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."