Hesitation, anxiety, fear, judgement, peace.
Five words that immediately came to mind about sharing this post.
Wild Northern Beauty is changing course. This mountain called Life had an avalanche and I am digging myself out of it.
Keep scrolling to read more about my journey below. It’s a long one. All photos belong to me.
If you or someone you know is struggling mentally, physically, or emotionally, please contact one of the numbers listed to the right.
You are beautiful, and wonderful, and you are more than enough.
Please don’t hesitate to ask for help.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: 1-888-333-2377
The Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA): 1-240-485-1001
National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) HelpLine:
1-800-931-2237 or text NEDA to 741741
Crisis Text Line – text HOME to 741741
Free Soloing Through Life / The High Consequences It Brings
National Eating Disorder Awareness Week has came and went. Life has continued moving forward.
I have never spoken publicly about my eating disorder. When NEDA week arrives, I’d rather disappear from social media and disconnect from everyone to handle things privately. My closest friends have known about my ongoing struggle and thankfully they don’t push me to talk about it. My feelings are stuck between, ‘great, everyone can easily access information about eating disorders since it is everywhere’ and ‘not great, this is triggering for so many people’. My mind wanders into thinking about the possible outcomes of having a week dedicated to eating disorder awareness. Does it set people up for realistic expectations or does it deliver harsh realities that may deter them from seeking treatment? One reality is that our support system may not understand the root cause of our eating disorder or they don’t understand the complexities of treatment. They feel confused about our triggers, overwhelmed by our rituals, or simply cannot relate to how we are feeling. When we are ready to independently reach out for help, one would expect the access towards getting help a simple endeavor – but it is not. It is a long battle with insurance companies. It is an effort to protect yourself from treatment centers that view you as a dollar amount. It is advocating for yourself when you sense that people aren’t listening. Where is the data to show a program’s effectiveness? Why aren’t there more scientific studies being done to search for the most beneficial treatment methods that will have a lasting impact on patients?
Eating disorders are complex; they do not just disappear. What can we do? We can learn how to better manage our relationships with food and work to develop the skills to combat those negative thoughts. We can demand better access for mental health services, a vastly under-funded field. And we can patiently try to communicate with our friends and family what we are going through. But eating disorders don’t go away. And it is unrealistic to think that they will be gone with a 4-8 week stay in a rehab facility.
THERE IS NO MAGIC PILL THAT CAN ERASE OUR FOOD ANXIETIES.
Recovery requires you to be willing to emotionally invest in yourself and the desire to get better. Nobody can do the work for you. There will be many ups and downs, relapses, or days where you question if you’re moving forward or backward. It is a process. A relapse is a lot like falling. If you are without a rope, the fall will be quick and the hit can be fatal. If you’re tied up, the fall may not be fatal, but you will still get pretty banged up. My fall was the latter.
Do I want to get better and am I willing to put in the work? I have been asking myself that question for the last six weeks. This post has been in draft-mode for over two weeks – allowing me time to mull over things and question my own thinking. I’m sharing my experience with my eating disorder, the consequences of it, and what I have learned along the way. My views are my own and my experiences belong to me. I can’t speak for anyone else.
My Anxious Past
It has been an exhausting uphill battle with anxiety since the age of 4. Sometimes I’m able to manage it… other times, not so much. I would shake walking through the door into homeroom for morning kindergarten because I worried that my mom would forget to pick me up. (She never did.) I used to avoid sleepovers at my friends’ houses because I was terrified by the thought of robbers breaking in and not being able to escape. (Also never happened.) As I’ve gotten older, my fears have changed. Gun violence in public places. Locking my keys inside of my car. Making sure the garage door has shut behind me. Anxiety forces out all sense of rational thinking and plants the seed of what-if. To combat some of those what-ifs, my mind tells me that I can control them by controlling other things in my environment, i.e. food. I have had extraordinarily high periods where I haven’t felt very anxious but balanced and overall delighted with life.
I’ve also had bad days where I’ve mentally shut down or have gotten lost in my head. I’m hesitant to talk about anxiety because society seems to be throwing around the word. Anxiety is real. Anxiety is terrifying. And anxiety is more than feeling worried every now and again. Without help, anxiety can destroy your life.
Just the exorbitant amount of change in the last two years alone has capsized any stability I thought was present in my life. I have reached the point where my body has given out and my brain has said, “Enough already. What you’re doing isn’t working and you need help.” I like to portray myself as a strong, independent, product-savvy, hiking, dirt-bag adventurer. Not someone who is confronting their insecurities on a daily basis… alone. Reality reminds me that other people have their own mountains of fear preventing them from climbing bigger and better mountains. This is where my love for visualizations comes into play.
