Life has a way of labeling you, putting you in a category, or a box. I fit under lots of labels: Sister, friend, daughter, girlfriend, fur mom. We so easily lose our identity to these labels. The label becomes our purpose.
For many years my label was an anorexic. My days were consumed with my purpose to continually lose weight and obsess over food, counting calories, stepping on scales, and doing body checks in any mirror I encountered. But the day I entered treatment, that label changed. I was no longer an anorexic, I was a person in recovery from an eating disorder. The purpose changed to regaining my health and then to maintaining that health. Letting go of the anorexic label was HARD. It was such a large part of who I was. It had consumed all my thoughts and actions for years. Letting go of that label was like grieving a friend. My eating disorder had gotten me through an emotionally unhealthy relationship. It had been with me through high school and dance recitals. Who would I be without it?
The longer I was in treatment, the more I learned about my disease. I learned about the chemical imbalance in my brain. I learned that my eating disorder was a coping mechanism. Most importantly, I learned that having an eating disorder was not my fault. It was not a choice. Learning all this empowered me. I no longer felt shame or embarrassment. I felt lucky. That's right, I said lucky. I had given up the anger of having a disease to accepting that I had it. I felt lucky because my parents provided me with great health care that covered the cost of my treatment. Another thing I learned while in treatment is that it is EXPENSIVE and hard to find. By having stellar health care and living close to an amazing clinic, I was given a second shot at living a healthy life.
So I had made peace with letting go of the label "anorexic." I had a new and empowered label of a person in recovery from an eating disorder. I celebrated this label by advocating for eating disorder awareness. I spoke to college classes, community groups, even at the Columbus National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) walk. I wanted to use my story to help others. I wanted those struggling to know they are not alone and that recovery is possible. I wanted loved ones to know that there is hope and that it isn't a choice. For a while, this was my new label, my new purpose. I let this label define who I was all through my college years.
In 2015 I graduated college and yet again, my label changed. My new label was teacher. A label I wore so proudly. I LOVED telling people that I was a teacher. It was something that I had worked so hard for and it was a career that I loved with every fiber of my existence. That was who I was for four years. However, after four years of teaching I had decided to walk away. The pressure, demands, and seemingly unattainable expectations had taken a toll on my mental health. I was relapsing frequently, my self esteem had hit rock bottom, and I was crying every morning just like I did when I was a child in school. As soon as my alarm went off in the morning my heart would start racing and the anxiety set in. I made the very tough decision to make a career change in my life. Will I ever go back to teaching? I don't know. I loved it, but sometimes love isn't enough. You can love things that aren't healthy for you. It happens all the time. All I know is right now that is not my healthy place.
So here I was, yet again in my life, losing another label that I had allow to be my defining trait. Which brings me to my therapy session I had this week. We were discussing the challenges we are facing being in quarantine. Even for an introvert like myself, being forced to be away from my friends and family is very difficult. I wake up each day and feel as though I have no purpose. I am working from home doing what I can, but it still leaves a lot of time to be alone with my thoughts which were growing more and more unhealthy by the day. I feel as though I have taken every approach to surviving this Corona lifestyle. I tried doing at home yoga and ended up messing up my back. I organized my closet, giving away two bags of clothes. I got caught up on chores, and ran in circles continually cleaning the house. That only left one thing to fill my time- ED. I shared with my therapist that my depression had been increasing, my anxiety post meal had been increasing, and that I had begun restricting again. We began dissecting the "why" behind my behaviors- boredom, lack of ways to distract, loss of control over my life (not my fault), and purpose. That was new for me. She really got me thinking about the idea of purpose. For all my life I had these labels which gave me a sense of purpose and right now I am at a point in my life where I am sort of in limbo. She challenged me to take this time to look for things that make me happy. Your purpose in life is to do what makes your soul happy. I wasn't put on this earth to lose weight and pay bills. I am here to enjoy myself and love others!
This conversation was a big reason I decided to get back into writing. I have loved writing since I was a kid publishing a fake newspaper for my family. I am also going to dabble in baking! This weekend I am going to try making French toast and lemon sugar cookies.
When people ask "what do you do in your free time?" I struggle to answer that. I think because I haven't really explored myself beyond my labels. Well now I am! So, I would love to hear from you. What are things you do just for the sole purpose of making yourself happy? What is your answer to the question "what do you do in your free time?" You can leave your comments in the comments section or send me a chat!
Remember that our lives are beyond the labels that life or we put on ourselves. Really think about what brings you joy and try to make more time for it! If you're like me and you don't really know, then explore!
Stay Strong and Beautiful!