Friday, May 31, 2013

Recovering from my eating disorder and cleaning out my closet with project 333

The last couple weeks have been filled with breakthroughs in eating and hoarding habits. I pretty much had a nervous breakdown early last week and ended up taking a full two days off work to recover and visit my psychiatrist to figure out what was going on.

I’d been struggling terribly with my eating disorder since completing intensive outpatient treatment, badly enough that I’ve come to see it as a mini-relapse.  It’s okay, I’m back on my feet and actually better than ever. But something I did on those two days off really helped.  I FINALLY did project 333!

I’d gained a lot of weight since starting treatment three years ago. I used to wear a size 4; now I’m a 12. It didn’t happen overnight and because of that I own a LOT of clothes that don’t fit, don’t feel good, and don’t look good. Forcing myself into those too-small clothes was making me miserable and actually triggering my binge/restrict cycle, which was just making me heavier. When I finally figured that out I realized that I absolutely had to put away everything that didn’t fit and everything that I didn’t love.
I got everything out of the closet, out of every drawer. Here it all is on the couch. This doesn’t include outerwear, suits, or workout clothes.

I was surprised, it didn’t look like much. But it totaled:

43 T-shirts
6 Shorts and capris
14 Pairs of dress pants
4 Pairs of jeans
11 Sweaters
28 Work blouses
3 Skirts

That’s a lot of clothes! 109 items, to be exact. I went through everything and left only what I loved and what fit. I didn’t even make it to 33 items. I was shocked! I actually have to buy clothes to complete my 33 items and so that I don’t have to walk around half-naked, since I don’t fit in any of my shorts and many of my shirts anymore.

This is the huge pile of boxes of clothes that I don’t fit into. And one very exhausted me. 

I’m letting myself go out shopping next week to get three pairs of shorts and two shirts. Normally I would make myself wait or get the cheapest thing. But I realize that I’m probably going to be a size 12 for a long time and that I deserve decent clothes, and wearing clothes that make me look or feel bad can send me right back into the middle of my disorder. At least it’s only 5 items.
Next week I’ll update on my final selections and my completed closet!

You're probably wondering, what am I doing with the huge pile of boxes? It’s gone back into the closet. My dietician feels that I’ve probably topped out at my weight and she expects a bit to come off in the next year as I shake the last of my eating disorder and settle into my natural weight. The clothes that don’t fit will go out next May 1st. Whatever size I am by next May is the size I’m going to be, and no smaller. I know it's an excuse, but it's been an emotionally rough couple weeks and I'm not quite ready to let go of my thin self (and thus, the clothes) completely, just yet. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Grief and Clutter: You don't need to keep it just because they would've wanted you to

I lied in previous post about only having gotten a TV from Grandmom. The day before she passed away my dad sent me home with some soups from her freezer and her recipe books. Grandmom was a prize-winning cook so I wasn't going to complain. I've made enough peace with my eating disorder that I can bake and cook now without inevitably bingeing.

I finally took those four soups out of my freezer. I heated up the carrot one and tried it -- yuck! Maybe it was that it had been in the freezer since 2009, which I didn't realize until after I'd tried it.  Or maybe I just didn't like the soup. Down the drain it went.

But there were still three more soups left. I heated up another one, potato this time. It was okay. Far too salty for my taste but I ate it anyways. This was a big no-no. As part of my eating disorder treatment I was told not to eat anything I didn't really love. This is to help me get over years of only allowing myself to eat diet versions of food which I couldn't stand, but only ate because they would keep me thin. If I'm only eating what I really want to eat, I won't be eating the awful diet food while craving and then overindulging in the the good stuff that I'm "not allowed" to have. Eating a soup I didn't like was akin to eating diet food again. This was risky and could've set off a binge. I ate it anyways.

Last night I opened up the second container of carrot, vintage 2012, this time -- this one seemed better, but still not great. I had to stop. Why in the world was I going to eat something I couldn't stand?

Oh, right. Because I could hear Grandmom 1.) being insulted about me not liking something she made and 2.) being furious at me for wasting food  3.) reminding me that this was the last dish she would ever cook for me. 

Grandmom is the one in the family who gave me and my father the idea that fat is ugly, lazy, and reprehensible. Grandmom is the one who kept telling my father that he needed to get my normal-sized mother to lose weight. This kept Mom in a pattern of disordered eating for decades, and now that her eating has normalized her hoarding has gotten worse to make up for the loss of the eating-disordered behaviors. Grandmom is the one who would make oinking noises at me at family dinners and then, in the same breath, would turn to my skinny sister and tell her that she needed to eat more.