I am fluent in using metaphors and visual representations to articulate my thoughts and feelings.
I struggle to identify my emotions. I can visualize a scale in my head – like bothered being a low-intensity word and enraged being a high-intensity word. Nervousness impedes my ability to vocalize the word pictured in my head. Anyways, climbing visuals are my current go-to for painting the picture of my life. Hiking, backpacking, and climbing are literal and metaphorical experiences that my mind seems to firmly grasp. I’ve hiked challenging trails (I’m talking about you, old trail on Mailbox Peak, WA) and I’ve wandered my way through more lucrative endeavors with ease (Bourke’s Luck Potholes in Blyde River Canyon, South Africa). The outdoors are my place of healing where I don’t feel anxious to be myself.
The Picture Painted in My Head.
If I were writing a book, or on a climbing trip, here’s where I visualize myself in the push for the summit.
I’m standing beneath an ice fall and staring at the rickety ladder set up in front of me. My crampons are tied to my backpack because I’m too tired to unhook them from my pack. I know that they are necessary for the route ahead – yet exhaustion prevents me from lifting my feet. I forgot a neck gaiter to keep the icy wind from blasting cold air down my neck and décolleté – cold seeps through my entire body. And my balance is non-existent to support movement up the rungs on the ladder because I haven’t trained myself to move in this manner.
I’m fatigued, unprepared, exposed, and my brain is telling me to forfeit.
My First Avalanche
My mother passed away very suddenly when I was 12 years old due to a cardiac arrythmia. I had never experienced any prior traumas. I began to question my self-worth – thinking, God, did I do something to deserve this? The ‘Why?’s lingered in my brain. ‘Not enough’ creeped into my thoughts, invading every area of my life, whilst tainting each relationship I built. I felt my emotions spiraling out of control and so I latched onto an area that I thought was easily controllable: food.
January - Present
Towards the third week of January, I felt foggy – my eyes were unable to focus, my brain couldn’t concentrate, and I struggled to speak (thanks to the dizziness and brain fog). My balance and equilibrium were off. I believed it was vertigo until I fainted at (seemingly) random moments.
My emotions weren’t in a great place; my boyfriend and I were in a rough patch, the tendons in my foot still had not fully healed from the fall, confidence in my career diminished, and lingering college debt hung over my head like a black cloud. Each meal felt like an avalanche rolling through, blocking paths and covering everything in suffocating debris. I couldn’t think critically about food. When the chest pain appeared in mid-January, I hit the panic button. My mind was plagued with the image of losing my mother and I wondered if I would succumb to heart failure. Eating disorders have a mortality rate that often traces to heart failure. What if that was me?
My primary care physician sent me for bloodwork and my results fell in the suggested ranges. I still changed my diet drastically thinking that it might ease my symptoms. She then referred me to a cardiologist. Less than a week later, I had an in-office EKG with normal results, an order to wear a heart rate monitor for two weeks of observance, and was scheduled for a Tilt Table Test (TTT) at a local hospital. Imprisoned by my symptoms and confined to my home, I proactively called different doctors, specialists, and program coordinators to gather a list of options for treating my eating disorder… Thinking that all of this was linked to it.
The maximum amount of time I could spend driving my car was ten minutes. The trip would be panic-inducing. Was there a shoulder I could veer off onto if and when blackness invaded my vision? Standing seemed to be one of my triggers for dizziness / fainting. I wasn’t able to make the one hour drive to work nor stand for eight hours a day to do my job.
On February 18th, I was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, commonly referred to as POTS, a circulation condition that was identified during my tilt-table. Whilst it can be managed, it doesn’t have a cure.
And then, four days later, my boyfriend and I split up.
Mountains Make Their Own Weather
One devastating blow after another. I was free-soloing this mountain and didn’t think of the consequences should the conditions change. Mountains make their own weather. I was about to be blown off the face.
I felt as though my eating disorder destroyed everything: my health, my career, my relationships, my ambitions, and my confidence… But it never could touch my faith. I can’t articulate every little thing I’ve learned about myself nor can I piece together the puzzle that has been 2019. What I can say is that my faith has rescued me.
It's Okay to Not Be Okay.
I am grateful for NEDA week.
