Day 1 of the Rest of my Life

“There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day
There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Just a dream away”

I don’t know how it started, but while I was at TK, journaling became one of my biggest outlets. More often than not, I would be found in the milieu, writing away. It probably started because of the whole “no electronics” thing. There wasn’t much else to do. At the end of the day, I would do what I called a “daily recap.” I started with when I woke up, and would write down every detail from the day, even if it didn’t seem that important at the time. What started as a way to pass the time soon became the best way to process the major changes going on in my life. Now I can look back on my journal with every detail from the 28 hardest, but most impactful days of my life.

Coming up on the one year mark of my time at TK, I decided to reread my journal. I thought sharing what I wrote from Day 1 would make a great blog post. It would be this beautiful story of how I took a risk and everything worked out perfectly. Well, as I was reading today, I was reminded that was not the case. I titled the entry: “Day 1 of the rest of my life. Or so I thought.”

“I want to leave right now. I truly think this was a mistake. I feel so hopeless. Everyone has put so much into this. What if I can’t do it? What if I have to go somewhere else as soon as I leave here? I feel like I just threw my life away and I’m throwing the next month away. I hate that I let it get this bad. I hate that I forced everyone to let me come here. All I’ve done is make everything worse for everyone. They’re all expecting me to win this but I don’t think I will. ED, you win this round. Also I don’t have a pillow.”

I eventually got my pillow, but wow. Talk about a not great first day.

My favorite ride at Disney World is the Carousel of Progress. (I promise this is relevant.) It’s this precious little ride that Walt Disney designed for the World’s Fair back in the 1960’s. The stage rotates through different eras in time, focusing on the advancement of technology. While you transition through the eras, the theme song plays, which is the best part of the ride. I have a phone case and a t shirt with the lyrics on them. The chorus of the song goes like this:

“There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day
There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Just a dream away”

This simple song got me through some of my hardest days at TK, and days since then. One of my favorite parts is the way that tomorrow is described. It’s not just any old day. It’s going to be great, it’s going to be big, and it’s going to be beautiful. It’s so great, big, and beautiful that it can’t even wait until tomorrow to show you. It’s already shining at the end of every day.

Day 1 was the hardest of all 28 days at TK. But day 2 was a little bit better. Day 3 was showing some promise. By day 4, I was getting used to the 5AM wakeup call. I just had to get through day 1. February 26, 2019 absolutely was the first day of the rest of my life.

I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I had given up on TK after day 1. I don’t think I would have any of the positive things I have in my life right now. Whatever hard thing you’re doing right now, keep doing it. Some of the days will be so bad that you’ll want to give up. But I promise that there’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day. Keep going.

Misconceptions about Miss America: Pageants and Eating Disorder Recovery

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” – Romans 8:18

I did my first pageant when I was 14, and I was hooked. There was something about the fancy dresses, the stage lights, and the whole environment that just pulled me in. 6 years later, and my love for the pageant world has only grown. Last year I took the year off from competing. I had plans to compete in January, but had to drop out because I was too sick. Many people asked me if I would ever return to the pageant world. Since I was recently crowned Miss Spirit of St Louis 2020, the answer is yes! I will be competing for the Miss Missouri crown in June.

If you don’t know a lot about pageants, I can guess what you’re thinking. But let me stop you right there. Pageants did not cause my eating disorder. Despite the stereotype, the pageant world is one of the most supportive communities I am a part of. Being able to compete again was one of my reasons for recovery. Seeing all my friends compete for Miss Missouri without me simply broke my heart. The world tends to stereotype pageants as being objectifying and image focused. I could go on and on about the benefits of pageants, but to start, here are my top 3 reasons for returning to the stage now that I’m in recovery.

1 – Community. One of the best things I have gained from pageants is the community. Many people don’t realize just how close we all become. But after competing for 6 years, we all have become pretty close. My pageant friends have been so supportive throughout this whole journey. When I couldn’t compete last year, they were by my side loving me and encouraging me. Now that I am competing again, they are still by my side 100%. We are all competing for 1 crown, but we are doing it together, not against each other.

