Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What it’s like to have an eating disorder and how to help someone who has one

My eating disorder thoughts destroy every positive thing that happens in my life.  Everything.  If something good happens, I can only fake that I am happy because, deep down inside, I’m upset that I weigh too much.  During my college graduation, I could not rejoice in my accomplishments because my mind was consumed with “fat thoughts”.  Another time, when I was promoted in my job, I wasn’t excited or proud.  Instead, I just felt more eyes on me and more of a reason to lose weight.

On the other hand, my only source of joy comes from giving in to the eating disorder.  Yes, the only happiness I’ve ever experienced is from achieving those twisted eating disorder goals.  Looking back, it is difficult for me to know if I was genuinely happy at certain times or if I was just happy because I was thin.

I figured out this unfortunate truth and started manipulating my experiences by giving into the demands of my eating disorder.  If there was a situation or event where I wanted to be happy, I‘d let my E.D. take more control so my mood would be fittingly similar.

For example, after I was engaged to be married and we started planning the big day, I got so afraid that my eating disorder would ruin it for me.  I wanted that day to the happiest day of my life.  So in the months preceding the wedding, I let the E.D. have complete and totally control over me.

Some days, I felt like I had special graces that allowed me to escape the illness for a while.  However, I am not so sure I would have felt the same had I been even one pound over my goal.  I was very happy at certain times, and I do believe there were moments that I was given some special graces from God.  But on those days, I also didn’t eat much either.

If you want to better understand what it’s like to have an eating disorder, think of it like being in an abusive relationship: I feel like the E.D. is my only true friend, my constant companion.  The E.D. is always there for me, that persistent voice in my head, always comforting me in my sorrow by telling me that if I lose weight I’ll be happy.  Its voice is gentle and soothing when I’m upset, and it helps me to stop crying when I’m sad.  Its voice is encouraging when I feel like I’ve lost all hope.  Its voice is motivating when I am very depressed.  The voice of the E.D. is there for me in my loneliness.

Yet, every step of the way is painful.  Its demands are torturous and inhuman.  I feel like I deserve it, so I don’t even try to escape it.  I actually embrace the pain.  I pursue the hurt.

In a very backwards way, the E.D. has even kept me alive when I’ve been suicidal.  I didn’t want someone to have to pick up my fat dead body and think about how heavy I was.

In my head, I know it’s wrong.  But, I can’t get rid of the eating disorder because it’s the only life I know.  It’s the only thing that makes me feel safe.  I am terrified of living without it.

When I’m practicing the E.D. behaviors, I disappoint my loved ones.  Even though they are disappointed with what I am doing, I feel as though they are disappointed with me, as a person.  So, I feel even more alone and then rely more and more on the only thing that makes me feel safe and comforted.

If I’m not practicing the E.D. behaviors, the thoughts are still there – the illness is still there.  If I am doing “better”, no one acknowledges the problem because no one can see it anymore (not that they could see it in the first place).  No one worries anymore because “the illness is gone”.  Yet all the while it’s just growing and growing inside until it reaches full strength again.  During this time, I feel the most alone – I have to pretend I am better because, I too, am tricked into thinking that “this” is better.

How I actually feel is constantly conflicting with how I’m “supposed” to feel.

The E.D. is there for me and makes me feel better regardless of anything else that goes on.  If I’m giving in, the E.D. is happy and so am I – but other’s are not.  If I’m not giving in, the E.D. is upset, I’m upset – but other’s are happy.  It’s very difficult to life this life.  Because of this constant discord, I feel like the only thing that makes sense is the eating disorder.  So choosing it feels logical, even if I know in my head it is not.

If your loved one struggles with an eating disorder and you want them to trust you and learn to give up the E.D., you need to be strong, if not stronger, than IT is.  Don’t show your fear, anger, impatience, frustration, or cluelessness, because E.D.’s don’t.  They are constantly lurking in the shadow waiting for your moment of weakness to show in order to strike back.

When someone with an eating disorder is trying to get over it, they will have never felt more alone in their life.  That is why it is so important to replace the E.D. with your support.  Don’t give up, because IT won’t.

You have to be a better listener, more understanding, more patience, more loving, more compassionate, more sympathetic, more soothing, more constant, more available, and more supportive than the eating disorder.  Because remember, the E.D. is waiting, ever waiting, to jump in when you fail, to prove you wrong, to come right back in like it never left.

