Thursday, February 26, 2015

Return of the Dietitian

Ever since I got back home from all my visits, finished up all my interviews, I'm feeling like dead weight. I just want to sleep, or watch The Bachelor, or read, and do nothing related to work or school or research or anything. It didn't help that I topped off two extremely high-stress weeks by staying awake for 48 straight hours last Saturday-Sunday as a result of the cancelled flight fiasco. But it seems like since then, I've just been totally sapped of any energy or motivation and still haven't fully recovered. So I'm doing okay, just feeling a little exhausted and listless.

The other thing I've been wanting to write about is that I reached out to that dietitian I saw once or twice and couple of years ago. I didn't really have a great impression of her at the time, but she had followed up a couple of times by e-mail, which I appreciated. Plus my therapist was the one who recommended her, and I really trust Dr. P's judgement. A couple of weeks ago I had been totally freaked out and frustrated about my weight and eating and stuff, so I decided to just reach out and see what happened - somewhat with my tail between my legs, but mostly wary and skeptical, because I have never put much faith in dietitians. 

We had a phone consult because I am poor and have no time for a real appointment, and I'm SO glad I did because it was actually super helpful. My main concerns were that 1) I don't think I'm eating enough because I am always hungry and I'm always tired/drained; but 2) I seem to be slooooowly gaining weight, STILL, more than two years after starting recovery; and 3) I have not upped my intake at all in those two years, and am not at what anyone would consider a "weight-gain" amount of calories. Nutritionist (let's call her N) does not specialize in eating disorders - which can be both good and bad, I think - but agreed that my weight trajectory on my current intake doesn't really make sense. And she agreed that it is probably not a case of me eating too much. Her main thought was that my body is still a little shell-shocked and not functioning optimally, and probably still hanging onto too many calories to protect against starvation. And that I am not really helping anything my keeping my intake low and my variety limited. I have heard this theory before, that eating too little can suppress your metabolism, but have never been totally convinced. But, I almost believed it more coming from a non-ED specialist....I wasn't worried that she was just saying it to trick me into eating more, you know? Sometimes with ED dietitians I got the impression they only knew how to counsel people in weight gain, and nothing else.

But I felt like N was very thoughtful and well-informed, and she cared more about improving the quality of my diet than micromanaging the details. Her main suggestions were to expand my intake dramatically, both in terms of calories and variety. She thinks I am missing out on key nutrients (most notably protein) and should start incorporating much more meat, eggs, cheese, etc. into my diet. In terms of calories, she said that with my age and level of activity, I should probably be eating about 500 more per day than I actually am. So that was eye-opening. Increasing my calories by that much is going to be hard, I know, but I am slowly trying to move the needle a little each day. For some reason I've found it much easier to focus on variety and overall nutrition - I am eating things like hamburgers and pork and string cheese and trail mix, which I never would have touched before because lean poultry and Luna bars are simpler and safer.

Things I liked about N:
1) She was much more concerned with overall nutrition and balance than calories. She was willing to talk calories because I brought it up, but most of our discussion focused on how to get a healthy and varied dose of nutrients at every meal.
2) One of the first things N said was: "I don't want to do anything that will create more food rules for you." She seemed to understand intuitively that I am someone who has had a traumatic history with food, weight, dietitians, meal plans, etc. and is not interested in the "usual" advice. That I very much want to eat healthfully and freely instead of trying to achieve the "perfect diet."
3) She congratulated me about a million times for all the progress I've made, affirmed that fact that I am comparatively in a great place, all while acknowledging and validating that this is still really, really hard for me.

A good experience overall. She is very responsive via e-mail, which is great, and I am going to follow-up with her next week. My eating has been super erratic just with all the traveling lately, but I am really trying to put her recommendations into action and see what happens. I am not weighing myself these days, so am more going by energy and clothes fitting and hunger levels. Will keep you all posted.

Monday, February 23, 2015

More Recapping and Reflections

I feel like I have so much to update about from the past few weeks that I don't even know where to start. The graduate school interviews/traveling exploits/thoughts and musings about the agonizing decision and life changes that lie ahead could take up their own lengthy series of posts, but I don't know if it's all worth getting into just yet. Basically I have a feeling the decision is going to come down to my current university (with my beloved advisor J) versus the one I visited last weekend (not this most recent weekend, the one before). Stay tuned on that one.

