March 13, 2013

… About My Eating Disorder

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What is the issue?
Shutterstock.com
Shutterstock.com

I dunno. The bulk of it is that I have an eating disorder. My brain just does not work like a normal person’s. I am smart and I can (and have) read about nutrition and coping techniques and gotten all the self knowledge I want to from going to therapy and writing about my life all the time, but none of that was making my ED any more manageable. It wasn’t manageable, and as time went on it got worse and worse.

I went on my first diet when I was in Kindergarten. I remember asking people if they thought I was fat around that time. In high school I realized it felt really good to just skip meals. I wouldn’t eat anything for days, I’d go to hockey practice after school and feel SO powerful that I could exert so much energy that wasn’t coming from anywhere but what I thought was sheer will. Then I’d go home and eat everything in the kitchen because I’d be shaking and dizzy. I’d make up for it by puking or getting up and over exercising in the morning or just by feeling shitty and worthless indefinitely.

This was in high school which started 13 years ago for me. I think I’m an extremely different person than I was in high school. I got smarter and better at so much, but it added a lot into my feelings of worthlessness that I was doing something that was this dumb privileged girl with anxiety thing. Like, just snap out if it! Right?

Being smart kind of fucks you over with mental issues like this because it’s so obvious what the right decision is to do, but you can’t do it. How could I believe that I was even smart then? I just felt like I was indulgent and lazy because I truly thought I didn’t have a mental issue, I had a willpower issue.

There was a time in my life when I became conscious of the fact that I associated the word “monster” with myself. This is when I got help for the first time, because I realized that is not a normal or healthy thing to do. I went to an outpatient program at a hospital in town. I think this was three and a half years ago, so I finally vocalized to myself that I had a problem after 9 years. I remember being at my intake appointment and being scared out of my mind, I couldn’t stop shaking and crying. I’m comfortable telling people so much about myself but I’d never talked to a single person about all the icky, crazy things my brain told me daily. As soon as I had to do this, everything came out. Floodgates, etc. It was really hard because I’d never given anyone so much authority in my life that if they asked me a question I had to answer rather than saying “that’s really personal and I don’t want to talk about it.” Therapists don’t really let you do that.

So I did this outpatient therapy and weird things with a dietician where you like make meals out of play food (this sounds so ridiculous, I’m sorry, but when you realize your brain has stopped being reliable in a certain way and you have to play with play food like a four year old I will give you the same charity I am asking you for here) for a year. I went through all the pain of having to be honest to these strangers I was working with because I was certain I was going to get my life back from it. My relationships are probably the most important thing in my life and I couldn’t be honest with anyone. Something like this will kill you, if not from the health effects then because you can’t live your life with this weight on you, with feeling absolutely alone and worthless and the story you tell yourself is that you are feeling this way because you failed to execute all the crazy goals you set for yourself in the first place. You will also feel worthless that you don’t have the right kind of eating disorder and can’t at least manage to look hot instead of disgusting while you are getting buried underneath the avalanche of your own self hate.

Anyways, I quit going to this program because I lost a lucrative part time gig I was doing and it was really expensive, and at the end of the day just not working. It’s not like I wouldn’t recommend it to other people, it’s just that for whatever reason it didn’t work for me. Which was heartbreaking. I was still crazy but now that I’d tried and failed to fix myself, I had a little less hope that this wasn’t something I was just going to live with forever.

The hard part to explain is that I did figure it out. It wasn’t that I got more self-knowledge or learned more about nutrition or got on anti-depressants, those would be logical answers but the kinds of things I’d already tried and failed to beat my disease with. I went to a five day live-in, overnight program I read about on the internet. I had to be honest with even more people. I had to eat all my meals with these strangers who became best friends, it was measured to be exactly- not more or less- what my body needed. I learned that if I measured my food and stopped eating insulin spiking foods and did other things I didn’t have to rely on my tainted thoughts to tell me what was good and what was bad. I just eliminated the value part of eating. It seemed robotic at first but now I think my brain has been rewired and I just don’t follow the same pathways at all anymore.

I don’t know why this worked. It’s shocking to me that within a month I just…. have all this new brain space where my crazy used to live. I catch myself in situations where I’m like “oh I would have eaten that and then thrown it up” and I feel like I am remember something someone else told me instead of something I did just a month ago.

I just…. I can’t imagine being any happier in my life than I am right now. I feel like I lost about 500 lbs of shitty thoughts and anxiety that I didn’t realize I was living underneath. My world looks completely different. Sure, there are still plenty of annoying or scary situations I’m dealing with, but it’s external to me. If I get a flat tire I’m going to call the towing company not the suicide hotline. I don’t say that to imply I was suicidal (I wasn’t) or that it’s a joke somehow, just that every little thing used to throw me into a panic. Like, if my car broke down it was because I was bad at life and didn’t know how to do anything verses an external circumstance that sometimes happens but doesn’t reflect back anything about your self worth or place in life.

I met a lot of people who are now very close friends and when they opened their mouths, out came my life story. I got an email from one of them the other day that talked about how thankful was that she might go through hard times again, but she would never have to feel as alone as she felt when she was living in her disease again. That was really powerful because I’d never realized how isolated I was. I had best friends! I’m close to my family! I’ve dated people but of course, I was already in a monogamous relationship with my neuroses, how could I let anyone else in? If things get bad again I won’t be too embarrassed to talk to people because I understand  I’m not having these crazy thoughts because I’m a bad or broken person, It’s just something that happens, like being right-handed or having red hair. It’s this kind of knowledge that eliminates paralysis.

Everyone deserves this.  I really believe that. It seems like a basic human right that you figure out how to love others and yourself at some point. It’s made me think a lot about my writing and how I want to talk to people. I don’t want to be funny as much as I want to be encouraging. I honestly feel that it has to be very similar to having a near death experience. I feel acutely aware that I have my life back, and what a gift that is, and how having a good life can come down to dumb luck. I think I was in the right place at the right time. It helps to be able to be willing to do work, but I’d been willing many other times before now. So, I don’t know what The Answer is. I feel like I’m that girl that swore off dating and got engaged a week later.

It’s hard when you’re sick and your body tells you you aren’t sick, you’re just a failure and you better not let anyone else know about it or they might think just as badly about you as you do. Either way you go- recovery or deeper into your disease- you are failing at something.  It helps me to think of myself as an animal or child or best friend where failure is natural and an external fact verses something that applies a value to my existence. I also think its been good medicine to be actively learning how to not judge people or get mad at them because whatever you do to other people, you also do to yourself whether you realize it or not.  I don’t really know though as much as I feel like I have a PhD in this stuff from all the shit I have obsessed over for 14 years I really just threw a dart at a map and it stuck. And I can’t be thankful enough. TC mark

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