Updated: May 4
Acclimation is the process or result of becoming accustomed to a new climate or to new conditions. Those who are climbing Mt. Everest will hike up to the base camp and camp for a period of time. Then they climb to the next camp, rest, go back down to the base, climb to the next camp again, go a little further, come back down to rest again, etc. The process takes 40-60 days on average.
A couple of months ago, I had gotten to the point where I was starting to implement a wider variety of foods into my diet and was eating pretty regularly. I was starting to form hobbies again, go on hikes, sleep at night, wake up at a decent hour, not take excessive naps, etc. I was excited and thinking that I was basically recovered. HA. The next week, I was having a hard time even motivating myself to eat anything (Please do not say “oh, lucky.” NO. It is not lucky to have your body betray you on the one thing it is programmed to do-- keep you alive. PLEASE never tell anyone that they are lucky for having an eating disorder), get out of bed, do my homework, go to work, etc. Rather than going back to my safe foods, I kept trying to eat the new foods I had just introduced into my diet. I wanted to keep going and get to the top of the mountain, but the more I tried to keep going the worse I got.
In response to this, my Dietitian asked what the problem was with just going back to my safe foods for a little bit. I told her that it made me sad to have made so much progress and then to relapse, which was when she pointed out that recovery is like Mount Everest. I had gotten to one of the higher base camps, which is exciting and new, but it was also hard on my body/mental health. After testing the top camp out for a little bit, I needed to go back to my base camp of Top Ramen, Mac-N-Cheese, Cheese Quesadilla’s, Boost, Chick-fil-a french fries, and my bedroom.
However, it was helpful to remind myself that this is not my lowest base camp. It took me a couple of years to feel properly acclimated to the Mac N Cheese camp. It took me a long time to get to the point where I am able to eat those foods without shame or guilt, which is honestly huge progress for me. I went from having a mental breakdown when I read the ingredients in a Wendy’s Chili to being able to live off of the diet similar to a 3-year-old child. While some may look at my diet from high school to now and see it as a backtrack, let me just tell you how freeing it is to not be counting my calories, ingredients, micros, and macros. This is a huge improvement for me, I hope I never go back to my days of constant calculating. BUT if I do, that is ok. I can still work my way up to the next camp and it will be easier the second time around because I will have already paved a path for myself.
Since this analogy, it has been a lot easier to give myself the space to struggle. There will be one day where I am up early, eat a full breakfast, go on a hike, get ready, go do my homework on campus, etc., and then there are days I dedicate to laying in bed. I keep Boosts and Cheese-Its in my room for when I wake up at a lower base camp than expected. I like to call them my depression snacks. I try to allow myself to stay in bed and living off of Boosts until I have enough energy to make my way back up to the next camp.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still fight when I have to go back down the mountain. It is not fun having to pull your car over due to a panic attack around a homework assignment and then having to call the crisis hotline to talk you through it. Not only is it not fun, but it is pretty exhausting. I want more than anything to just be able to drive straight home, do my homework assignment, make a nice dinner, and solve world hunger without hesitation or having to listen to ISIS by Joyner Lucas on repeat to stay calm (honestly have no clue why this song does it for me, but I try not to ask too many questions). But that is not realistic, especially when I have a variety of deep wounds I am still recovering from. I also have to accept that even when, or if, I work through those wounds, I still will have to go slower than I want to. Not only was the pace I set for myself impossible for the healthiest of humans, but it was also way too fast for someone with genetic mental illnesses.
Even a person who is in perfectly good physical health has a really hard time climbing Mt. Everest. They still have to acclimate and wait a long time before being able to summit. If the world’s best hiker who has summited Everest a million times decided that one day she just wanted to take a straight shot to the summit, she would eventually collapse when her body could not take it anymore. After this, it would take her a lot longer to recover and make it to the top than it would have if she had just taken the proper steps when climbing.
Sometimes I look back at my life and wonder how the hell I did certain things. How I made it through high school, my freshman year of college, and then my mission with all the underlying anxiety I had going on. I eventually collapsed. My body could not take the pressure anymore, and I had to spend a couple of years in the medical tent at the bottom. After leaving the tent, my body was weak and fragile. Because of this, my hike back up had to be even slower than it had ever been. This was hard, and there are times I couldn’t stop myself from running until I collapsed again. I have to be brought back down to the medical tent to recover more than I would like to admit. However, the more I allow myself the time and space to take it easy and acclimate, the less I have to go back to the hospital tent to recover. The more I can slowly start to take on Mt. Everest, one step at a time. I am slowly figuring out which things push me over the edge and how to plan ahead for those obstacles.
There are still many times (probably almost daily) when I am in a rough place and feel like all is lost. Like there is no point in continuing the climb since I have worked so hard to get to where I am and still can’t get to the top of the mountain. I think I like to play off that I used to struggle and have it figured out, but I really don’t. I am still a mess. The more therapy I do the more I realize I need. Rather than slowly starting to meet with my therapist less, which was my original plan, over the past year I have added in a Dietitian, EMDR therapist, Group therapy, and am potentially looking into an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). But I have realized that the closer one gets to the top of the mountain, the harder it is and the more resources you need. My life is the fullest it has ever been, but it is also super scary.
There are a lot of unknowns and I need a lot of assistance to be able to work through this uncharted territory. So, when I feel like giving up or sabotaging, I try to remind myself of all the men at the top who try to tell me that women, or anyone who is different than them, are not allowed to climb to the top of the mountain.
And to that, I say, “Mt. Everest ain’t got shit on me.”
And then other times I just take the space to cry for a minute, which is okay too. I think.
Once again, this is my personal journey. Everyone's path to the top of the mountain is different.