31 December 2009

Leaving ED - one year later

In July 2008, I boarded a plane headed for Wisconsin and Rogers Memorial Hospital. I was going to check myself in, determined to beat anorexia (everyone said I was sick, so I must be, right?) during a scheduled two-week inpatient stay. After meeting a 12-year-old girl with a feeding tube, I was ushered upstairs, the unfamiliar environment already frightening me.

A bewildering 24-hours later, I was on another plane, headed back to Michigan after checking myself out of Rogers AMA. The psychiatrist there told me I had little insight into my illness and that if I didn't pull it together soon, I would be dead within the year, another victim of anorexia, another wasted body thrown on the dust heap of this inexplicable disorder that strikes men and women, young and old, with equal viciousness.

Flying back to Michigan, I leaned my head against the window, looking at the clouds and wishing I could jump out of the plane and be free. Free of my thoughts. Free of my body. Free of my bones. Free. Free of anorexia and the ever-pervasive anxiety that it brought with it. I was so afraid, and I believed that psychiatrist from Rogers that I would die of anorexia. I didn't care. I was 92 pounds and quickly heading for the 80s, and I just wanted it to be done and over with. Take me home, Jesus.

As 2010 comes ever-closer, I think back to those days when the numbers meant everything and you couldn't convince me that anything was wrong. Or at least that anything was so wrong that I needed help. I wanted anorexia to play its course, and then along came a caring doctor who said, as many others had, "You're dying." Then he told me I didn't deserve to die, that I had a lot to offer the world and that I didn't need to be one more victim of anorexia. He suggested one more inpatient stay, at Beaumont Hospital. I rolled my eyes at him, and said, "Why not?"

But a tiny flicker of hope lit in my heart, as I instantly trusted him and thought maybe, this time anorexia's strong hold could be broken.

My year - this year of regaining weight and life - really started in August 2008 when I met that doctor. It didn't come at once. After two weeks inpatient, I came home and continued to struggle with my fear of food and fat. Anxiety continued to gnaw at me, and December 2008 saw me back under 100 pounds and back in Beaumont. I was to be admitted a total of five times between December 2008 and February 2009 before I could convince myself to eat like a normal person, like the person I had been before anorexia came.

In February, exhausted from starvation and its effects (including a severe, pervasive case of anemia), I took sick leave from work. I didn't know if I would ever be back, and several people later told me they thought I went home to die.

But I didn't. Each day I ate three meals and drank three Ensures, this time facing the 100-pound mark and gritting my teeth, continuing to crawl my way to health. And it felt like crawling. I would cry every day, sometimes begging God to just kill me, looking at the bottles of tranquilizers and other medications squirreled away, tempted by the relief, the sweet, permanent relief swallowing each and every pill would bring. I thought, surely God would understand and forgive me for my moment of weakness.

I continued to eat and drink Ensure, and each pound both frightened and thrilled me. Sometime in April, I found the energy to start walking. I would walk three houses down, three houses back, in all sorts of weather. The next day, I would walk four houses down, four houses back. I began to look around at the trees, the coming of spring, the still-cold air filling my nose and blowing through my hair. Each walk represented one more step to health, and I continued to eat.

In May, I returned to work. One person - an editor - said he knew all along I would be back, that I would get better and make it (thank you, Ralph!) I threw myself back into work, feeling strange that I could again function without falling to pieces. That I could think and interview people and cover meetings and write articles people read. It felt like a miracle. It also felt very strange.

More changes were coming. The newspaper I worked for offered buyouts this summer. It was an opportunity to carve a new career. Did I dare take it? I was still on anxiety medication and I feared a relapse (I had already lost five precious pounds after returning to work.) I decided I had already taken so many risks in the past few years, so what was one more?

I completed my first semester of graduate school this month, using the buyout money for tuition. I'm working toward a master's in English Language and Literature, specializing in Children's Literature. I dream of the future, one filled with love and teaching and writing and learning.

The thoughts are still with me. The number on the scale still means something. Sometimes I cut food here or there, fear nipping at me. I'm not exactly sure what I fear - fat? loss of control? really living? I often think I don't deserve this second chance, that I should starve myself because that is all that I deserve. I still question - why me? Why in my 40s? Why did anorexia strike without warning, coming to stay and never completely leaving? And the most frightening question - will it grab hold of me again?

I look back at the lonely, scared person in July 2008, flying back from Rogers Memorial, feeling like a complete and utter failure and I want to go to her, take her in my arms and whisper, "You'll make it. You will make it. Just believe."