2 – Skills. Pageants push you to be the best version of yourself. While working towards a crown, every day is spent polishing interview skills, talent, walking patterns, public speaking, and developing your social impact statement. While the prep can get exhausting, it absolutely is worth it. These are skills I will use my entire life. This is where a lot of the misconception comes in. People tend to think the pageant world is all about looking a certain way. That’s not true at all. We are encouraged to be our healthiest selves, and that looks different for every person. Now more than ever, Miss America 2.0 is encouraging body positivity and I could not be more proud of this organization.

3 – Sharing my story. This is the biggest reason I am back in the pageant world. Every Miss America contestant has a “Social Impact Initiative” or a cause they spend the year promoting. Mine is Choose Harmony. I have such a passion for eating disorder recovery, and being Miss Spirit of St Louis gives me the opportunity to reach even more people. I started competing again in October, and won a title at my third pageant. Each pageant has a private interview with 5 judges. In those 3 pageants, I was able to share my story with 15 different judges. Crown or not, I was able to educate 15 more people about the danger of eating disorders and what we can do to help.

At every pageant we give a 10 second statement about our impact statement before walking in our evening gown. Those 10 seconds are why I’m competing again. Not for the sparkly dresses. Not for the shiny crown. But to have a wider platform to connect with people and let them know that you are not alone. You are not defined by your eating disorder or whatever is holding you back. You will overcome.

“Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Together we can learn how to live not at war, but in harmony with our bodies.”

A year ago, I would have never guessed that I would be where I am now. If I could go back and tell myself anything it would be Romans 8:18 – “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Winning the title of Miss Spirit of St Louis was a dream come true. It’s been a few weeks now and I am still shocked! I cannot wait to see how God continues to change my life and use my story for His glory.

2020 Vision

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” – Proverbs 16:9

2019. Where do I even begin? It’s tempting to say that 2019 was the worst year of my life, but that’s so negative. And really, not true at all. I will say that 2019 was the hardest year of my life. It took me on twists and turns that I never saw coming and wasn’t sure if I would make it through. But, by the grace of God, I am ending 2019 as a completely different person.

At the beginning of 2019, I was lost. January was really when things started going downhill. I was falling deeper and deeper into my eating disorder with what seemed like no way out. Not to mention, my first therapist had quit over Christmas break. A few people knew what was going on, and they were doing everything they could to help, but the eating disorder was just too strong. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I felt alone.

Thanks to my time at Timberline Knolls, my treatment team in Columbia, and the endless support I have received, my life completely changed.

Now, at the end of 2019, I still don’t know what’s going to happen. But I know one thing: I am stronger than my eating disorder.

I don’t regret one moment of 2019. Everything that happened this year was a part of God’s plan. The way the year started, I thought I was going to lose everything. Instead, I gained everything and more. 2019 gave me a new outlook on life, new passions, the sweetest new friends, and new dreams for the future.

I’ve been thinking a lot about New Year’s Resolutions. It seems like we get so caught up in the whole “New Year, New Me” thing that we don’t take the time to appreciate what we’ve done in the past year. I read this quote tonight that really sums up my feelings about it:
“A Toast to the Old You: If you feel inspired to use the new year to help you reset or change habits: Great!
And yet,
The old you has survived every terrible day, every hard thing, every awful circumstance, and every heartbreak you’ve ever felt. The old you is a fighter. And that’s worth celebrating.”

So that’s what I’m going to do in 2020. I’m not going to get out all my colored pens and make a list of resolutions that I never look at again. I’m going to celebrate me. Celebrate the old me, the current me, and the future me that God is creating.

I’m not where I want to be, but at least I’m not where I was.

To 2019, thank you.
To 2020, let’s do this.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:34

Five Tips for Better Body Image

“My body is a brilliant and resilient being that I can either choose to live in harmony with or live in war with. Just for today, I choose harmony.”