I dumped the soup down the drain.

My eating disorder voice panicked -- You're wasting food! And Grandmom's gone, you'll never get to have it again!! You have to eat it whether you want to or not!

I grabbed the fourth container and dumped that down the drain.

I kept the handwritten label from the soup and stuck it into my recipe book. Grandmom did teach me to cook and bake and helped me make my own wedding cake, which was a necessity with the Chief Engineer's and my food allergies. The good memories I have of her are, ironically, in the kitchen. The sticker is a reminder that Grandmom was a good cook and she lives on through her recipes, which will never disappear. And the last meal she ever cooked for me? Well, she didn't cook it for me specifically, and she's in the ground now, so it's not like she can actually know what I did with her soups. I have the recipe for both of the soups and I can make more, the way I want, with far less salt.

I'm doing what's right for me, and not doing what she told me. And she can never make oinking noises at me again. Woo hoo!

(The slightly more empty freezer is a plus too.)

That one on the left? I made that,
with instructions from Grandmom. I did learn
something good from her afterall. And tastier than the soup, to boot.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Food allergy awareness week... Or lifetime

In case you missed it, today concludes Food Allergy Awareness Week in the US. I find this mostly a joke for me, as it's food allergy awareness day for me all day, every day. For my entire life! Can you feel the excitement!

It used to be simple for me. We figured out pretty darn early that I was allergic to nuts. But when I got to be an adult I slowly started getting strange rashes all over that wouldn't go away. We thought it was just eczema like I mentioned in my last post, but alas, that was wishful thinking. No, I'm mildly allergic to peanuts and severely allergic to...get this....cinnamon.

When I discovered the peanut allergy I purged all of the peanut products from the house, which pretty much amounted to peanut butter cups and a couple tubs of peanut butter. The cinnamon has been harder. Cinnamon doesn't have to be labeled in the US, it can fall under the generic term "spices" or "natural flavors."

Did you know that Coca-Cola has a cinnamon derivative in it? Apparently it does. Something called cinnamic aldehyde. I'm allergic to Coke. I'm allergic to Coke?! No wonder my stomach always got super upset when I drank that, but was okay with Pepsi.

What this has meant is that we've had to purge the kitchen of anything that has "natural flavorings" or "spices" in it. We finished that process right before I started this blog, but it's still a problem. Stuff sneaks into the house. Look, a new candy I want to try! Look, a baking mix that sounds tasty! Look, a can of iced tea mix that gives me rashes that last for half a week!

I bought this huge container (it was almost 16" tall) a few weeks ago because it looked like it would make good tea. "Natural flavors" it said. But did I listen to my gut and put it back? No. It was new and exciting, like many of the useless toys I buy in my life. 

I then realized that I was suddenly getting my characteristic cinnamon rash on the days when I drank it. I kept drinking it. I couldn't bear the idea of wasting $6 worth of tea. 

Apparently even when my knuckles, wrists, crooks of my arms, cheeks, and corners of my mouth are actually blistering and turning bright red, I'm still afraid of wasting anything. 

I finally convinced myself to heft the tub into the office. I left it on a counter with a "free" sign on it, and by lunch it had been taken. I felt a little better because it didn't go in the trash, but the urge to not waste anything is strong with this one!

How do all of you get rid of stuff that you're afraid will go to waste? 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Stockpiling: have I finally learned my lesson?

Stockpiling was something I learned at a very early age. My dad didn't buy months-long supplies of things, he bought decades-long supplies of things. I am not much better. But in one small area, I think I have finally learned my lesson. It only took a little external incentive from my doctor.

I've been over the "I have severe eczema, therefore I will try any cream that exists and will buy truckloads of anything that works for fear it will be discontinued" problem I have. Same went for foundation. I would buy multiple bottles of any foundation that worked. Problem was, I would end up throwing most of this stuff out in the end, either because it expired or because I would inevitably find out I was allergic to it, even if I thought I wasn't.

My dermatologist has finally put an end to my hand cream and foundation stockpiling habit. A little while ago I had patch testing done to evaluate my skin allergies. More or less, they glue blobs of 140 things to your back and leave them there for four days.

Before. From
In the end, you end up looking something like this: 
Positive reactions to a patch test.
Which mostly amounts to four days of being seriously itchy and smelly because you can't shower for four days! What did all of this unpleasantness amount to? I'm not allergic to much, but I'm allergic to some stuff that frequently finds its way into cosmetics and food. My doctor gave me a 10-page list of the only shampoos, toothpastes, hairsprays, cosmetics, creams, and lotions I could use without giving myself a reaction similar to the one above.

