29 April 2010

Anorexia and a Southern goodbye

Nothing is simple when you have anorexia nervosa. Not even saying good-bye to a loved one.

Today we buried my grandpa. He lived a long, well-loved life filled with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He loved to tease people and he enjoyed the home-cooked meals of his wife, Dean. He was a Southern boy who fought in World War II and Korea and worked on the railroad as a conductor. He tried his best to let those around know he loved them, and he accepted our love in turn.

Memories flood me of summer days visiting him in Kentucky; summer nights filled with thick air and fireflies and sitting on the porch swing. Breakfasts of biscuits and sausage gravy; dinners of thick cornbread and bean soup. Why is the food the strongest memories?

The feel is different here. It takes me back to my childhood. The yearly treks to visit Mamaw in Ohio and Grandpa in Somerset; the time spent with my father's family in the hills of Pineville. It was a world of cognitive dissonance, one I have not processed to this day. A loving grandpa and step-grandmother. Another grandmother, Mamaw; one of the most beautiful women in the world who didn't care for but one of her six grandchildren. The strangeness of my paternal grandfather and step-grandmother, alcoholism all around and church on Sunday complete with snake handling and speaking in tongues and a mantle filled with pictures of the dead in their coffins.

Several people took pictures of Grandpa today before the funeral started. Why? To add to their collection of soulless bodies. I wanted to scream, "He's not here, damn it! Can't you see Elbert Mounce has left us?" I knew he was gone when I kissed his icy forehead and touched his stiff hand as I placed a small pocket rosary in the pocket of his jeans.

I wanted to say his soul is gone, as the soul of each one of us will fly upward when the cord is cut, when God decides that is it for us, when the Grim Reaper comes to carry us home.

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound ..." As soon as the first words floated through the funeral home, the wall I had built around myself with Ativan and Xanax broke down and my heart twisted and I again was a child, playing on the green, green lawns of Kentucky, dancing with the fireflies as my Grandpa, Dean and my mother softly spoke to each other on the long, wide porch. I was again a child; a confused little girl who felt both loved and lonely, a child who dreamed of a life far in the future where I would spend each night with someone who loved me and have a life filled with books and learning.

Afterward I was surround by food. so much food it frightened me. I know the family here has noticed my weight. It has not gone unmentioned, and last night I was given a strident lecture by my sister about how I needed to eat because my mother can't bear me having anorexia anymore. As if I can bear it? My head hung down like a whipped dog, and I wanted nothing more than to become the smallest dust particle, the most miniscule piece of matter in the universe.

I wanted to disappear.

Today I tried to. I have been drinking my coffee black to avoid the plethora of sweet creams filling the house. I ate very little this morning, panicked because I can't keep total track of my calories nor weigh myself. I had a very small lunch, avoiding the rich soups and creamy dishes, the apple and cherry pies, the thick brownies that I allowed myself to have one tiny bite. This complete rigid control has made me feel safe in a place where I feel simultaneously like an adult and a child, with no control over who I am or what is said about me.

Tell me you think the way I wear my hair is ugly, and I will say nothing. Constantly harangue about how little I eat, and I just shrink into myself. Tell me I won't eat and I will just tell myself having anorexia is all my fault and that I have caused everyone nothing but trouble.

I tried to eat more at dinner, as I was feeling weak. Some chicken with the skin left on, some cheesy pasta salad. It was the small pieces of desserts, a bite of spice cake and one of almond bread, that broke me.

I tried to make myself throw up all that food inside me, feeling dirty, needing so badly to purge and be clean. The fingers wouldn't do it, but I found something else to gag up some bile and some of the pasta salad. Then my husband walked in.

Failure again. I needed it so bad. But I also know that this behavior must stop before it becomes out of control.

The end of the funeral came with a 21-gun salute and thanks for my grandpa's service to his country. Taps played from afar, and then we gathered some of the flowers and walked to our cars. As I held two roses, one white and one red, I was both a child and an adult. I wanted .... I wanted things to have turned out different.

I glanced back, one of the last people at the cemetery as they prepared to lower my grandpa's body into the ground. I wanted to scream at them to stop, and then I remembered he wasn't there anymore.

What I really want to say is, "Goodbye, Grandpa and that I've always loved you." Maybe in spite of myself, I will see you again someday. There was another song, one about a dance. Maybe we will dance in heaven, and you will be with your beloved Dean and I will feel whole and not fragmented anymore.