I’ve never done well with things changing. I like control, structure, and predictability. Recovery is none of those things. (Spoiler alert, I know). As I’ve been navigating this journey of recovery, just about everything has changed. One of the hardest changes is weight gain. Sure, it’s a necessary part of recovery, I get that. But, that doesn’t make it any easier. It is so hard to watch your body change into exactly what you don’t want it to be. These past few months I’ve been working really hard to accept my new recovery body. I know I’m not going to wake up one day and love this new body. Like everything in recovery, it’s going to take time. So for now, I’m learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Having a positive body image is not easy, especially with the way our world is. Everyone is so focused on the newest diet craze and always talking about losing weight. I decided to make a list of some of the things I have done to improve the way I think about myself. No matter who you are or where you are at in your journey, I hope these tips will help you like they have helped me.

1 – Get rid of scales and mirrors
Although scales and mirrors were not created to be negative, they tend to do more harm than good. Removing them from your environment removes the temptation to focus on your body.

2 – Wear comfortable clothes
Clothes play a huge part in positive body image. If you wear clothes that are too small or uncomfortable, it draws attention to the parts of your body you are trying not to focus on. When I wasn’t quite ready to go shopping for new jeans that fit, I wore leggings exclusively for weeks straight. For more about getting rid of clothes that don’t fit, check out my blog post from a few months ago called, “Keeping Sick Clothes Keeps You Sick.”

3 – Haircut!
Weight gain is often necessary for recovery. Instead of dwelling on the way your body is changing, find something positive you can change! Maybe you get a haircut, try a new makeup style, or get a new outfit. Find whatever it is that will give you that little extra confidence boost. When I got out of school for Christmas break, I decided to get 5 inches cut off my hair. I never expected that something so simple could make such a difference. I loved the change so much, that whenever I saw a picture of myself, it was the first thing I was drawn too.

4 – Yoga
I’ve mentioned this before, but yoga has been a huge part of my recovery. I first started yoga during my time at TK. Afterwards, I found a local yoga teacher and have only fallen more in love with it. Yoga helps me connect with my body and focus on the positive things it can do, instead of the negative. Even if you don’t think yoga is for you, give it a try! It’s a full hour where I am saying kind things to my body and feeling at peace with myself. Even on the worst body image days, I leave yoga feeling better than when I went in.

5 – Don’t play the comparison game
Eating disorders are all about comparison, even in recovery. The more your body changes, the more the eating disorder compares it to what your body once was. I often find myself looking at pictures from when I was sick. All that does is bring back the eating disorder voice that I’m working so hard to get rid of. Instead of dwelling on the comparisons, reframe those thoughts to something positive. When I find myself wishing for the body I once had, I think about how much stronger I am now. My body may be different, but everything else in my life is so much better. If you try to play the comparison game, you’re always going to lose.

I didn’t come up with this list on my own! So, shoutout to my friends, my favorite TK BHS, my treatment team, and my yoga instructor 🙂 Working on positive body image is a long process. You’re not going to wake up one day and love what you see. But that’s ok! Give yourself grace. Take it one day at a time and ask for support when you need it.

Your body is always changing. Appreciate what it is doing for you right now.

I’m proud of you. God loves you. You got this.

Recovery Doesn’t Take a Sick Day

“You have survived 100% of your bad days. You will survive the next one, too. Baby steps.”

Well, it’s flu season and guess who caught it? Last Wednesday I woke up with a sore throat, coughing, runny nose, and everything in between. I tried to go to class, but I could tell that I needed to be in bed. So, that’s what I did. I wanted to crawl into bed and stay there for the entire day. But, I knew I couldn’t do that. Because recovery.

When anyone catches a cold or any kind of virus, you lose your appetite. You survive on crackers and juice. Then after a few days, you get your appetite back and everything is back to normal. Things aren’t that easy when you have an eating disorder.

ED already causes me to have a pretty limited appetite. I don’t feel hunger and fullness like I should. And I probably won’t for a long time. They’re becoming stronger, but it could take up to a year for hunger and fullness cues to be reliable. Nothing ever sounds particularly “good.” Sometimes I can get excited about my most favorite foods, but nothing else sounds more or less appetizing. So catching a cold made those pre-existing symptoms even stronger.

Luckily the worst of the cold only lasted about 3 days. In those 3 days, I did the best I could. I made sure to get out of bed for meals. I didn’t meet 100% of my meal plan, I wasn’t even that close. But I did the best I could.

