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Mental Note

Episode 1 - Nicole's Story

By Ellie Pike, MA, LPC

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Check out our podcast, Mental Note. Nicole’s story is one where she shares how she connected her passion for adventure into overcoming her eating disorder. You may think that traveling to Asia is very different than recovering from an eating disorder but as Nicole shares in her story, just because traveling is fun doesn’t mean that can’t be challenging. Similarly, just because recovery is healthy doesn’t mean that it isn’t incredibly difficult. Each situation pressed her to step bravely into the unknown and address challenges head on. At the end of the day, every adventure begins one step at a time!

 

Nicole’s story is one where she shares how she connected her passion for adventure into overcoming her eating disorder. You may think that traveling to Asia is very different than recovering from an eating disorder but as Nicole shares in her story, just because traveling is fun doesn’t mean that can’t be challenging. Similarly, just because recovery is healthy doesn’t mean that it isn’t incredibly difficult. Each situation pressed her to step bravely into the unknown and address challenges head on. At the end of the day, every adventure begins one step at a time!

Transcript

Ellie Herman:
I'm Ellie Herman, and you're listening to Mental Note Podcast.

Nicole Griswold:
Let's see. Do you want to skip that way and skip back? Do you know how to skip? You want to try it? No? What do you want to do?

Ellie Herman:
Stories of recovery are hidden in plain sight everywhere we go. Take this photo shoot for example.

Nicole Griswold:
Let's do ...

Ellie Herman:
That high pitch voice you hear?

Nicole Griswold:
Show me your laughing face. Go. Ha ha ha ha.

Ellie Herman:
Yeah, that one.

Nicole Griswold:
Okay. Why don't you give momma ...

Ellie Herman:
That's who we're talking with today. Meet Nicole.

Nicole Griswold:
My name is Nicole Griswold and I live in the Seattle area. I'm 31 and I work with kids full-time and I also have my own photography business for newborn children and families. I had a really great childhood, lots of family activities, lots of time with friends, outdoor time, lots of travel, lots of really fun memories, but I didn't really realize at the time that I was struggling with some trauma until I was a lot older. When I went into ninth grade, I transitioned to a private school by my choosing. I was kind of a born perfectionist and really wanted to do everything right and be good at everything and be the best. And I realized that if I wanted to get into an Ivy League school, I needed to go to a private school. This was my decision and my parents agreed.

Ellie Herman:
Right. And were you the one putting all the pressure on yourself?

Nicole Griswold:
Yeah, I was the only one putting pressure on. It was not my parents. And so they agreed and I got accepted to this local school that was two grade school levels ahead of what I was used to in the public school system.

Ellie Herman:
Not only was the school two grade levels ahead, but it introduced Nicole to an entirely new belief system.

Nicole Griswold:
They had required Bible class was part of the curriculum and the teacher was talking about the holy spirit and I raised my hand and finally was like, I'm just going to have to ask. And so I was like, excuse me, you keep talking about this holy spirit. What is this holy spirit you're talking about? Like I had no idea. And everybody turned around and looked at me and I was like, okay, well, I guess everybody knows, but me.

Ellie Herman:
Yeah, but that would be anxiety provoking. A consummate perfectionist, Nicole took it upon herself to master academics, the social hierarchy of high school and an entirely new religion in a single semester.

Nicole Griswold:
I'm a very black and white person. And so ...

Ellie Herman:
Yeah. Tell me what that means to you.

Nicole Griswold:
Here I was struggling with a challenging school, but I was also opened up to this brand new idea on mortality and life and death and heaven and hell. And the teachers started pulling me out of my regular classes to talk to me about why Christianity was the way. And I started to experience more and more stress and anxiety over this huge decision that was before me.

Ellie Herman:
And tell me what did you feel like your decision was?

Nicole Griswold:
If I was going to to heaven or hell, if I was going to become a Christian, if this was going to be what I believed in.

Ellie Herman:
How old were you again?

Nicole Griswold:
I was 14, 15, I guess, is what you are when you're in freshman in high school.