Traveling is hard for me, especially when it involves staying with strangers and all the unpredictability that goes along with that. In many ways my first trip (to Big East Coast City) was easier because I was able to stay with my brother the first night and my parents the second night, which gave me the opportunity to at least unwind and let my guard down after being in performance mode all day. But the second trip—which I just got back from yesterday—was a lot trickier. I was in a very small, isolated town in a part of the country where I don't know anyone, staying with a current graduate student in her apartment (which was actually a suite in a college dorm, since she is a Resident Assistant for the undergrads who live there). There were lots of meals out with little to no "safe" options. For example, bagels for breakfast, pizza for lunch, pasta for dinner, chocolate cake for dessert. Combine these food options with the very low activity levels (all we did was sit around and get interviewed or listen to presentations), sprinkle it with a little high pressure competition as you mingle with other applicants and professors and that, my friends, is a recipe for Very High Anorexia-Related Anxiety.

And beyond just the food, the lack of privacy and alone time is really tough. I cannot be with people 24/7, especially people I don't know well. My host this past weekend was awesome and I really really liked her—in fact I think we would have ended up being friends if I went to this program—but the prospect of spending two nights on her couch, getting escorted around campus by her, eating every single meal with her, was too much. I had a moment of uber panic and frustration on Friday afternoon when I discovered that after the full day of interviews and formal events, we were going out to dinner for a four-course meal and then to a bar for drinks. Literally, I had the urge to run away and hide somewhere until everyone forgot about me. It was not even the food part that got to me, although that added to the general stress; it was just the prospect of having to spend more time and expend more energy being around people. My God if these interview days accomplish anything, it is making me utterly and completely sick of people. In the end of course I went to the dinner and the bar, had a great time, came back to my host's apartment and spent another hour chatting with her, which I enjoyed, and thus ended the trip on a high note. So I realize that the bulk of my anxiety with these things tends to be tied up in the anticipation rather than the actual things themselves, but I think a few hours to myself to unwind and recharge would have made the whole experience tremendously less stressful and exhausting.

Another consequence of all these trips is that I am about ninety percent checked out of school right now. It is almost impossible to focus on anything but PhD admissions stuff, and I can't believe I actually still have to go to class and my internship and turn in papers and take exams and show up to work. Other random stuff going on: I have to prepare an abstract and a poster for a symposium that I haven't started, I am giving a guest lecture in an engineering class next week (still scratching my head on how this one came about), and I am woefully behind on my own research project. My apartment is a mess, I have three loads of clean but unfolded laundry from yesterday, and my bank account is remarkably least until all these universities start reimbursing my travel costs!!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Winter's Tale (of Travel)

Since you last heard from me, I:

- have been on five different planes

- did a PhD interview while sitting on beanbag chairs (yes both me and the professor)

- got waitlisted then maybe (?) accepted by the program I visited last weekend (long story)

- got two flights cancelled (short story: snowstorm)

- slept on a stranger's couch one night, and then on an airport bench the next night (and I'm using the term "slept" loosely)

- spent 20 hours in one terminal of one airport in Strange City I've Never Visited Before and In Which I Do Not Know a Soul

- hung out with some musicians from Cleveland (another long story)

- got invited to give a guest lecture next week (thanks for the advance warning!)

- ate approximately 26,000 packaged turkey sandwiches and Clif bars

- spent approximately $58,495 on airport food

- got approximately 45 minutes of actual shut-eye (can ya tell?)

Details to come, if I am feeling more functional later. Long story short, my trip back from Potential PhD University took almost 30 hours door-to-door thanks to snow. And I wasn't even in Boston!

Off to take a nap.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Prospective Friend, and a Sad Realization

I forgot to mention one of the most unsettling parts of my trip last week: there was this girl (another prospective student) who I got to know pretty well, and I am 85% sure she had an eating disorder. She was pretty thin—not necessarily emaciated; it could have passed for "healthy thin"—so it didn't occur to me at first, but then came the food. We ate breakfast and lunch together, meaning I ate breakfast and lunch and she ate grapes and lettuce. Literally. And spent the whole time picking apart her food, cutting her lettuce leaves into slices, and jiggling her leg like crazy under the table.

Once upon a time this would have driven me insane with jealousy and competitiveness ("you wanna see how little I can eat??") but this time it just made sad. There is no part of me that wants to go back to that. To being skinny—yes, sometimes....but to starving? No. It all seems so ridiculous and pointless to me now. In some ways it made me feel a sort of kinship with her, but at the same time I felt myself wanting to pull away and have nothing to do with her.

Weird/depressing/perhaps unsurprising that this was the person of the whole group with whom I got along best and clicked most easily. I felt like we could have been really good friends.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Catching Up

Many thanks for the thoughtful comments on my last post. This "separate lives" thing is something I have been grappling with a lot lately. For a long time now, I've had this sense of being "different" or "messed up" compared to other people, which can be very alienating and disconcerting. But sometimes I wonder if maybe I really am okay, and other people have similar experiences, and that I am getting better at this life thing all the time.