People with eating disorders hate to eat.  They truly hate it.  They try to like it by attaching themselves inordinately to “favorite” foods or by searching for things that taste extremely good.  But, when it comes down to it, nothing they eat makes them feel as good as not eating.  So, drawing attention to eating, congratulating, or rejoicing in it will not help the situation.  When someone with an E.D. eats, they are discouraged, miserable, and very unhappy, and the E.D. is angry too.  If you are happy about it, you will only cause tension and distrust in your relationship.  It is better to show that you are there for them in their sorrow and pain, not to say anything but to shower them with support, love, and affection.  Most of all, let them talk to you about it when they are ready to talk.

On the flip side, if you are unhappy when they are not eating and losing weight, do not show your disapproval.  And definitely do not punish them.  People with eating disorders are happy when they are not eating and achieving their goals.  The E.D. is happy too and praising them for all they’ve done.  So if you are unhappy, likewise, you will only cause them to withdraw from you.  They are getting all the love and affirmation they need from the E.D, “who needs them anyway?” it will say.  Punishing them will only cause more distrust and more friction in your relationship.  It would be more beneficial for their recovery if you were constant and loyal no matter what the circumstance.

Your crucial moment comes when the E.D. fails.  The eating disorder will fail when it keeps its victims from doing the things they want to do: going to parties, shopping, being with people, keeping a job, doing certain hobbies, etc.  It is during those times that a loved one’s support is the most influential, the most critical.  By comforting and supporting them, you will show your loved one that you love them more than the eating disorder loves them.  By being there for them, you can make them realize that the E.D. is not their friend – It’s all lies.  The voice of eating disorders has been lying all along.  An E.D. is a tiring and lonely road and not the way to happiness.  But the road that you two can walk together, you and your loved one, will sometimes be hard, but it is the only way to true happiness and peace.

It’s incredibly difficult to help someone overcome an eating disorder.  It takes extreme, superhuman patience and sympathy.  People with eating disorders cannot save themselves – they need the help of their loved ones or they definitely won’t get better.

This is the only way to help someone get over an eating disorder.  Logical facts, debating, nutritional information, doctors, counselors, forcing food, punishment for not eating, treatment centers, threats…none of those things will work.  Nothing is as important as the support from a loved one.

The world of eating disorders is twisted and strange; it is the exact opposite of what you’d think in your sound, healthy mind.  However, the better you understand that world the greater your chances are to defeat it, whether you yourself are struggling or your loved one is struggling with the illness.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

I made it through the week

This past week, I exhausted every possible coping skill on my extensive list.  Well, at least, I did all the ones on my winter list – the ones I could on my own.  OK, I guess the list wasn’t that long now that I think about it.

I really tried to make painting work toward my advantage, this week and many times before then.  It seems so sensible – I’m having a bad day, so why don’t I sit down at my easel, swirl around some paint, and let the brush take me away to magical places of peace and tranquility.

But, I can’t…

No matter how hard I try, painting doesn’t come naturally to me.  I just end up getting so irritated and down on myself even more.  I was so irritated the other day that I even put everything away.  Boxed, shut, in the closet, and easel packed up and under the bed.  Maybe, if I am more intentional about painting rather than having it out all the time, I will actually do some creating.  I don’t know, probably not.

One day last week, I finally gave up trying to fix the problem, and I sat down at the kitchen table.  I received some lovely flowers last week from my mom.  They are so bright and cheerful and they smell so nice.  Looking at them is a little oasis from the dead, cold winter.

We have a really nice camera that takes really good pictures no matter how bad of a photographer you are.  I got out the camera and started taking pictures of my flowers.  Then, after the mini photo shoot, I put the pictures on my computer and edited them in a very basic photo program on windows.

The result?  The new header picture for this blog.

It represents more than just “time for a change”.  It reminds me that I can’t always be confined to lists and shoulds and oughts.  They have their place as well.  However, sometimes I need to just let myself alone.  I don't have to fix the problem all the time.

So, I can’t get myself out of this funk.  That’s OK.  It’s OK if I don’t do anything productive.  It’s OK that I don’t work.  It’s OK that I don’t have “the next big thing” happening in my life.  It’s OK if I don’t get everything done that I want to get done.  It’s OK if I don’t do anything at all!