The National Eating Disorder Association offers resources, advice, and spaces to talk for individuals who may be struggling. Or families that need guidance. Having an entire week dedicated to the eating disorder community just isn’t enough, but it is a start. It gets the conversation rolling. It breaks down barriers and preconceived notions of what eating disorders are, or how they manifest themselves. National Eating Disorder Awareness week combats the stigma that surrounds those of us who may be in a toxic relationship with food.
Trust and Self-Awareness
It was time to take my life back. I looked into four treatment programs on the east coast. Prior to my intake assessments, I made the following lists: my areas of weakness, what I hoped to learn, and questions to ask about each program. I was referred to several intensive inpatient programs based on three over-the-phone evaluations and one in-person intake evaluation. Not only would my insurance NOT cover several of the programs, but upon looking at their daily schedules, I questioned some of the components in the program and whether they would be beneficial for me. The average cost of treatment that my insurance wouldn’t cover fell between $26,000 – $30,000 out-of-pocket.
I had done the research and shared my findings with friends. Now I had to re-assess my needs. Would it be beneficial for me to spend anywhere from 6-8 weeks in a treatment facility? Would I thrive within their program structure? Could I get past the lingering thoughts that group therapy may not be the answer for me? And could I see myself spending $30K for a 6-8 week program?
Getting Creative with Treatment
My answer was clear. An inpatient treatment program wasn’t a route for me to take. I had the willpower and self-awareness to know my needs. Now I had to trust myself in the steps moving forward. It was a terrifying thought to tell my friends/family “Hey, I need to get help for my eating disorder so I’m going to assemble my own recovery team.” I thought the knee-jerk reaction would be, “That’s a stupid idea. You’re never going to get better with that approach.” I had to put my qualms to rest because my community has loved me unconditionally through each high and have held onto me through every low. Why would I think that this decision would make them love me any less?
Pushing fears aside, I met one-on-one with different friends and family members to present my case. Everyone was INCREDIBLY supportive. They reassured me that only I know my heart’s needs and that I should be honest and gentle with myself. They weren’t going anywhere.
And so I began to walk along the path of independent-treatment options. Whilst I don’t think this avenue of a self-built-treatment-team is for everyone, I am at a place in my life where I want to summit this thing and have the best team with me on the traverse. My long-term goal is to reach a point where the highs and lows are less steep, less intense. Because of my health scare, fearing that my heart would suddenly give out like my mother’s did, I knew that the time had come to give 100% to getting my health back. My internal motivation and determination are staring upwards at the Everest in my life: my feelings of self-worth surrounding this peak called What-If.
The Dream Alpine Team
My heart and brain have been working together to say, “Self-worth, I’m coming to find you.” Assembling the team has been a long process, but it is currently looking like a promising group of experienced professionals that I am excited to work with.
I’ve got my climbing guide, my primary care physician. She has been incredible in the three short years I have known her and I consider her a native in her field. She is thorough, knowledgeable, experienced, and an excellent source of advice. She is my helping hand and is always there.
Next is my mountain guide, my dietitian. Her name is Kaley and she is a true mountain expert. She is a registered dietitian certified in the Health At Every Size (HAES) © perspective. She coaches her clients about intuitive eating and solutions for different behavioral reactions to food. Not only is she a great counselor, but she is an encouraging person to work with.
Then there is my technical guide, an actual rock-climbing instructor or mentor. This is TBD! My goal is to get into traditional rock climbing once I have built a solid base of strength to start with. I read somewhere that rock-climbing helps with depression. We shall put that to the test! Once I’ve been cleared by my physical therapist, I will take a few beginner classes at the local climbing gym and cruise into one-on-one lessons.
My base camp manager is my cardiologist. He doesn’t join me on the climb, but he checks in on me and makes sure I am doing well. He has kept up with me since the POTS diagnosis, frequently checking in to see how I am taking to the medication. He reassures me that my heart is functioning well and that I will eventually see a decrease in my POTS symptoms (he believes I’m motivated enough to put in the work!).
My team doctors are my physical therapist and my personal trainer. They will have to work together to strengthen me and assess my physical needs. I am waiting for the okay from my physical therapist to move on to more challenging exercises. As for my personal trainer, I will save that for another post. I know that the big question probably is, “Well you have an eating disorder, so why are you working out? You shouldn’t be doing that with a low calorie intake!”. Again, I’ll talk about it later.
I have an opening for my porter leader, i.e. a psychiatrist. For ongoing therapy and counseling, when I’m below base camp, a psychiatrist will be an integral team member in helping me work through losing my mother and my insecurities. I have been calling different professionals and seeing who may be a good fit. Additionally, I have learned that some therapists aren’t taking new clients (even though their websites say so).