I am finally back in College City after a whirlwind week. Drove out to visit Midwest University last Tuesday, then flew back to East Coast University for the official PhD program visiting day. It was INTENSE. Dinner with the grad students Thursday night, stayed with my brother Thursday night, then Friday was scheduled all day with back-to-back professor meetings, presentations, mingling sessions, etc. Overall I think it went well. It's a really neat program with big time academic-celeb status professors. There were ten of us who were invited to visit and we all got to know each other and were feeling pretty chummy until the end of the day. The program director sat us all down for a little wrap-up session and said "So, we'll be making our final admissions decisions within a couple weeks. We are going to accept two of you." TWO. Out of four hundred total applicants. So I  had been feeling all jazzed up about the program until then, but now I'm kind of discouraged.

I stayed with my parents Friday night, then flew back to College City Saturday afternoon. One of my friends from school gave me a ride home, where I promptly crashed. Today will be spent on laundry, cleaning, and catching up on everything I've been neglecting. I have an interview at my own university tomorrow, but it's just with my advisor J and we are tight so I'm not worried. Then I leave town again this coming Thursday to visit another school across the country through Saturday.

Someone asked about my interview outfit: I wore back dress pants, a gray shirt (it's made of silky material with an extra lacy layer in the front, if that makes sense), black heels, and a pink scarf. I had a moment of panic Friday morning—I was at my brother's apartment getting ready and my hairdryer wouldn't work. I had known it was on its last legs, but would always start after a couple tries....but it WOULDN'T WORK. So I almost had to show up for my interview with wet hair. Thankfully I got the damn thing working finally, but am off to Target to buy a new one today.

So that's about it. I suppose there's more going on but I think I need a nap. Happy Sunday and belated Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Two Threads

I feel like my life has two independent threads—both running simultaneously but almost never touching. There is the "real" life, in which I am a 24-year-old student finishing my Master's, jetting around the country doing PhD interviews. This is the life in which I work three jobs, ace my classes, teach myself to write code in three different softwares, charm my professors, bounce ideas back and forth with my advisor, then ooh and ahh over photos of his kiddos, exchange witty texts with my parents and my brother, invite my friends over to open a bottle of wine, provide running commentary via text with my college roommate as we watch The Bachelor together from afar ("Does Chris know he doesn't have to kiss EVERY girl?" "sluttiest 'virgin' I've ever seen!"), chat with the sweet old lady who makes my coffee at the school cafe, and pretty much do it all with a smile.

And then there is my other life. This is the one in which I have a relentless, inescapable tally in my head counting calories, carbs, fat grams, minutes exercised (was that moderate or vigorous?), distance walked, stairs climbed, weights lifted. The one in which I use Google Chrome's Incognito setting to search for things like BMR and low-carb diets and eating disorder blogs. The one in which I drag myself out of bed every morning to go running before breakfast, and make myself wait X hours between meals even if my stomach is growling, and make myself walk the X miles to campus no matter the weather because burning any any calories is better than nothing. The one in which sometimes, I hate myself. I hate how I look, I hate how I feel, I hate that this had to be me. And then I hate myself for being so shallow. So ungrateful. This is the life in which sometimes, I am so deeply unhappy that nothing seems worth it. That I am sometimes in such profound pain I don't think I can do it anymore.

And sometimes, fleetingly, these threads collide. Periodically I withdraw, and it becomes quietly apparent that something isn't right. When my friends don't quite know what's up, but Has anyone heard from Kaylee lately? Or when I crack, and can't keep my lives apart, and call my mom in wrecking sobs.

I don't know what other people's inner experiences are like, I only know what it is for me. That it seems desperately important to keep my "real" life normal and intact and pristine, even when everything inside is crumbling apart.

This post sounds terribly sad, I realize, but I'm really okay. I've pulled out of that dark space I was in for a few days last week, and am becoming more and more convinced these cyclical depressive periods are PMS-related, but that's a topic for another day. The past couple days, I took some real steps toward feeling better, not just waiting around for it to happen: I reconnected with an old dietitian, and feel majorly better about things. Then after a traumatizing experience in a mall dressing room over the weekend and swearing NEVER EVER EVER to go back because I am TOO FAT FOR CLOTHES, I went back to the damn mall today and found an outfit I love for my interviews.

I'm doing okay, I really am. It's just been an up and down several days—nay, weeks‚—and I'm still figuring it all out. Stay with me.

Monday, February 9, 2015

And it begins....

Eek first campus visit/interview tomorrow! I am road tripping to Other Midwestern City tomorrow morning for an afternoon of interviews, then driving back in time (hopefully) for an exam in my night class. Work all day Wednesday, then flying to Big East Coast City Thursday morning. I have a grad student dinner Thursday night, then interviews and meetings all day Friday. I'll be meeting up with my high school bestie for drinks afterwards, then staying at my parents' house (they live about an hour away) Friday night, and flying back to College City the next afternoon. Then I do it all over again the following Thursday/Friday at a different university in a different city. Am I overwhelmed? No way! Not at all! Me, anxious and overthinking every detail?!? Never!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Alternative Therapy

I am really going through something right now. None of it is very interesting or noteworthy, and I don't particularly feel like hashing it all out, but I am here and alive and will make it.