Ellie Herman:
Yeah. It's not surprising that stress started to take its toll on her body.

Nicole Griswold:
When I started to experience some of these symptoms in my freshman year of school, I thought I was just having hypoglycemia. And so I was constantly going to the nurse's station for what I thought was low blood sugar and what I came to find out later, they were actually panic attacks. In addition to this, I was also having a really hard time sleeping at night and became a total insomniac. And so it was haunting me kind of even in my sleep. And then from there, it manifested into my social relationships. I didn't want to spend time with other people. I was feeling really overwhelmed in large settings.

Ellie Herman:
Ironically, Nicole's strive for perfectionism was the biggest barrier to her being, well, perfect.

Nicole Griswold:
Pretty soon I was having a hard time passing any of my classes, when I used to be a straight A student. And so my physics teacher pulled me aside one day and said, "You got a 24% on your test. I know you can do better. I want you to bring this test home. I want you to study it. And I want you to study the book and tomorrow you're going to take the exact same test, open book." And I went to school the next day and I took the exact same test. And I got, I think, a 48%. I cognitively could not pass a test. I had reached a point where my brain literally could not process anymore. And even though I studied for hours, I, for whatever reason, was not being able to retain what I was learning. I was just ... My brain was so overwhelmed and overstimulated.

Ellie Herman:
And sleep deprived

Nicole Griswold:
And sleep deprived. That I just started to really struggle. So that was when the anxiety got even worse and the depression set in. And with that, I started to lose a lot of weight. And when I lost a lot of weight, I realized if I couldn't be good in academics, I could be good in being skinny. And I barely finished the school year. And I told my parents that I would never go back to school. And if they made me go back to school, I would kill myself. When I was 16, we were driving to the mall and it was pouring rain outside and we weren't talking. It was just my mom and I in the car. And she said in a couple days, we're going to be flying down with you to Arizona and you're going to go to a treatment center for an eating disorder. I was just so blindsided. I had no idea I had an eating disorder and I had no idea that basically that they were leaving me there. And when I went to the treatment center, I still couldn't believe it. I just ... I'm still friends with some of the people I met there today and they tell me that I came in and just told everybody I had depression. I really didn't think I had an eating disorder.

Ellie Herman:
What did you think was happening?

Nicole Griswold:
I thought I was just depressed.

Ellie Herman:
Like no appetite.

Nicole Griswold:
No appetite. I didn't think it had morphed into an eating disorder.

Ellie Herman:
Growing up ... Perhaps now is a good time to take a pause and explain just exactly what an eating disorder is. To do that, I sat down with a professional. So if you'll just introduce yourself. You can use first and last name.

Dr. Alison Chase:
Dr. Allison Chase. I am a licensed psychologist. I'm also the Executive Director for eating recovery center in Austin, as well as Insight Behavioral Health Center.

Ellie Herman:
She describes the anorexia, the illness Nicole was treated for, like this.

Dr. Alison Chase:
So anorexia is one that I think people are most familiar with. Anorexia nervosa. When it's really a refusal to maintain a healthy weight. And so that's done with a lot of food restriction. It's also there's a lot of preoccupation in one's weight and shape. One of the big problems with someone in anorectic state is that they not really thinking properly. So if we think of it in terms of the body being so malnourished, right, it's not even functioning properly. The heart's not working well. Someone's cold all the time. Even hair starts falling out. All these signs that our body is not healthy and sort of churning in the way it should be. Our brain is no different.

Ellie Herman:
How would you define recovery?

Dr. Alison Chase:
Ah, like an endurance test. I think it's like an endurance test. It's just a rocky road. It is a rocky road. I don't know how it could be any other way, because anytime you're going to keep pushing and challenging oneself, to move up against real psychological distress and things that have gotten in the way or block them, it's going to be tough. It's going to be really tough. And it may even as like a sort of a dip for a moment, but usually it's working through that dip and coming back out takes you further beyond.