24 December 2009

Awaiting the Christ child

The strains of Cistercian Monks fill the air with their chanting, waiting for the Christ child's arrival, as I write this. I also wait and each year I pray that I will be worthy of His salvation and grace. Each year I pray the next year will be one of healing, one of wellness and one of joy.

The past few years have been difficult. Since 2007, I have been told by doctors at least three times I was near death. One time I was close to slipping into a coma. Then I developed anorexia and I have often wondered why I developed a near-lethal eating disorder after almost making it back to health.

Did I want to die? Sometimes I long for heaven and Christ, but for some reason, He has kept me here. I still wonder why. I don't think my questions will ever be answered, and maybe it's time to stop asking them and accept His grace and peace for what they are - gifts.

I wrote the other day that I won't have an empty life. Each day it is a struggle to maintain that sense of hope and purpose. I have to keep trying, the only alternative is death. Each day I still struggle with food and my fear of it; I eat, then I pull back, afraid; then I eat again. I now realize this will be part of my life forever; I will always have some fear of food. And that's okay, as long as I don't stop eating.

I no longer regret having anorexia, or almost dying, or any of the other things that have happened to me through the years. I have made many mistakes, but each one has made me who I am. I think the pain and the struggle has made me more compassionate, as I learn that people and their feelings, who they are and what they dream, mean the most to me. I wish I could wrap my arms around each friend who is suffering and take it away.

Tomorrow is Christmas. I will eat and I will be afraid and I will fight that fear. And as I long as I fight, it will be a Merry Christmas.

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas, one filled with the peace and joy of Christ and one without fears or eating disorder thoughts. For those of you of other faiths, I wish you much happiness during your celebrations.


17 December 2009

For Terry

The past few weeks, I have been able to really see what grace and dignity is through a former co-worker and friend, Terry. Terry was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer this fall and was sent home with hospice two weeks ago. I went to see her in the hospital, and at first I was apprehensive. What would I say? What could I say?

She immediately gave me a hug and we talked about her childhood, growing up and raising two sons. She was at peace and treasured the life she had, but did not become angry or bitter because that live was being cut short.

Several of us arranged to sit with her for a few hours in her home while her husband went to work. I went last Thursday, and had the most wonderful, enlightening conversation of my life. I was thinking about leaving graduate school, thinking I should find a full-time job or else train for something practical and in demand, such as nursing or dental assistant. But my heart was sad, because I love English and literature and reading and books, and the thought of being able to immerse myself in those loves and possible earn a living brought an excitement to me I haven't felt in a long time. Terry must have sensed what I was thinking, because as we held hands, she said "Do what you love; that's the most important thing." She told me I was a talented writer and a good person and that I deserved to do what I loved. At that moment I decided I would return to graduate school next semester, go full-time, and give this opportunity for a new life a chance.

And when I became depressed and despondent, worried if I could make a living out of it, I kept hearing Terry's voice, "Do what you love."

I returned to see her Tuesday; mainly she slept. I started to cry, selfishly thinking that I needed to hear her say that to me one more time. I was tired, going on about four hours of sleep, and briefly rested my head against her arm as I held her hand. Then I started talking about a recent visit to a outdoor Christmas walk, describing the lights and the children singing Christmas carols. Her eyes opened and she smiled. And although she didn't speak, I could hear her say, "Do what you love." She loved people and friends and her family and life and her six grandchildren.

Terry died today. I feel honored for the times I was able to spend with her, and my heart feels both full and sad.

More and more, I realize I don't have the choice to return to anorexia. I want to do what I love. I love books and reading and learning and spending cold nights snuggling with my husband and nights out with friends and days with sunshine streaking the icy snow. I love the deep red sunsets of warm summer nights and quiet walks with the smell of grass in the air and the sounds of children playing in the small play corner at church and when they run up to you and giggle and laugh and show you something they made in Sunday school.

I love all of it and as long as God grants me life, I will cherish all of it. I remember once in church, when I was in the throes of anorexia, when I was near death, I heard God say to me, "I do not want my people to starve."

I will not starve and I will not have a life of emptiness.

I think of Terry now, and how much she would have given for one more year, two more years, three more years. I wish, I wish oh how I wish I could have given her that gift. It has been a hard year for many of my friends, and if I could make things better, if I could change things so all of you were surrounded by peace and happiness and love, I would do that.

But I can't.

The best I can do is honor the people in my life by really living. Terry, I will do what I love. Thank you.

06 December 2009

Out of commission

Out of commission until 15+ page research paper is done and turned in!

Why, oh why, did I ever think I could do graduate work???

Trigger Trigger Trigger! As I wrote on edbites, if I fail at graduate school, there's always anorexia. I know I'm good at losing weight, I don't feel so hot at being a student again.