And lastly, my teammates, my recovery group. A close friend had suggested I visit a local Celebrate Recovery group to see if it was a good fit. Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered, 12-step program for anybody going through something difficult. I have attended two meetings and left both with numerous takeaways. I realized the importance of having others around you who understand the fear and the fight behind getting better. They don’t necessarily have the same challenge as you, but you can learn a lot from their experiences. Celebrate Recovery seems great, but I’m also fortunate to have AMAZING friends and family members that are cheering me on.
There have been days where I have felt overwhelmed by my self-discoveries. The time and dedication spent preparing for this expedition is immeasurable. I have been fretting over my non-existent paycheck yet I will be stronger than ever when I am back on my feet. I can focus on setting goals and working one-on-one to maximize my output. It has to start with honesty; to look at every emotion in the mirror and ask, “Am I letting you define me? Am I letting you control me?” And if they are, I have to break it off.
Hesitation, Anxiety, Fear, Judgment, Peace.
I was hesitant to alienate my reader, my audience, or trigger anyone reading this.
I was anxious to reveal my true feelings and put an end to my soloing (being alone in my eating disorder).
I was fearful of being seen as weak, insufficient, or less-than for opening up about my battles.
I was picturing judgement by others for my choices.
None of the above resemble truth.
Sharing the good and bad, pain, heartache, and individual growth will lead me down the path towards peace. And maybe you, or someone you know, has had a similar experience. The truth is, we are all going through something. We might fear the day we have to face it. Or we just may not know what it is.
If you’ve stuck through reading up until this point: thank you.
Final Destination for Wild Northern Beauty?
I don’t have an answer to that question. But I have ideas. A close friend recently encouraged me to use my site as a recovery tool; a place that I can run to and sort my thoughts. This isn’t a guide and I’m not a doctor. This is just a place for me to be myself and focus on my growth. I’m acclimating to this Alexi that is raw, unrefined, and unafraid of change. I am stripping everything away to my natural state… and I have never felt more mindful! It won’t be sunny every single day, but that’s okay. We all will have good days and bad days.
I like the idea of having an outlet where I can keep track of my goals.
Less beauty posts. More adventuring and imperfect, real-life moments. Take a few giant leaps back from beauty and focus on the appearance of my heart. Another friend said,
“The words that pour from your mouth paint an image of your heart.”
I’ve been too focused on masking my feelings and trying to cover up my flaws. The phrases spewing from my mouth have been: “I hate my stomach”… “My eyebrows aren’t evenly balanced”… “I have no upper body strength”… “I’ll never be strong enough to climb mountains”… “I’m not where I want to be in my career”… “I’m a failure because I’m not good at anything in particular”… Physical and emotional critiques that are negative and damaging. What does that reveal about my heart? My grandmother has always said,
“You have to love yourself. If you don’t, there isn’t anyone or anything else that can fill that hole in your heart.”
She is right. I need to take time to learn how to love myself, to be gentle with my heart, and to know how to channel that strength when I am feeling most vulnerable. My words should reflect my heart regardless of circumstance. My area of focus right now is strength: physical, mental, and emotional strength. With my team, we are working through the challenges and developing a game plan for moving forward. We’ve identified our S.M.A.R.T. goals and have set realistic expectations for this moment in time. Missing from my S.M.A.R.T. sheet is the “anticipated date of completion”. I can’t tell myself, “You will love yourself by July 23rd, 2019.” That isn’t realistic nor is it sustainable. I’ve tried to design goals that are sustainable, flexible, and measurable.
In starting anew, I will be wiping my WNB social media accounts. My Instagram will be a place of sharing body-positive victories, things I’ve learned on a day-to-day basis, and a collection of progress (good, bad, and ugly). My Pinterest boards will be filled with things that make me happy – not folders of content that rattle my insecurities. And my Twitter? Well, I should probably learn how to use Twitter first! I’m just going to delete my Facebook page because I don’t want to be on Facebook.
Thank you for reading, for being here, and for making it through all that I have shared. Here’s to recovery, happiness, strength, courage, and self-discovery as we begin this journey upwards.
Each image above was carefully selected from some of my most memorable trips. Travel has been an important teacher and nature a valuable healer. Many of the photographs above depict fears I have faced or challenges I have overcome. There will be a point in time where I can look back to this moment and say, “I did that. I moved past fear and pressed forward.”
And the views will be epic.
Thank You + Keep Climbing.