sleep yet because I am terrified of moving and still recovering from being social on Christmas. I’m about to plunge into that by having roommates. Should be fun.

Looking forward to hearing from the rest of you.

Best,

Signature: Ana (Dear Cookie Monster)

Ana (age 25)

P.S.

I think including an extremely brief update on external life events with each letter would be useful for creating context.

Once a week is nice, but I think it’s hard to keep everything in perspective when the update is so infrequent.

Also, I was just able to zip up the back of a dress!

I haven’t been able to do that in over a month. I’m trying not be extremely excited because it’s disordered to hate my body at a larger (any) size…but still. Not bingeing and seeing a change is incredibly lovely.

Housekeeping #2: Writing Prompts FTW

Dear All of You,

Here’s the housekeeping to finish up this round of letters.

Last week’s graphics:

Calm by Dear Cookie Monster

Compassion by Dear Cookie Monster

All graphics are published here.

This week’s writing prompt:

What would you do if you weren’t afraid? What can you do now to make this a reality?

I know you guys think these writing prompts are lame, but they provide something to fall back on when nothing comes to mind and also incentive to write when writing is the last thing you guys feel like doing. They even brought about a letter from Cookie Monster, her first one ever. If that doesn’t justify the writing prompts, then I don’t know what will.

Summary of letters (from the last cycle):

Last week’s writing prompt: 

What 3 magical and instantaneous wishes would you like? Why is it GOOD that you can’t have them magically and instantaneously?

12/18 Party Crashers: Bingeing Isn’t Healing by Ana (age 25)

  • She is frustrated with bingeing
  • She acknowledges that not beating herself up for bingeing is a huge step, but letting it happen unchecked is just as bad.
  • She says neither of these tactics meets the underlying need: the first gets angry that the need is there and the second doesn’t care enough to help
  • She voices frustration with her younger selves for not cooperating and asks them to just tell her what they want so they can stop all the psychological guessing games
  • She never got around to answering the writing prompt

12/18 Magic: Why Working Hard Is Better by Twenty-Three (age 23)

  •  She takes offense that Ana blamed the bingeing on younger parts and portrayed herself as a victim among heathens
  • She tells Ana to take responsibility for her situation and stop blaming others
  • She answered last week’s writing prompt. Her first wish was to always weigh X pounds no matter what she ate.
  • Her second wish was for her psychotic break / manic episode to never have happened
  •  Her third wish was for things to “just be OK again” (as in not being an antisocial recluse who is dissatisfied with her life – a work in progress that’s come a long way)

12/19 Perfume Farts: Act Now by Unknown

  • First, can I just acknowledge the amazingness of that title? Yes, I’m laughing at my own writing. Deal with it 😎
  • Also, it appears we skipped Twenty’s (age 20) turn – sorry about that.
  • She (unknown) is completely fed up with bingeing
  • She criticizes the concept of assigning emotions and impulses to different ages because that just leads to blaming and shirking responsibility
  • She reiterates that self-hate and apathy towards binge eating are two sides of the same coin: neither meet the needs the bingeing is trying to take care of
  • She stresses the need to take bingeing seriously. These urges are the same ones that drove purgingsubstance abuse, and suicidal ideation. She cautions that disregarding them will cause more extreme behaviors, like a relapse.

12/20 Far Far Away: Escapism Daydreams by Fifteen (age 15)

  • She mentions how the writing prompt got her to write when she didn’t feel like it at all (writing prompt: 1, whiners: 0)
  • Her first wish is also to stay a certain weight despite bingeing (although this weight is lower than Twenty-Three’s: she was super into thinspo blogs at the time). She can’t think of a good reason why she can’t have this wish
  • Her second wish is to leave her family
  • Her third wish is to be attractive to boys and have lots of friends

12/24 Princesses and Witches: Childhood Wishes by Cookie Monster (age 11)

  • How did 4 days go by without writing? Lying in bed watching movies and sleeping erratically, that’s how. I didn’t even realize this happened.
  • This is the first ever letter from Cookie Monster – kind of a big deal since she inspired the title of this blog. Age 11 is when the bingeing started and I’ve wanted to go back to the beginning of this mess to figure out how to resolve the past
  • This further indicates that writing prompts are awesome (writing prompts: 2, whiners: 0)
  • She doesn’t provide many details about her wishes and she doesn’t think it’s good that she can’t have any of them. Still – SO HAPPY to get this letter
  • Her first wish is to be a witch at Hogwarts
  • Her second wish is to be a Disney pop princess with her own TV show
  • Her third wish is to be popular and have lots of friends
  • Hindsight pondering: escapism and dissatisfaction with life were a big deal even at this young age

Life update:

Besides just being an indulgence, I think a brief weekly overview of how our external life is going will create context for the letters.

So, my life right now:

I left my job to take the new one, but it doesn’t start until February.

I don’t have to work until then if I don’t feel like it – which is why I spent the last week in bed watching movies (21 total) – but I probably should get some temp work so I don’t go crazy.

I finally stopped bingeing (knock on wood).

It’s been almost 5 days I think – I’m not keeping track so I don’t psych myself out. The weight sliding off is beyond lovely, but I’m forcing myself to not try and rush things. Not eating will put me back in binge mode.

I celebrated my first Christmas away from family (it’s the 26th here now), and it was surprisingly relaxing.

I didn’t get any presents or cards because I have no mailing address, but I didn’t feel too sad about it. Everything I own fits in one suitcase, so I’m not sure what I would do with more stuff. I treated myself to a haircut and (yet another) movie, so I feel pretty satisfied. I worry that not wanting to celebrate with people means I’m becoming so antisocial I don’t even notice it anymore, but for right now being alone and OK with it is really nice. (*Update: I went to a Christmas market and watched a movie (yes, another one) with my future roommate and a few of his friends. Stressful, but not so bad)

Hopeful changes (both for blog and life):

  • Keep commenting on other blog posts – it’s getting you to read rather than skim. Plus, you’re interacting with a lot of great people!
  • Make graphics with quotes and useful information rather than just using one word.
  • Get outside even if you don’t pick up some temp work. You’re moving in with new roommates in a few days, so your creepy antisocial behavior is going to be obvious. It’s not good for you to lie in bed all day, so at least go to a library or something.
  • Read books rather than watch movies. It’s hard to find English books here, but you have plenty of audiobooks. Maybe go take a walk while you listen.
  • Write more in general. I’ve decided to stop talking about my “book.” A friend told me that the lamest thing someone can say is “I’m working on my book,” when all they do is putter around and never finish anything. I don’t want to become that, so I am going to work in silence.

OK, the end. Best wishes for this week’s letters!

Signature: Unknown (Dear Cookie Monster)

Princesses & Monsters by Dear Cookie Monster

Princesses & Witches: Childhood Wishes

Dear All of You,

No housekeeping today – we’ve got the first letter from the one and only Cookie Monster herself (age 11). Everyone seems to think these writing prompts are beneath them, but they’re getting everyone to participate. So, put a lid on it.

Signature: Unknown (Dear Cookie Monster)

What 3 magical and instantaneous wishes would you like? Why is it good that you can’t have them magically and instantaneously?

Hello,

My first wish is to be a witch at Hogwarts.

My second wish is to be a Disney pop princess and have my own TV show.

My third wish is to be popular and have lots of friends.

It’s not good that I can’t have any of these wishes.

Love,

Signature - Cookie Monster age 11