Ellie Herman:
Just as Dr. Chase explained, Nicole's journey to recovery was far from linear. It's taken over 10 years. She went to multiple treatment programs.

Nicole Griswold:
Arizona, Reno, partial hospitalization.

Ellie Herman:
Encountered massive setbacks.

Nicole Griswold:
I was actually assaulted right after I discharged from treatment while I was down there. And after doing so well for such a short amount of time, I realized that I was kind of stuck.

Ellie Herman:
And the physical effects of her illness dominated her life.

Nicole Griswold:
Self harm, suicidality, panic, total insomniac.

Ellie Herman:
These paths eventually brought her back to Seattle, still determined to be perfect.

Nicole Griswold:
And so I decided to do what every person with an eating disorder anorexia history does. And I decided to take on more because I'm really good at over scheduling myself. And ...

Ellie Herman:
Tell me more about that. Is that part of that perfectionistic tendency?

Nicole Griswold:
Yeah. That perfectionism of trying to just do more and be better at everything. And I decided that at that point that I was going to try to go back to school. I just very quickly went into full blown relapse with my anorexia and the depression came back and the suicidality came back. And before I knew it, I was sicker than I'd probably ever been.

Ellie Herman:
This final relapse forced Nicole to reckon with the fact that she'd never been all in for recovery. So she made a deal with herself. One year of all out effort to recover. And if that didn't work, suicide.

Nicole Griswold:
And I basically told myself that I was going to kill myself. I was going to do it. I had a plan. I hadn't really been trying up to that point. I had just been surviving. And so I chose to go back to treatment one more time, full throttle and told myself I had to try for one year. And before I knew it, after a year, I was feeling a little bit better.

Ellie Herman:
As she began climbing out of despair with the help of eating recovery center, Nicole started to get glimmers of what her future could be like.

Nicole Griswold:
I think the only time that I felt connection was when I was with children. I've always loved being around kids, especially babies and infants, toddlers. I just, I absolutely love it. And I've always felt accepted for who I am and not really felt like I had to fit a certain mold when I'm working with kids.

Ellie Herman:
So then when you left treatment, you went back to nannying. And I think I remember you saying that you started photography and you had families starting to ask you to do family photography sessions.

Nicole Griswold:
Yeah. So photography had always been kind of a passion of mine and it's something that I always did just for fun. I love taking pictures of my nanny kids. I love taking pictures of my dog, my horses, the outdoors, whatever was around me when I was a teenager.

Ellie Herman:
It was only a matter of time before she combined her love of photography and her skills with kiddos. Pretty soon, Nicole found her sweet spot.

Nicole Griswold:
And when I started nannying again, I would bring my camera along and take a lot of pictures of the kids that I worked with. I started to get compliments from their parents and from other families and they started to ask me if I would do family sessions for them, for photos. I started to do that for free at first, and then for a low cost. I realized that photography might be a way that I could be successful at something that I was passionate in and never have to go back to school. I was mixing two of my favorite things, kids and photography. And I absolutely love running around chasing these kids and making weird animal noises and singing songs and looking probably absolutely ridiculous, but enjoying myself and enjoying their company and capturing moments so that these families can have moments that I similarly had captured from my mom growing up, taking pictures of me.

Ellie Herman:
I love that. That's amazing. This is what I love about Nicole. While her body and mind have gone through the ringer, because of anxiety, anorexia and depression, she still listens to what brings her joy. She chose life, even when she doubted hope. And I mean, listen to her taking photos of this little girl. She's so into it.

Nicole Griswold:
Let's see how high you can jump, on a count of three. Are you ready? One, two, three, go. Oh my gosh. You're so tall. What happened?

Ellie Herman:
Nicole's recovery didn't just lead to success outside of an undergrad degree. It also enabled her to take action on a lifelong dream, backpacking the world on a shoestring budget. She even recorded audio on a recent trip to Japan so that we could join along.