Often times, when I am feeling more depressed than usual or I am having lots of tormenting eating disorder thoughts, I want to fix the problem right away.  If I can’t fix it right away, then I get even more down, more discouraged, and I end up making matters worse.

Since I’ve been through the worst when it comes to depression, I am afraid of going down that path again.  So when symptoms pop up and don’t go away, I freak out.  On the other hand, since I am aware of it, I know what the warning signs are and I won’t let myself get that bad again.  And neither will my husband, family, or friends let me go there again.

I am really blessed to have such wonderful family and friends.  I've had several great conversations that have literally got me through this week unscathed.  It's so hard for me to ask for help - I am blessed to have people in my life who offer their help without me having to ask.

I learned the lesson, again, that I have to be patient with myself.  I’m also reminded that I need to give myself permission to feel down.  I am allowed to feel sucky.  It doesn’t mean everything is falling apart.  It doesn’t mean I am having a relapse.  It just means that its winter and it sucks and I am allowed to feel sucky.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I feel like I'll never get over this eating disorder thing

I know I’ve written about this issue many times.  But it is still an ever-present part of my daily life.

Some days, it’s a just an annoying, nagging headache.  Other days, it’s a debilitating illness that leaves me bedridden.

The number-one, main reason why I don’t do things is because I feel like I am too fat.

I don’t have a job because I can’t handle getting dressed and thinking about my pants size every day.  The unknown of not having control over what I eat is too much to bear.

I worry about every meal and whether or not it will cause me to gain weight, even though I know I am not supposed to be worried about that anymore.

I don’t help out at events or volunteer because I can’t imagine dragging myself around, pound for pound, wherever I go.  It’s like I am attached to a rope tied to a lead ball which weighs exactly the difference between what I currently weigh and what I want to weigh.  I’ll just say it’s really heavy and leave it at that.

I feel like I am too big to be social.  How can I converse with people when there is only one thing on my mind?

I am ashamed of what I look like no matter where I am or what I am doing.  I feel like I need a reason why I am the way I am so I can apologize for my appearance.

If I want to paint, I don’t, because I feel like I should be exercising.
I don’t play the piano because I should be exercising.
And I don’t read because I should be exercising.

I know it’s getting bad when I go through my list of coping skills and nothing helps.

I can’t do anything when I get it in my head that I need to lose weight.  The only thing I can do is sleep so as to escape the torment in my head.

If I was really honest with other people about why I can’t do something I would tell them, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t, because I’m too fat”.  But I won’t tell people that because it might hurt their feelings or they might not understand.

“Being fat” is not even the real issue anyway.  It’s just covering up the resurfacing depression.

It’s good for me to talk through these bad thoughts, if only to distract me for a while.  However, when I am this way, it is so difficult to talk to another person about what’s really bothering me.  I know my self-worth is at a low because I don’t want to be a burden on other people, even more than usual.  Nothing anyone could say would convince me that I am not bothering them.  Nothing.

I guess I just had a realization; I can no longer ask for help.  I was never any good at it before either.  But I realize now that I am trying to pull myself up by my own boot straps again.

I can tell that I am beginning to isolate myself because I feel like my problems are insignificant, comparatively.  And I can see that the depression is coming back – even if I could talk about these problems of mine, after, I feel even more miserable, more alone, more sad.

I don’t know if the eating disorder causes the depression or if the depression causes me to cope with eating disorder behaviors.  But they are very connected.  When one comes back, so does the other.

Eating disorders are so tricky because there are so many triggers.  Little things that seem not to be such a big deal are a very big deal.  Talking about “health” seems harmless yet can set me down a spiral.  Eating certain foods can trigger E.D. thoughts.  Eating when I’m not hungry is probably the biggest trigger I know.  And, eating more than another person is also very difficult to handle.

When I eat, I have to fake it for a while that I’m OK.  I have to fake it because I just ate…I just did the thing I hate most in the world.  If I don’t fake it, then I have to acknowledge that I’m a hypocrite and would then have even more self-hate.
E.D. triggers are all over the internet.  I’ve almost given it up completely but then I wouldn’t be able to blog – and that I like.  Blogging helps me.  I guess when that goes, I’ll know I’m in too deep.