My list of hand creams, face creams, and foundations I can use now is very short. For hand and face creams I'm limited to Aquaphor, petroleum jelly, or mineral oil. For foundation I'm limited to Bare Minerals Matte. Not even the original, only the matte. This is not a bad thing.

Would you believe I'm
missing one bottle in this picture?
You see, I still have been using the stockpile of Eucerin products I bought on sale over a year ago, maybe even two years ago. This is only half of what I bought originally (12 in total), and now I finally realize that it's been contributing to my awful hand rashes. I can see that when I use it I get a rash within four days, and when I use petroleum jelly there's no rash even after a few days. Keeping the stuff around for so long also encouraged it to grow bacteria, which couldn't have helped. I should know better, I've dealt with the bacteria issue before!

Seven tubes of cream/lotion at $7 each is $49. I wasted $49 because I got excited about a sale. Sales are a myth to get me to spend more money!! The unopened bottles I'll drop off in the ladies rooms at work for others to use. The two opened ones will get trashed.

I'm happy I have the external incentive to downsize the quantity of cosmetics and creams I use. I now have one large jar of aquaphor in the cabinet, which I dilute with mineral oil. I fill a small mason jar from this tub and keep that at work. I expect that this will last me 6 months. Since one tub costs $20, each year I will only spend now $40 on hand and face cream. Yay for saving money and minimizing my cream/lotion collection!

As for the foundation, one thing of Bare Minerals foundation will supposedly last about 2 months. That's $25 every two months, which is still an unpleasant $150/year. However, given that the last time I stockpiled foundation I threw out three bottles of $14 foundation. I now know that I can't stockpile makeup because it grows bacteria, so there will be no danger of me doing that!

So, I've gotten some extra space in my medicine cabinet and makeup box and saved myself some money over the coming year, and reduced the amount of unused makeup and cream ending up in landfills. Oh, and no more itchy hands and face! Not that I'd recommend having allergies as a way of permanently streamlining your personal care routine though. But hey, there's good in everything, right?

How do you keep your cosmetics and lotions from taking over your cabinet?  How do you keep from overbuying?

The Reckoning
What: Seven bottles of creams and lotions
Cost: $49
Fate: Opened ones went in the trash, unopened ones get dropped off in the ladies rooms at work.
Total money wasted on crap I never should've bought: $2019.00. I just hit $2000 wasted. Dammit. 

Medicine cabinet before the hand cream purge

Medicine cabinet after the hand cream purge. Nail polish is next!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Grief and clutter: Getting rid of an object doesn't mean you're getting rid of the memories

About 2 months ago my second grandmother passed away. I was not attached to her, and in many ways I still blame my eating disorder on her. Her incredibly critical attitude about weight fed into my lack of self-confidence and I went down a very unpleasant path.

The task of cleaning out her condo fell to my parents. Doesn't that sound like a great idea? Give my hoarder parents responsibility for emptying out a 1400-square foot condo loaded with stuff. Grandmom was the organized one in the family. Like, she gave Martha Stewart a run for her money.
Everything had a place and a label...problem was, there was an awful lot of stuff. 

Anyways, my mom called me and asked if I wanted anything. I asked for a TV. My aunt was apparently fighting over who got the TVs (and everything else), so my mom got snippy when I kept saying how much I really wanted the bigger TV of the two. Now, my grandmother is my father's mom, not my mom's mom and yet my mom got feisty and ended up saying, "you know, when someone dies, most people don't just care about getting a TV."

Well, she's right. Except most people's deceased loved ones didn't contribute to their eating disorder. So yeah, I'm in the anger stage of grief. If all grandmom gave me was an eating disorder, the least I could get from her was a single TV in exchange for my misery. It's not true, she did give me more than an eating disorder, we did have some good times, and maybe I'll get past it in a few more therapy sessions.

The Chief Engineer and I have a single TV (we're down from five, originally, all of which were hand-me-downs from family) is 25 years old and is a 28" CRT, box-style TV. I inherited it when Gram died. Gram was my other grandmother and she was sort of a mom/sister/best friend all wrapped into one for me, so I'm overly attached to her stuff because I was attached to her. I've mostly gotten past this, but I'm still a little touchy about the TV.

In the end my Aunt got the bigger TV and apparently most of the contents of the condo (hm, the attachments to stuff run deep in this family).  I didn't get the big TV I wanted but I did get one. It's actually a perfect fit, not too small and not too big so I guess I'm glad I didn't get the bigger one. It arrived last week and we decided to keep only one television in the house. Grandmom's TV would replace Gram's.