In the midst of all this, I've come across some really random shit that helps. Music, for one. I used to be a very serious musician—violin was my life for many years and I almost went to conservatory for college. But that was all classical (Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, etc.) and I always enjoyed but kind of turned up my nose at most pop music.* Music to me was never just throwing a catchy tune together and shooting a flashy video, you know? It was so much more intricate and serious. It was hours alone in a practice room running through scales and arpeggios again and again, wiggling my finger until it hit that sweet spot, where the note was so perfectly in tune you could feel it in your bones.

But man, there is something to be said for a catchy tune. On repeat for me right now is a mix of Whitney Houston dance music (think "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" and "How Will I Know"—a CLASSIC), Taylor Swift (obvi), "Uptown Funk" (listen and try not dancing, I dare ya), and some other random happy songs. This morning I started off in tears, then managed to turn the whole thing around by blasting music in my apartment and reorganizing my school binders.


Which brings me to Cleaning. I do not care how cliche this sounds, but sometimes stress turns me into Kaylee the Manic Cleaning Freak and it is so therapeutic. And by Cleaning, I'm talking about pulling on rubber gloves, scrubbing the floors on my hands and knees, bleaching the bathtub, sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, beating my rugs off the front steps, disinfecting my microwave, running six loads of laundry, and purging my sock drawer. It really helps, like I'm also cleaning out my brain and my soul or something, scrubbing away all the gunk that isn't serving me anymore.

Obviously I still do the real kind of therapy too—my session with Dr. P last week was really hard and uncomfortable but ultimately helpful, I think. I had been feeling like I wanted to be pushed in therapy and not just coast when things are good, then crash-n-burn when things are bad, and she definitely gave me that on Thursday. Unfortunately I'm traveling the next two weeks and won't see her until the 26th, but I definitely have some food for thought. And in the spirit of eating disorder recovery, many of those thoughts actually are about food. See what I did there?

So, I guess my point is that I'm trying really really hard to make my mental health a priority, using sort of a hodgepodge of skills and tools and tricks. Some of them suck but some of them stick, and that in itself is pretty empowering. How terrible can it be if a little 80's dance music perks me right up?

*I still turn my nose up at country music.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

One of Those Days

I am having one of Those Days. I felt the clouds start to roll in a few days ago - a few more niggling worries, building frustration, irritability at everything and everyone....and today I've been crying on and off since I woke up.

I hate that my weight still does this to me. I am doing everything right - my diet and exercise are  perfectly healthy and moderate. I'm in therapy. I have a busy, full life outside the eating disorder. So why do I still feel like being fat is the worst thing in the world? Like being in this body is the worst thing in the world? I kill myself to eat the perfect diet and get the perfect amount of exercise, and my body still won't do what I want it to.

I hate this. I'm stuck and I'm lost and and I'm so frustrated and  so tired.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Interacting with an Idiot

Major frustration/ventage about to happen:

I've been trying to schedule a campus visit to one of the PhD programs I've been accepted to - just to see the school, meet the one professor I'm really interested in working with, etc. The office secretary e-mailed me last week asking about my availability, then said she would be in touch. I didn't hear from her until this afternoon, when she e-mailed asking where I was, because apparently she had gone ahead and scheduled me for an interview TODAY but FORGOT TO INFORM ME. Uh, okay, great - must've been pretty awkward when I didn't show up. Of course I wrote back all apologetic for the confusion and such (even though it was clearly not my fault....), and we've been exchanging e-mails all afternoon. The conversation has gone something like this:

Secretary: Are you available on Febuary 27? I can schedule you with Program Director at 1pm, and two other other professors who are available that day at 2pm and 3pm.

Me: Great! I will plan to be there on Feb 27 at 1pm.

Secretary: Unfortunately, none of the professors are available that afternoon, sorry. So you will just be meeting with Program Director.

Me [scratching my head, wondering if I missed something]: Okay, well I would really like to meet with potential advisors when I visit. I am most interested in meeting with Professor A. I am available at any time on the following dates: [I listed about 10 different dates].

Secretary: How about either Feb 10 or Feb 17? Let me know your availability and I will confirm with our faculty.

Me: Sure. I will keep both dates open while you confirm.

Secretary: I have you scheduled for 1pm on February 10th with Professor B and Professor C.

Me: Okay. Is it possible to meet with Professor A while I am there?

Secretary: Oh sorry I forgot, he doesn't work here anymore.

WHAT THE FUCK. If the entire school functions anywhere at the level of this lady, there is NO WAY I'm going there.