After resting and lots of cold medicine, I started to feel better (Shoutout to my roommate for taking care of me). But I noticed that ED voice was getting louder. It kind of took me by surprise. I hadn’t heard the voice being that loud in a while. I didn’t really know why it was all of a sudden so present. I was pretty much over the cold, so my appetite should be back, right?

I talked to my dietician and my therapist and both said that any kind of sickness is so hard to manage in recovery. Any time the meal plan isn’t met, no matter the reason, it makes room for ED Voice to be louder, which puts you at that much more of a risk for relapse.

Tuesday was a hard day. I cried in the cafeteria because I was overwhelmed.
Wednesday was a hard day. I stared at my dinner for 45 minutes before I could take a bite.
Today is a new day.

Yeah, ED Voice is really loud right now. But thanks to my support team (friends, professors, treatment team) I was reminded that I have fought it when it was louder. My dietician and therapist helped me come up with some tips for dealing with sickness in recovery.
1 – Find foods that seem a little easier. Food doesn’t usually sound good when you’re sick, and it’s going to be even worse with an eating disorder. So, instead of looking for food that is appetizing, find foods that seem easier or safer. Think of something you know you can eat. And if you eat that same thing 3 meals in a row, that’s fine. Do your best to stay on an eating schedule.
2 – Give yourself grace. I’ll be honest, I have not been very good at this one lately. By the end of the day, I think about all the food I missed today and how I should’ve eaten more. But that kind of thinking is not productive. My dietician always tells me “One snack at a time, one meal at a time. Then put it behind you, it’s done.” My meal plan has me eating 6 times a day. That means I have 6 different chances to get it right. If I miss a snack, ok. Move on. Focus on doing the next right thing.
3 – ED Voice is a liar. Don’t listen to it. ED Voice will use sickness as an excuse for missing meals and snacks. “Oh, you’re sick you don’t have to worry about eating, just rest.” Resting is good, but you have to eat.
“Nothing tastes good, so what’s the point in eating.” Even if it doesn’t taste good, you have to eat.
“You’ve fallen behind already, you’ll never catch up.” Progress over perfection.
Take everything ED Voice is telling you and attack it with facts.
4 – Ask for help. Every time you challenge ED Voice, it gets quieter. That’s hard to remember in the moment. When I’m staring at the plate in front of me, I’m not thinking “Don’t worry, it will get easier!” I’m thinking, “Wow, this is impossible.” That’s why having support is so important. Whether it’s a text of encouragement from your treatment team, a friend to sit with during a meal or snack, or reassurance from a professor, find the support you need.

The good news is it’s pretty easy to fight off a cold. You can take one or two sick days and then you’ll be feeling better! The coughing will cease, the nose will stop running, and the throat won’t hurt anymore. ED Voice isn’t quite that easy.

You can’t take sick days from recovery.

It’s hard, I know. I’m proud of you. God loves you. You got this.

Keeping Sick Clothes Keeps you Sick

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” – Matthew 6:25

One of the hardest parts about recovery is the way your body changes. It’s uncomfortable and it’s awkward and it’s not really what you want. Everyone tells you it’s good, it means your healthy. They’re right,  but it takes time to mourn the body you once had, or the body you thought you wanted. I’ve been in recovery for awhile now, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable in my body now. Body Image is one of the last things that ED can hold on to. Changing the way your brain thinks about your body is a long process. I’m not going to wake up one day and love my body. (Wouldn’t that be nice, though?). So, start with the baby steps. My goal for now is acceptance. I don’t have to love my body right now, but when I look in the mirror, I want acceptance and contentment. No strong feelings one way or the other. My therapist and I have been talking through a lot of different strategies to learn how to accept this new recovered body of mine.

I had been complaining recently about my clothes not fitting the way they used to. So, we decided to take inspiration from one of my favorite shows, Tidying up with Marie Kondo. Marie Kondo is the CUTEST little professional organizer who invented her own way of organizing. With the KonMari method, you pull all of your clothes out and lay them in one giant pile. Then, you hold each individual item, and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” If it does, you keep it!  If not, then you thank it, and get rid of it.

So, that’s what I did. I spent hours going through every article of clothing, one by one. I held them, tried them on, and got rid of what didn’t fit. Pretty soon, I had a good size pile of clothes to get rid of.