I thought if I got into cooking and baking it would help.  I thought that I could turn this obsession into something productive.  I do like cooking – it’s a fun hobby and keeps my interest.  But I’ve come to love the artistry of it, and even more than that, the perfection of it.  I like making something new or challenging and serving it to my husband, my family, or my friends.  I love to cook, but I still don’t love to eat it when I’m done.  The first bite is necessary to see if it passes the test.  After that, it gets more and more painful and I’m back at square one.

Blah. So here we are again at the end of a depressing post…

I’ll pretend that it’s not as bad as it is, because all things must end.  If they’re going to end anyway, they might as well end on a positive note – for the sake of other people and their own hope.

One thing, I guess, that I can say is that I am still trucking on.  Things aren’t good, but I’m still here.  I’ve survived it so far.  I’m miserable, but I’m still alive.  And that’s one thing to be thankful for.

Also, I took a break and turned to prayer.  I don’t know why I’m surprised, but it helped.

This is what I read:

Praise the Lord for times and seasons,
Cloud and Sunshine, wind and rain;
Spring to melt the snows of winter
Till the waters flow again;
Grass upon the mountain pastures,
Golden valleys thick with grain.

These words struck me as I read it, especial because of this time of mental turmoil.  There will be good days and bad days and everything in between.  But, I should still praise the Lord.  I should praise Him for this winter season: the winter of the world, and the winter in my heart.  It will be spring again.  Maybe not tomorrow or the next day, but soon.  Spring will come.

Well, I guess this ended on a good note after all…

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sometimes my brain throws a temper tantrum.

{Photo from here}
It’s called panic.  Sometimes, my brain doesn’t know how to react in a certain situation, whether it’s from inexperience, an unknown, change, something that scares me, or no reason at all.  After these triggers, my mind decides to act somewhat like a child.

When I thought about it, the experience is very much like my brain is a 2 year old throwing a temper tantrum.  Things aren’t going my way and the only way I know how to cope is to panic.  After years of giving in to these episodes, the habitual reactions are formed and set.  The outcome: panic attacks, and a life of anxiety.

I don’t want to come across as insensitive.  I’m not saying that if you struggle with anxiety you are immature.  No, panic attacks are a real adult problem and many people suffer from them.  This analogy is only to serve as a possible way to help you overcome them.

For example, I often have panic attacks before I’m about to leave the house.  I am afraid of forgetting something I’ll need while I’m away.  I’m afraid of encountering a circumstance I won’t know how to handle.  Or I’m afraid of worst-case scenario problems that might arise, you know, like the house burning down, my car breaking down, or running into someone I know at the store...

I have found that one way to help overcome panic attacks is to think of them as the brain throwing a temper tantrum.  To stop the tantrum, you would treat it as you would treat a 2 year old; don’t engage.  I learned this technique from the blog article, “Five more ways of coping with panic” by Therese Borchard, who has long suffered from depression and anxiety.

I don’t have kids, but I’ve babysat many a temper-tantruming-two-year-olds and I know the best way to diffuse the situation is to ignore it.  The more you engage in the fit, the more you encourage it to go on.  Part of the reason for the tantrum is to get attention, so if no attention is given to it, the temper subsides.  Depending on how old the child is, later (maybe after a nap or some food), you can have a rational discussion concerning the behavior.

Reflecting on this example, I think, I can also learn how to deal with panic attacks.

When you are experiencing a panic attack, most of the time, your brain is on hyper-sensitive mode.  Your mind is reacting out of fear, so all the senses are engaged and participating in the ordeal.  It feels scary and all you want to do is give in and let the panic attack win.  Thus, repeating a vicious cycle, ever bringing you down.

However, if you decide not to engage in the panic, ignoring the feelings of extreme anxiety, and go about what you were doing, it is highly likely that you will live through the situation.  By going through the motions, and leading with your body, your brain will catch up and soon forget what it was so upset about in the first place.  Treat it like you would a little kid’s tantrum: blow it off, walk out of the room, and don’t engage.

This change in behavior will be very difficult at first.  But the more you do this, the more your brain will “mature”.  With time and practice, you will begin to re-train your brain to handle those non-emergency situations in a calm way.