But every time I walk into the living room now all I can see is Grandmom, and how she's replaced Gram in what is front-and-center in our living room. *Ohh, irrational thoughts! Danger, Wil Robinson!*

Just because we get rid of an object someone had doesn't mean that we're getting rid of them, or our memories of them, or our feelings for them.

Now when I see the TV and have bad memories of Grandmom, I try to either think of good memories of Gram, or to sit down and enjoy watching Star Trek on the TV. It's hard to be angry when I'm watching Connor Trinneer being gorgeous and generally brilliant on-screen, now that I have a TV screen clear enough even to see the color of his eyes! (Amazingly blue, btw.) I did get something good from Grandmom after all, and I still have all the good memories of our time together too, even with the bad.
How can I be angry at anything when I'm watching Commander Tucker being cuddly?
What can I say, I have a thing for engineers.
I also had the opportunity to let Gram continue to help the needy. We dropped her TV off at A Wider Circle, a DC-area charity that takes furniture and uses it to furnish first apartments for homeless families. So Gram, I'm glad we were able to give a homeless family part of a cozy living room. You're gone, but we're still making memories. I don't need to keep your TV to keep my memories of you.

On the plus side, I no longer have the affluenza-influenced desire for a brand new TV and I get to hold on to my own personal record of never having purchased a TV for myself.
Gram's TV, upside down on our ottoman. Now in the home of a formerly homeless family, and we stay object-neutral with just one TV in the house. Everybody wins.
That was my conflicted mother's day. If that's how complicated things are with my grandmothers, you should see how my brain works when it thinks about my mom and my MIL.

How was your mother's day?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

'Tisn't the season for giving

My dad can't turn down anything free, whether he needs it or not. Apparently, neither can I.

The apartment building that the Chief Engineer and I used to live in had a "free" space in the basement where people could leave things they didn't want, and other people could pick up things they did want. One day, I found this huge bag of empty gift bags. I hate wrapping things. I will never have a room in my home solely for wrapping gifts. Thus, I love gift bags and I was on cloud nine when I found them. I then added in leftover wrapping paper and some store bags of my own.

But whoever left them must've spent a fortune on them! Some bags were duplicates and they're all in pristine condition, which is how I know they were purchased and not simply reused. I've probably used about six of the bags since I got them two years ago. But of the ones that are left, the price markings on them range from $2.49 and $5.49. Let's average that out and say $4 a piece. That's $72 for 18 bags. Suddenly wrapping presents in newspaper like my sister-in-law does sounds like a brilliant idea.

Anyways, this gigantic bag of bags was my decluttering task for a lazy Sunday afternoon. I wanted to use the big bag itself for a craft project and I wanted to store everything in a smaller space.

But alas, I had an emotionally hard time getting rid of some things.

OMG, gift bag from my honeymoon in Williamsburg! Gift bag from a world-famous hotel and cake bakery that friends brought us from Austria! (we ate the cake). I can't get rid of it, it's nostalgic! It might be useful one day! Argh, back in the bag they go.

In the game of hoarding, Joanna: 0, Evil Disordered Hoarding Alter Ego: 1

Okay, crumpled up paper that would look shameful if I wrapped something with it. Out it goes.

In the game of hoarding, Joanna: 1: Evil Disordered Hoarding Alter Ego: 1

I got rid of some old tissue paper too, pulled out a couple bags to use for the craft project, and then stuffed pretty much everything right back in the bags. Albeit a little more neatly than before. And I can't get rid of the box, it's a souvenir from my Hawaii trip! Argh. This is ridiculous. A box from Hawaii and a bag from Brooks Brothers. My dad supported the four of us on $50,000 a year growing up. How did I get to be such a snob? No wonder my monthly expenditures are ridiculous. More to the point, what do I do about it?
In the game of hoarding, Joanna: 1: Evil Disordered Hoarding Alter Ego: 2

So I didn't come out evenly matched against my evil disordered hoarding habits today, but I made a little progress. The bags are more organized before and everything takes up a little less space. Now I just have to convince myself to use more of the bags. At least I'm not being attacked by gift bags every time I open the closet now.

There's just one little problem remaining: In the process of trying to become a relative minimalist I've stopped giving others physical gifts. I've done this partially in hope that they'll get the hint that I don't want physical gifts myself, and partially because I'd rather be eco-friendly and give meaningful experiences. Now there's much less to wrap at the holidays, and yet I have all of these gift bags! I hope to try to come up with other uses for them.