Nicole Griswold:
Okay. I made it to Vancouver. Feeling a little bit better today. Anxiety's a lot better. My flight's delayed so I'm a little stressed about that and I'm going to have to change up my schedule a little bit and not go to Kyoto when I land. So just trying to be flexible.

Speaker 4:
Thank you for flying with Japan Airlines. [inaudible 00:15:57].

Nicole Griswold:
But I made it to Kyoto. Now that I got a little bit of sleep, I'm feeling a little bit better. I've got a major hangover today from traveling, but going to go grab some breakfast and caffeine and hopefully enjoy the day.

Speaker 5:
[foreign language 00:16:18].

Nicole Griswold:
This is exactly why I love to travel. I love to see and hear about different points of views and perspectives. It's absolutely stunning. It's snowing. It's cold. And sounds like there's a train coming. I'm just really happy right now. It's stopped raining. The little town is so cute. Everybody smiles at you and seems to be happy that I'm here.

Ellie Herman:
So where does this all leave, Nicole? After 10 years of struggling to find recovery, beginning a business and traveling the world, is she somehow magically healed?

Nicole Griswold:
We all have things in our story. We all have highs and lows and we all have things that we might not feel as comfortable with or that we really want to be part of our story. And just because I struggle with an eating disorder doesn't mean that somebody that doesn't struggle with an eating disorder can't understand and vice versa or same with anxiety. So it's learning to remember that while we may not all have the same disorder or struggle in common, it's appreciating and acknowledging that we're all kind of in this life thing together and being respectful of that and ourselves and each other.

Ellie Herman:
So what happened to that high achieving perfectionistic part of you? Is it still there?

Nicole Griswold:
It's still there. It's gotten a whole lot better. I mean, it's learning that I still have a type A personality. I'm still bossy. I still want to be right. And so how can I find a job or friends that appreciate and understand that and how can I not let this be a part of me? It's kind of learning that fine line.

Ellie Herman:
So if you had to give someone advice, just someone who's struggling, maybe even with minor anxiety or maybe somebody with full blown eating disorders or depression, just from your experience, because everyone's experience is different. What advice would you give someone that might be listening?

Nicole Griswold:
It's really easy to feel isolated and alone in your struggles, but what I've come to realize over the last several years is that for me throughout my journey, it was also important to learn when it was crucial to reach out to others and to get that support when I felt like I couldn't do it anymore alone and that I shouldn't have to do it alone anymore. And sometimes that involved hospitalization so that I could keep myself safe. Sometimes that involved going to treatment centers so that they help me learn how to eat again. Sometimes it involved simply being honest and open with my therapist when I really, really didn't want to. Recovery has been a really healing process in multiple different ways, in the sense that it's okay if I'm concerned or overwhelmed or anxious or not wanting to do something. I can still do it anyways. And it's okay if I feel like my work is horrible. I still have people hiring me. So obviously, it's not. It's learning how to hold on to that little ounce of confidence in myself and hope that I can nourish that and grow that so that I can become bigger and stronger as a person later in life.

Ellie Herman:
Thanks again for having us here. And Nicole, it's so nice to be in Seattle.

Well, that's it for our very first episode of Mental Note Podcast. Thank you for joining me. I can't wait to share more journeys of recovery with you. If you or someone you know can relate to Nicole's story and would like to speak to someone, feel free to call ERC and Insight for more information. (877) 411-9578. Or visit www.eatingrecovery.com.

Our show is sponsored by Eating Recovery Center, Insight Behavioral Health, and Eating Recovery Foundation. You can find out more about Nicole and her photo business, and even see photos from the shoot you heard today, on our website, mentalnotepodcast.com. Also, please subscribe in iTunes and give us a rating and review. Those help more people hear these stories. Today's episode was produced and edited by Sam Pike. I'm your host, Ellie Herman. Until next time.

Presented by

Ellie Pike, MA, LPC

Ellie Pike is the Sr. Manager of Alumni/Family/Community Outreach at ERC & Pathlight Behavioral Health Centers. Over the years, she creatively combined her passions for clinical work with…