In the moment, your brain is not capable of rationally thinking through the panic attack.  However, when all is said and done (maybe after a nap and some foodJ), you can think about the situation that caused you panic and have a rational, calm discussion with yourself about your feelings and what caused you fear.

This is from Therese’s article, “A study published in “Journal of Neuroscience” showed that there is a breakdown in normal patterns of emotional processing that can prevent anxious people from suppressing negative emotions. In fact, the more they tried, the more they activated the fear center of their brain, the amygdala, which fed them more negative messages.”

So, there is even a scientific explanation as to why you can’t “talk” yourself out of a panic attack.  So many times I’ve tried to calm myself down by confronting the panic, trying to figure it out, explain it, and rationalize it away.  In reality, all I was doing was engaging in my brain’s temper tantrum, fueling it with more and more fear.

If you also struggle with panic attacks, I encourage you to try this technique.  It has worked really well for me and it’s also helped me make a lot of positive progress concerning anxiety in general.

Again, I’m not trying to dismiss panic and anxiety by reducing it to the level of a toddler.  I just think that this example can play a positive part in helping us overcome the debilitating anxiety that keeps us from doing the things we love to do.

Friday, January 17, 2014

True Change is Slow Change

I heard this phrase on a podcast a while back and, ever since then, I’ve thought about the words:

True change is slow change.

So often, I’ve given in to discouragement on this road to mental health recovery.  I wish I was already better.  I wish I didn’t have to try so hard anymore.  I wish I could just be “normal”.  Day to day, I don’t see much progress.  So I get to thinking that I am not making any progress at all.

That is why the phrase struck me so profoundly.  In order to make long-term, effective changes, I have to take my time.

Sometimes, I get the words “urgent” and “haste” mixed up.  I think I am acting on a sense of urgency but, in reality, I’m only acting in hastily.  To me, the end always seems more important than the journey.  So why not just get there, right?  The down side to acting is haste is not always making the best decisions – or the most effective decisions.

In order to truly change things for the better, the supernatural virtues of patience and hope are needed.

Hope is necessary to keep going, to not give up when times get tough or when discouragement sets in.  I say supernatural, because it goes against human nature.  We are all human and we are all failures.  And if we believe that it’s hopeless and we can never change, than failures we will stay.  On the other hand, if we have hope, others may think we are foolish, idealistic, or unrealistic.  So despite our own doubts and the criticism of others, we must be hopeful nonetheless – because it is the only way.

Patience is also absolutely necessary.  This is the virtue that keeps urgency in check and does not turn into haste.  Patience leads to surrender.  Not my will but Thy will.  Impatience only leads to controlling things and doing things the way you want them done…not waiting for God’s timing.

It is no easy task to be patient.  In all honesty, patience hurts.  It’s not easy or fun – it’s hard work and requires a lot of suffering.  It is very difficult to wait for God’s will.

Reflecting on this reality causes me to think of two people: the Blessed Virgin Mother and Jesus.  Mother Mary did not know all the details of what to do when she spoke her Fiat, her “yes”.  She did not get infused with Divine Wisdom or have revealed to her everything that would come to pass.  No, she simply said “yes” and waited patiently for God’s will to be made known to her in the proper time.

When I think of patience, I also think of the early life of Jesus.  People had been waiting a long time for the Messiah to come.  Yet, after Jesus was born, He did not get started right away on His work of Salvation.  Jesus did not start his public ministry until He was 30 years old.  He waited for God’s timing.  Talk about not being hasty!

And it’s not like Jesus spent those 30 years twiddling his thumbs.  In those years, he sanctified work, the family, and personal relationships.  It was God’s will that those things were done in addition to saving all of our souls by His cross and resurrection.

So, considering all these things, in order to create true and lasting change in my life, I must have hope and patience.

I think, sometimes, people (myself included) worry that if they don’t have haste, then they will fall into laziness, or use patience to justify putting off what they need to do.  I don’t doubt that this happens, but I think it is more uncommon in the searching soul who is honestly seeking virtue and God’s will.

Practically speaking, it is good to be patience and pray about big decisions for several days – or longer if no peace comes from it.  Peace is the surest sign of God’s will.