Cleaning out my clothes was a lot harder than I expected it to be. I reached out to one of my friends from TK and she reminded me of such an important truth, “Keeping sick clothes keeps you sick.” The Eating Disorder Specialist at Timberline Knolls used to tell us this all the time, and it’s so true. “Sick clothes” are more than clothes that are too small. It could be a pair of jeans that you hope to fit into some day. It could be a shirt you always throw on when life gets extra exhausting. Keeping those things around does nothing for you. They keep you in negative behaviors, and they keep you sick.

It was going ok until I got to my favorite pair of jeans. They’re the perfect color, and have red flowers embroidered around the ankles/ legs. I even call them my happy pants! They definitely spark joy. It sounds silly to be so attached to a pair of pants, but we’ve been through a lot together. I wore them to my very first dietician appointment. I was terrified. But my floral pants gave me a little extra confidence boost. I wore my happy pants just to have some reason to smile, and it usually worked! Who knew that a pair of pants could cheer you up?

When I held those jeans the other night, it felt different. They don’t fit like they used to, because I’m not who I used to be. They were there for me when I needed them, but I don’t need them anymore.

Besides my jeans, I found a shirt that instantly brought me to tears. It was a floral, long sleeve shirt that I wore all the time at TK. Now, this shirt still fits, but I knew it was time to move on. That represents a part of me that is gone. Just like my jeans, I didn’t need that sick shirt anymore.

What in your life is keeping you sick? It’s time to throw it out!

I’m proud of you. God loves you. You got this.

Questions for a Friend

In case you don’t know who I am, my name is Rachel. Amanda & I spent our whole lives living 45 minutes apart but actually met at CMU. She’s become one of my best friends and walking along side her in every step of this journey has been a joy. And a challenge, but primarily a joy. Walking so closely with her through this I got a lot of questions from my friends, her friends, my family and just bystanders who heard bits & pieces.

I’ll never forget the day that Amanda came to my room to tell me that she had began skipping meals. I’ll never forget the days following that I spent hours trying to think of what I could do, pleading with God to fix this, and scared beyond belief that I was going to lose one of my best friends. As Amanda became more open about what she was going through, I began getting a lot of questions as the friend of an individual with an Eating Disorder. The questions were often the same, and as the friend, they were sometimes hard to answer. Here are some of the most common questions and how I answered them.

How do you do it? 

You just do. The perception was that I knew what I was doing. Spoiler alert… I didn’t. I will tell you that loving a friend with ED is very similar to loving any other friend. When your friend needs you, you show up. So that’s what I did. I showed up. Every day, every meal, every hour. Some days were harder than others, depending on how much Amanda wanted me there. There were days she didn’t want to respond, and it was clear I was bugging her. But it was important for me to show up for her on days she didn’t want to show up for herself. The simple answer to this question was that I just did it. 
Other things I did to help show up for her daily included learning all I could about her ED, talking to other individuals I knew that struggled with ED to learn what helps/hurts, leaned on my own SMALL, trusted group of friends when it got harder, and asked Amanda what she needed from me often. 

How do you make her eat? 

This question, as sincere as it always was, made me laugh. You don’t. I never, ever could make her eat. She is an adult and her own person. I could encourage her (& believe me I did) to eat, but I could not make her eat. I could ask her how a certain meal went or if she was able to get lunch, but I could not make her eat. That wouldn’t be helpful to her, or our friendship. As you learn more about ED, you learn that it isn’t just about not eating. It goes so much deeper than that. 

Plus if you know Amanda, you know she’s too stubborn to let anyone force her to do something she does not want to do. 😉 

What is okay to say to her? When is it okay to ask about it? 

Ask her. She knows the answer to this question better than I ever could, and it is not rude to ask an individual with ED what questions to ask and when it is okay to ask a question. This also varies from person to person. What worked and was good for Amanda may not be for your friend suffering from ED. For example, you may notice we always say ED (eating disorder) instead of a specific name of a disorder. This helped Amanda, so it’s what we do.

Most importantly, know that even if your friend isn’t responding well, she/he feels your love and sees how much you care. You asking about their ED from time to time is not going to send them into a down spiral. It’s going to make them feel loved, and that’s the ultimate goal for you as a friend. 

