Seven Steps to a Good Day

9 Aug

Do you ever feel like an Alexander? You know the one. Yep, I do. I hate those Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days. And entrenched in my eating disorder, I used to have a lot of them. Life wasn’t fun… at all. It seemed like I couldn’t do anything right- that no matter how hard I tried, the only thing I succeeded at was being thin. But I wasn’t happy.

Don’t get me wrong- Life still seems to think my name is Alexander sometimes. Recovery is not easy-it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done- and I have my share of breakdowns, anxiety attacks, and “fat phases.” But the hard days become less and less frequent and I’ve slowly started figuring out that a “bad” day isn’t a product of fate alone. We have the ability to create a good day and avoid those ones filled with lima beans, no cereal prize, and soap in your eyes. Here are the ten steps I have come up with to ensure my day is as good as it can be, whether in recovery from an ED or not:

1. Pack the night before. Ask anyone who knows me well and they’ll tell you I love to travel and HATE to pack. Packing suitcases, packing lunch, packing boxes- doesn’t matter. Even though I’m an organization freak, there’s something about packing that I absolutely dread. So to avoid feeling anxious in the morning, I have made it a habit to pack everything I need for the next day, including my computer, materials for work, book, lunch, etc. the night before. It’s nice to wake up and not have such a sour chore to ruin my morning.

2. Stick with Structure. For months after I left inpatient treatment for my ED, I struggled immensely. Looking back now, I realize I falsely believed then that there was nothing to fill my time. The over-exercising, starving, bingeing, purging became a game to occupy my underused mind. Now, I have many appointments and work to go to that occupy most of my days, but I still add to my schedule to create more structure for myself. Even on days off and weekends, I still pencil activities in on my calendar. That way, if the ED pipes up with a suggestion, I can counter with, “Oh, that’s really too bad. I’d love to [insert: starve, binge, purge, run fifteen miles, crunch to exhaustion] but I’m too busy today. See? My calendar is filled up. We’ll have to reschedule for another day when I have nothing written down to do.” Which will be never…

It doesn’t mean that I have to fill every single second of the day; it simply means if I have large blocks of time, I pre-plan what I’m going to do, even if it’s just read, take a nap, or watch something on TV. And I don’t stick to the schedule rigorously, but it’s a fall back plan if I feel the anxiety of empty time beginning to rise or the ED starting to whine.

3. ” A Teaspoon of Sugar helps the medicine go down…” Life is stressful and a little bit like Robitussin, my least favorite medicine- sometimes the best thing you can do is accept it and swallow as quick as you can. Oh, and follow it with Mary Poppin’s famous remedy. In my case, I always plan one thing that makes me excited, that’s just for me, when I’m scheduling everything on my calendar for the following day. That way, when I wake up, I don’t think about what I’m going to have to swallow and endure that day, but rather the sweetness that will follow. Today, my “teaspoon of sugar” was going to photography class, but in the past I’ve also planned:

  • an early morning yoga class
  • coffee with a friend
  • eating a packed lunch in a different location(outside on a bench, at a park on the grass, on the porch…)
  • window shopping after work
  • renting a Redbox movie
  • meeting Mom for lunch
  • getting a massage
  • making my favorite dinner
  • Skyping with an old friend
  • creating a mini-spa day: complete with an at-home mud mask, bath salts, mani/pedi, candles and robe
  • planting seeds/flowers
  • meetup.com group
  • exploring a park, museum, area I’ve never been to before
  • even sitting and doing nothing or napping for half an hour!
I have found that if I don’t do this, life becomes a bore and a chore. So many people wake up and dread the coming day- how despairing! If I don’t specifically plan a little “sugar” for my day, I forget to take care of me, for even a few minutes, while I spend the rest of the day helping others. Then my day turns out as appealing as a mouthful of mentholated cough syrup…

4. Get up early. In the depths of my eating disorder, I had a lot of bad days and I wasted so much time sitting around the house doing absolutely NOTHING. What a waste of my life… I still find that I get dragged into ED thoughts if I “waste away the day” by getting up at noon. These days, I feel so much better and happier getting up around 6:30 and either showering or heading straight for yoga, after which I shower. Then I always have the same morning routine which gets me on the right foot for the day:
  1. shower
  2. make bed
  3. makeup
  4. breakfast- packed if I have an early appointment or eaten leisurely with tea and the crossword puzzle
  5. walk Freckles, my adorable dog(who is very sick right now 😦 )
  6. check to make sure I have everything: laptop, lunch, work papers, water bottle, keys, mail to send, library books, etc.
  7. off for the day!
I’ve found for me, getting an early start lets me feel at ease throughout the day. I get a lot done in the mornings due to the extra time, so I don’t feel rushed to complete things or feel failure at being unable to complete enough. When I go to bed at night, I feel content, like I lived that day completely, instead of feeling like I “wasted” it doing nothing.