If I work at trying to listen to God’s will and not trying to force my own will all the time, then I will learn to hear God’s voice.  Only after I get more in tune with His voice can I make better decisions and act with urgency.

Patience is not laziness, it is having confidence that God is at work.  God is God, and He has a far better plan than I can ever imagine.  So going forward, I will try to have more confidence that God is in control and express this faith by having more patience and hope.

True change is slow change.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Accepting My-new-Self

Recently, there have been some difficult things in my life that I can’t control.  So, with intentions to ease the uncertainty, I’ve reverted back to my old eating disorder mindset.

I’m unhappy.  If I lost some weight, I wouldn’t be so unhappy.

Because my habits are now with intuitive eating, I haven’t acted on these feelings yet.  But I am tempted to - which is frustrating to say the least.  Again, my mind is beginning to be consumed with thoughts of diets, exercise, and smaller clothes.

I believe that, right now, these eating disorder temptations are acting as a distraction.  Instead of focusing on what’s really going on in my life, I am trying to control what I eat.  Because it seems easier, because the real issues are too painful to acknowledge.

I’ve been practicing intuitive eating for some time now.  When I started this new approach I was underweight.  I could not admit that fact for months, and I still have a difficult time saying it (or writing it) out loud.
Nonetheless, since I was underweight and undernourished, part of overcoming my eating disorder meant returning to a healthy, natural weight.  I never really knew what my healthy, natural weight was because I constantly fluctuated up and down since high school.   I avoid scales like the plague, but I think I am somewhere around 30 pounds heavier than I was a few years ago.
For someone with an eating disorder, 30 pounds is a very big deal.

Recognizing this fact, I’ve had to come to terms with an important realization concerning my feelings about my weight:

This is the new me.

I am not that person I used to be.  I am not a person with an eating disorder.  I am not a person that fits into those clothes anymore.  This is not a phase.  This is not temporary until I can figure out how to lose weight again.  This is the new me.

I am no longer that size.  I have curvy hips in the non-Hollywood way, a large cup size that makes bra and shirt shopping irritating, and a some chubb around my middle that makes me cry when I see it in the mirror.

If I am truly and honestly going to get over this whole eating disorder thing.  Than I have to accept the new me as I am right now.  More than that, I have to believe that this IS the true me – truer than I’ve ever been in the past.  This is what I look like now and I have to come to terms with that fact and move on with my life.

Something I've been putting off is going through my closet.  I have to get rid of 3/4th of my clothes and start over.  I have to give up those old items that I used to love because they made me look skinny and those things that I took pride in because of the small number on the tag.  All of my favorite dresses and jeans have to say goodbye.  The worst part for me, Ms Frugal, is that I have to spend the money to get a new wardrobe.

I think my worst fear is that I can no longer look beautiful, or even just "good", and put together for that matter.  Stores do not sell clothes for a 5 ft 11 in, 170 pound woman who is trying to be modest.  I know there will be tears and shame and more tears before all is said and done.

But I must commit to this mission.  Being thin or losing weight will not make me happy.  I don’t want to go back down that E.D. path.  It is all lies and deception.

I heard something the other day that I find myself repeat over and over in times like this.  It went something like this (I don’t remember where it’s from) “Outward beauty does not penetrate your soul, but beauty on the inside shines out through your skin.”
If I focus on the big picture, maybe I can get through this trial.  There are things in life that I want more than a small waist.  Some days I just need more reminders.

Friday, January 10, 2014

This is me pretending to be a “Lord of the Rings” expert

I just started reading the third book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, “The Return of the King”.  I have wanted to read the books for a long time, ever since the first movie came out when I was in high school.  Many many many times, I read the beginning of the first book and lost interest during the Tom Bombadil part.  I would get discouraged – thinking I must not be a “good reader” – and end up just watching the movies instead.

This time, however, I pushed through the dry spell and, after that, the pages have flown by.  I am so glad I finally broke through the barrier because it has been a joy to read every word.  For me, the ticket was that I had to tell myself it is more about the journey of reading then just “getting it done”.  Also because I am familiar with the movies, I wasn’t confused by the countless names of characters and places.

Many of the lines written by J.R.R. Tolkien strike me in a unique way.  His words are as prophetic and relevant today as they were when he first wrote them down on paper.