How do you know she’s telling you the truth? 

Oh the question that always lit a bit of a fire in me. I know that she is telling me the truth, because she is my friend. Because she is my friend, I trust her. I trust that she will be honest with me. And making her think that I didn’t trust her would only make things worse and damage our friendship. I encouraged honesty by reminding her that I would never be mad at her for skipping a meal or hiding something from me. If your friend is struggling to tell you the truth, remember that ED is a nasty, terrible, awful thing that makes your friend not be so much like her/himself and they need your love. 
Trust. Your. Friend. 

How is she? 

This was the most common and the hardest question for me to answer. I leaned on Amanda for guidance on how to answer this. Ultimately this story is and always will be Amanda’s. It is not and never will be my job to tell it. Often I would ask Amanda how much was okay to tell and who was okay to tell it to. She understood that I needed to be able to tell a SMALL group of friends to be strong enough to continue to help her. Further than that, I often kept my responses simple. “She’s making it.” “Ya know, things are going, and things will be okay.” “She’s alright.” As time has gone past, Amanda has (clearly) become more and more open with her story, and she has given me permission to answer these questions more openly. 

At the end of the day, remember this is your friend’s story and they get the power to tell it. 

You will be asked so many questions and face so many situations being the friend of an individual with ED. If you’re anything like me, you will cry lots of tears for this person too. But I promise you, it’s worth it. Stick by their side. Show up for them everyday, and remember to take care of yourself too. You can’t help take care of them if you aren’t healthy yourself. On the extra hard days, remember they love you and you don’t want to look back on this situation wishing you had done more. From a friend to another friend, thank you for loving her/him. They couldn’t do this without you. 

P.S. If your friend goes to a treatment facility, get in the car, train or plane and go see them. Gosh dang it, the distance and plans and money will figure itself out. They need you the most then.

I am Not my Eating Disorder

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” – 1 Peter 2:9

My therapist and I have been talking a lot about identity. What is identity? Well, Google says identity is “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.”

“Who or what a person is.”

So, who am I?

This is what my therapist and I have been working on. But it is not something you can just decide in one session. Every person is so different and so complex. When I think of someone’s identity, I think of their core being. Their soul. What makes them happy? What makes them mad? What are they passionate about? What are their goals?

When I think of my identity, I think of anorexia.

When so much of my time is spent working on recovery, it is easy to fall into the mindset that all I am is my Eating Disorder. I started to think that when people look at me, that is all the see. They see someone who had to take a month off of school to go to treatment. They see someone who can’t handle leadership roles because of my mental health struggles. They see a girl with an ED.

But that is not true. At all.

I decided to find out how people do see me, and get rid of a little more of that nasty ED voice.

I’ve mentioned before how the bond you make with the residents and staff at Timberline Knolls is unlike any other. Whenever someone was discharged, all of the girls on lodge would write that person a note in a journal. Staff would join in too! By the time you left, you had a journal full of encouraging notes from your new friends, the BHS’s, nurses, therapists, and anyone that made an impact on your recovery. I got my journal out the other day and read through it. (Every time I read it I cry and cry and cry, but that’s beside the point.) I decided to write down every way that the girls described me. Anytime they said “you are…..” I wrote it down. I expected to have a short list with the usual things, nice, smart, helpful, kind. But instead, I had an entire notebook page full of words about my identity.

Words like:
– Bright Soul
– Inspiring
– Welcoming
– Sweet spirit
– Radiant
– Brave

And so many more. You know what? Not one person said “you are your eating disorder” or “you are really good at losing weight” or “you are really thin”

Not. One.

When I sat back and looked at that new journal page, I was overwhelmed. What a powerful reminder of my identity. As a society, we tend to focus on the negative. We focus on our imperfections, our mistakes, and our failures. We all have things that we would like to change about ourselves. But here’s the thing: When someone looks at you, they don’t think straight to your flaws. They see what they love about you. They see your smile. They see your courage, your kindness, your sense of humor.

You are not defined by your imperfections.

Even more importantly than how the world sees you is how God sees you.