5. “Where are we going? … Out.” If things start going downhill during the day, I make sure to get out of the location I’m in right then. In recovery, I’m much more in tune with how I’m feeling instead of being numbed, like I was with anorexia by my side. Sometimes I will be in a situation where I feel anxiety or sadness creeping up for no apparent reason. Other times, the place I’m at might bring up flashbacks or bad memories. In the past, my ED was my comfort by stuffing back these feelings and pretending they didn’t exist. But now, I listen to what they are telling me and accept that at that moment, I need to leave or switch up what I’m doing. For example, I might be in our apartment, but loneliness starts bringing down my day. I say to myself, “Ok, I realize that you are getting lonely. Instead of finding companionship in food or exercise, lets get out of here for a while.” Doesn’t matter where… and the ED will demand to know… all you have to say is an elusive “OUT! We’re going out!”. Sometimes I take my dog for a walk at the park, sometimes I just go sit near other people at a coffee shop. The location or activity doesn’t hold as much weight as just removing myself from whatever is causing the downward  mental spiral.


6. Lose “The List”, but start two others. When I talk about “The List,” I mean the steady stream of “to-do’s” that bombard your brain 24/7. Although I believe the development of my ED was in response to a multitude of factors, one was the fact that I was always trying to get EVERYTHING done. I got so tired and burnt out… the ED was a way to numb out and calm my system down. My weight was under control while “The List” grew exponentially everyday. I think one of the most important concepts to learn in recovery is:

You will never finish every “to do.

Accept it.

As soon as you let the obsession with “The List” go, taking time out for recovery and enjoyment doesn’t seem so bad. Because really, if you never run out of things you feel you must do, you will go to your grave accomplishing nothing but chasing a never-ending end to the mental list.

The best trick I’ve found to counter the running to-do list in my head is to lose it and start not one, but two, on paper. What? Start two more lists??!! Yes, hear me out… the first is the same as the mental list- never ending, I just keep adding and adding to it. But the trick is, I never look at it more than once a day(at most- most days I even forget it exists). This quiets down the barking voice in my head that narrates “The List” for me because everything is written down. With the to-do’s on paper, the voice doesn’t need to constantly rerun the list so I won’t forget. Like Dumbledore’s Pensieve in Harry Potter, this first list empties all my “to-do’s” and lets my brain rest.

The second list, which I make daily, has very strict requirements for me. I make it daily, but only allow myself to put the five most important things I need to get done on it. Five is not overwhelming and it forces me to prioritize, so I feel at the end of the day that I actually finished what I set out to accomplish, which would never happen if I stuck with “The List” in my head. Trying to finish “The List” that never ends simply defies logic. It can’t be done. Accept it.


7. Sleep it off. Days in recovery are rough. Sometimes the best solution I’ve found, when all the above have failed, I’m exhausted with battling the ED thoughts, is to put myself to bed. Remember when you were little and started getting cranky if you were tired? That’s how I’ve learned to view myself- the ED gets cranky when I’m tired, stressed, and vulnerable. Instead of listening to the ED, I have changed my strategy to include a comforting bedtime snack(hot soymilk is my favorite), washing my face with cool water, slipping into the comfiest pj’s I own, pulling down the covers, and plumping my pillow. Then it’s time to read for a few minutes, listen to some calming music, do a meditation, and then lights out. I tell myself, “It will be better tomorrow. You’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep. And this will get easier.” And it does. The future is always brighter than the now.

Rest easy knowing it will get better. The morning is a fresh start- anything is possible tomorrow.

I promise, recovery is worth it. All of it.

The sweet, the sour, and yes, even the mentholated.

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One Response to “Seven Steps to a Good Day”

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  1. Limitless Pinterests « keepingcourage - August 28, 2011

    […] a Cheering Up?: This board is for those terrible, no good, very bad days. I often turn to this board when nothing seems to be going my way, I’ve spent more time that […]

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