In the first book, “The Fellowship of the Ring”, Gandalf leaves a letter for the Hobbits at the Prancing Pony.  At the end of the letter, he writes:

All that is gold does not glitter,
    Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
    Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
    A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
    The crownless again shall be king.

There are many meanings that can be derived from this poem, but I am no expert nor claim to have any insight into the mind of the author.  Personally, on the other hand, these words move me and cause me to ponder deep things.

The line, “Not all those who wander are lost”, reminds me of my own life.  Often times, I feel like I am not where I am supposed to be, traveling down unknown paths.  But that doesn’t mean I am lost.  I know where I am intended to go.  And I know I am meant for something greater.  Yet, constantly, I am searching for that meaning and purpose in my life and do not find it.  But that does not mean I am lost.  It is in the wandering and the journeying that signifies I am not lost.  We must wander, we must journey, and we must keep walking.  “Seek and ye shall find.”  It is when we stop wandering that we get lost.

“Deep roots are not reached by the frost” is also one of my favorite lines.  Difficult times are coming.  The journey is going to become more difficult.  Yet, if our faith is deep, it will not be broken.  The way to prepare for the battle ahead is to continue to grow strong in the faith – not physically but spiritually strong.

This poem ends with such hope that my heart leaps every time I read these words, “The crownless again shall be king”.  In our world, the crown is with the wealthy, the famous, the successful, and the fleeting pleasures.  But it will not always be so.  When Our Lord comes again, He will once more have the crown and reclaim His throne on this earth.  Where then will my allegiance lie?

There is another line toward the end of the first book that struck me as I read it.  The words are those of Gandalf, speaking at the council of Elrond before the fellowship is established and Frodo is chosen to be the Ring-bearer.  The task ahead seems impossible and many are questioning whether or not it can be done.

Gandalf responds, “It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt.”  Those words moved me especially because of my experience with depression.  During the darkest moments of my illness, I often despaired to the point of contemplating suicide.  In those moments, I did feel like I knew what the end was – it was all suffering and pain – and I could not escape.  I could not see anything beyond the pain of the moment.  I thought the only way out was to take my own life.  But I did NOT know the end, and I still do NOT know the end.  Everyone has some doubt as to what will happen to them when all is said and done.  Even those people like me, who thinking the end must be bad, have some doubt that it might actually turn out OK.

I don’t know if contemplating Gandalf’s words would have helped me in the past or not.  But I do know now that it will be much more difficult for me to fall into despair again.  There is always doubt and there is always hope.  And sometimes, you need to see the doubt in order to have hope.

This next line needs a little more unpacking because of the sentence structure, but it still made me stop and think after my eyes skimmed the words.  “Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him.”  Meaning, the enemy uses the division of the good peoples to his advantage.  I can think of many things within the Church that separates and divides those who are a part of it: certain teachings, past hurt, grudges, not forgiving, etc.  Divide and conquer is a motto we are familiar with and don’t need much explanation for.  Yet, it is important to be aware of this strategy of the enemy in order to combat it wisely.  We must have unity with our fellow brothers and sisters or we will fall.

Since I just started reading the third book, I don’t have any good lines to highlight yet.  (I am sure I will have many to talk about later after I’m finished.)  But, I do have a line that I like from the third movie.  Each time I watch the movies, something new sticks out to me.  This time I was caught contemplating the character of King Théoden of Rohan.

The scene is at the great battle of Gondor after Théoden is struck down by an Orc and lay dying.  His niece is by his side grieving his mortal wounds.  He face is overcome with peace and acceptance.  Maybe, in order to soothe his niece’s anguish he speaks these words of hope.  Théoden says, “I go now to the great hall of my father, where in his mighty company I need no longer be ashamed.”

What hope do I have to be able to say these words on my own deathbed?  If I were to die today, would I be able to stand before My Father and need not feel ashamed?

I know I will never “feel” worthy of Heaven.  Without the sacrifice of the Cross, I am not worthy at all.  Yet, after contemplating Théoden’s words, I am inspired to make of my life something honorable – a life that would make my Heavenly Father proud to call me His daughter.  I am thankful that I have at least a lifetime to accomplish this task for I know I have a long way to go yet.  Oh the glory to be able to repeat the words of Théoden or to hear those of the Lord when he says, “well done, good and faithful servant”.