There are so many verses and songs about our identity in Christ, but I’m gonna start with this one by Hillsong.

“Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

I’m proud of you, God loves you, You got this.

Self Care First, School Second

Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.” -Katie Reed

I love school. I always have. Central Methodist University is my happy place. I love the atmosphere of school, the structure and schedule, the motivation that comes with wanting to succeed, the relationship with teachers, all of it. As much as I love school, I have had to realize something very important.

School is not everything.

This was (and still is) a really hard concept for me to accept. For the majority of my life, one of my biggest priorities has been doing well in school. Getting good grades, pleasing my teachers, never missing a homework assignment, everything that my brain told me I needed to do to be the “perfect student.” And I would do whatever it took to make those goals come true.

I have mentioned before that perfectionism is directly correlated to the development of eating disorders. Of course it is not the only factor, but it’s a big one. Here is what I’ve learned from my experience: the more I listen to eating disorder voice, the stronger my perfectionistic tendencies are. Eating disorders are so ridiculously competitive, that’s what makes them so dangerous and hard to beat. In the height of my eating disorder, my entire day was centered around being the best at everything. The best at doing homework, at being organized, at practicing, at pleasing teachers, at staying up late to be the most productive I could, the list goes on.

Well, guess what? You can’t be the “perfect anorexic” and the “perfect student” at the same time. I tried, it doesn’t work.

When I started exploring the idea of going to treatment, one of my biggest hesitations was leaving school. I told my treatment team that if I had to take time off of school, I wouldn’t do it. I was so afraid of falling behind, but mostly disappointing my teachers. I felt like such a failure. But then I realized something that changed everything. My eating disorder had ruined school for me. School was supposed to be my happy place. But with ED running the show, I wasn’t even enjoying school anymore. I couldn’t focus in class, I never wanted to do homework, I couldn’t practice piano or memorize music. That’s when I realized something had to change.

Deciding to take a month of school was one of the hardest decisions in this process. I didn’t know how to exist without school. But my professors at CMU bent over backwards to make my recovery happen. The plan was to continue school while I was at treatment, mostly through email with my professors. Once I got to TK, I realized that wasn’t really going to work. Recovery was going to be a full time job, and I couldn’t be giving any of that time away to school. My professors were incredibly understanding and said they’d do whatever it took to catch me up when I got back (and they did.) Taking that time for myself helped me realize that school is not a measurement of my worth as a person. Grades don’t measure how much I am going to succeed in life. My life is just as valuable whether I am at school or not.

My happiness and health are more important than my GPA.

As I start my junior year here at CMU, I’m constantly having to remind myself of these truths. I’ve had a really hard time adjusting to being back at school and have noticed myself wanting to fall back into old habits. But, almost 6 months out from treatment and my professors continue to give me grace and show me that they care more about my health than my grades. They have never once been disappointed in me for putting my mental health first. As well as teaching me about music, they have taught me that to be the best teacher I can be, I have to take care of myself first. And for that, I couldn’t be more grateful.

Are you afraid of what your teachers might say? I know I was. Just to show how much people care, here are some quotes from my professors when I have expressed the struggles of recovery:

“I hope you know that you can come to me with absolutely anything and I will be here for you. Baby steps!”
“You are a very special child of God. Remember that.”
“Just wanted to let you know that I’ll be thinking of you over the next few days. Sending healing thoughts and prayers to you.”
“I am SO PROUD OF YOU! Focus on you and don’t apologize for it.”
“You are doing so unbelievably well. Try to cut yourself a little slack.”
“Celebrate your baby steps today! Get back up when you fall down.”
“Your health and taking care of yourself is FAR more important than anyone else’s opinion.”

Don’t be afraid to put yourself first. If you need to drop a class because your schedule is too full, do it. If you need to move classes around to have time for therapy, do it. If you need accommodations made, do it. If you need to take an extra semester so you’re not as overwhelmed, do it.

Prioritizing happiness and health doesn’t make you selfish. It makes you successful.

Eating Disorders don’t take a Summer Vacation

“It takes a little patience, takes a little time. A little perseverance and a little uphill climb.” – Dear Evan Hansen

It has been a hot second since my last blog post, so I figured I’d catch everyone up on what I’ve been up to this summer. I have been channeling my inner old lady working at Joann Fabrics, helping my best friend plan her wedding, I took a trip to Chicago, and I’ve had some of the sweetest reunions with friends from treatment. I go back to school in a week (!!!), so it’s the perfect time for a summer reflection! I love lists just as much as I love reflecting, so here are a few of the things I have learned this summer.

1: Leaving your hometown is scary, but worth it
I am going into my 3rd year of college, so I have lived away from home, but I always have gone back to my hometown for summer breaks. I decided this summer I was ready for a change. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I decided to go for it. I found a friend to live with in Columbia and within the first few days, I knew I made the right choice. Having the freedom to make my own schedule has been so good for me. This is also the first time I have lived in a town bigger than 3,500 people. There is so much more outside of my hometown and thanks to moving away this summer, I have started to realize how great it is to explore! Besides, living within 15 minutes of Target and Chick Fil A has been life changing.

2: Planning ahead quiets ED Voice
Yes, I am in recovery, but that doesn’t mean the eating disorder is gone. I have hopes that someday that voice will be nonexistent, but that takes time. A lot more time than 4 months. I didn’t go a lot of places this summer, but when I did, I had to do lots of planning. I went on a week long choir trip right after school got out, and then a few weeks ago I went to Chicago. As much as I’d love to leave ED voice at home, that’s not how it works. When I did take a trip, it felt like 50% of my bag was full of snacks. I had to plan ahead with my dietician for every day I would be away. We looked ahead at restaurant menus to find meals that met all my meal plan requirements, we made a list of snacks to bring that didn’t have to be refrigerated, and talked through any situation that could be triggering. Even though ED voice had to come with me on vacations, planning ahead made it much quieter so I could enjoy the trip!

3: Spend time doing what you love
This summer I have worked at Joann Fabrics and have LOVED IT! It seemed like the most likely job to be free of food, weight, and body talk. I never imagined to love it as much as I have! I did some sewing in high school, but haven’t done much in college. Since working at Joann, I dove back into hobbies I enjoyed pre-eating disorder: scrapbooking and sewing. Spending my free time sewing, instead of on Netflix, has improved my overall mood. This summer really taught me how important (and how therapeutic) it can be to do things I really enjoy! Self care is not a waste of time.

4: It’s ok to need help
As much as I have loved living on my own, there have been a lot of new challenges that come with that. While I am in school, I have a meal plan through the dining hall, so I don’t have to cook for myself. There is no dining hall in the summer. I have had to grocery shop, meal plan, and attempt to cook (Even if it’s just the microwave.) These are normal “adulting” things that everyone has to deal with. But for someone who is recovering from anorexia and has never been on her own, it’s a lot more challenging. But I don’t have to do it alone! Whether that’s someone to go to the store with me, my dietician helping me make a grocery list, or friends making dinner with me, it’s ok to ask for help. I am very excited to be back at school and have all my meals made for me, but I am also very thankful for another opportunity to take down ED voice, one Aldi trip at a time.

5: Community is everything
As I have mentioned before, the friends I made at Timberline Knolls have been some of the biggest blessings in my life. This summer I have been able to text, FaceTime, and even meet up with a few of them! Nothing has made my heart happier than continuing to do life with these girls by my side. It is so important to have people in your life that truly understand what you’re going through. We all have been to treatment together, we all struggle, and we all support each other. Besides TK friends, keeping up with my treatment team has been so important. No matter how much I am struggling or no matter how much I want to just quit recovery, my treatment team is behind me 100%. Even on the days when I want to skip appointments or just give up, they are there to help. I owe so much of my success this summer to them.

6: Keep going.
Recovery is a long, hard process. But it’s just that, a process. Recovery has really tested me a few times this summer and I have wanted to give up. But I keep reminding myself that recovery is worth it and it will get easier. If something isn’t working, change it! Giving up and giving in just gives ED voice more power. Every time I choose a recovery action instead of an ED action, it quiets that voice a little more. The best things in life aren’t easy. It’s ok to be tired, frustrated, or irritated. As long as you keep going, keep fighting, keep choosing harmony. You got this.