26 April 2010

Saying good-bye

Tomorrow I will travel to Kentucky, see my family and say goodbye to my grandfather. I so wish I could have gotten there while he was still alive. I feel like my heart has been broken so many times these past few months, I have no heart left inside me. Maybe numbness is a good thing.

I am trying to eat more, because my sister said the other day the family doesn't want me to die and have to go to two funerals. Deep in my heart, I do care I am hurting them by having anorexia and that my mother feels she is watching her daughter die. It's just that the feeling is so deep, it can't really touch me.

But I realize I have to find strength within me. Strength to face family members who haven't seen me since I developed anorexia and now look like a shadow of my former, vibrant self. Strength to answer questions about why I can't eat. Strength to face the food that will be served and the expectations I cannot meet. I need to be there for my family and I need to say good-bye to my grandpa. I don't need to be a worry or a problem right now, and I'm afraid my presence will only make things worse.

Strength to stop thinking about all the things which have broken my heart this year — probable miscarriage and the death of my dream to have a child, losing a position because of my illness, the complete explosion of my eating disorder symptoms from rampant laxative abuse to carving so deep into my flesh I still feel uncomfortable wearing short-sleeve shirts to counting every single calorie which enters my mouth.

But the hardest thing will saying good-bye to my grandfather; I will never again be anybody's grandchild. Seeing him laid out in the coffin will frighten me, and Southern funerals are just different; it is a different world I will be traveling to tomorrow and anything outside the small zone created by anorexia frightens me.

Maybe that is the hardest thing, knowing my present and past will collide during the next few days and I'm not sure I am ready for it. I have tried to run from my Southern roots for decades for various reasons, and have failed and tomorrow I will be in two worlds, with my anorexia swirling all around me, gnawing at me, just waiting for a way to make things worse.

It is so easy to use grief as a reason not to eat; it is so easy to use anything as a reason not to eat.

And in the end, perhaps the hardest thing — saying good-bye to my anorexia. I want to hold onto the only constant in my life; my ability to restrict and lose weight. Part of me wants to stay anorexic forever, then I won't have to feel grief and pain. 

But I also won't feel joy and happiness, and I miss feeling those emotions. Being thin is a poor consolation, and flatness and apathy are poor substitutes.

My grandpa led a full life, one with joy and pain mixed in. He loved his children and grandchildren, never quite got over my beautiful Mamaw (although he had a long and happy marriage with my step-grandmother, Dean) and was interested in many things until he recently got sick.

I don't know what I'm trying to say. It's late and I'm tired and I'm grieving. I want to get better and live a full life, but I'm afraid. That's all I can manage to say right now.

19 April 2010

Eating with my eyes

I have been eating with my eyes.

I am a stalker. I have been lurking around several blogs written by women recovered from anorexia, in which they post pics and describe the foods they are now enjoying. I feast my eyes on the pictures, drinking in the bowls of fresh oats, almond butter and bananas mixed together; the fresh bread spread with avocado and topped with crumbles of hard-boiled egg, Romaine lettuce and tomato; the long, tall smoothie blended with yogurt and cream and fresh fruit, the young woman leaning forward to take a sip; the cookies-and-cream drumstick, the ice cream slightly dripping as if it had just been delightedly slurped.

I am obsessed.

I remember when I was first diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. It was by a dietician whom my family doctor referred me to around February 2008. Of course, at the time I didn't feel anything was wrong with me. So when she said I was anorexic, I reacted first with surprise and then a little anger.

It wasn't like I didn't know anything about anorexia or other eating disorders. And I didn't have a eating disorder, in spite of the fact that I weighed about 95 pounds at the time, was very restrictive and rigid in my eating, and had an intense fear of gaining weight (and in fact, wanted to lose more.)

But I wasn't engaging in any of the bizarre anorexic food behaviors or rituals at that time. I didn't cut my food up into miniscule pieces. I wasn't afraid to eat in front of my friends or co-workers (I didn't really care if they thought two thin slices of deli turkey meat did not make a complete lunch.) I wasn't collecting recipes, reading food magazines or cooking large, elaborate meals for anyone.

So therefore, Ms. Dietician, your diagnosis is wrong wrong wrong. I am not anorexic, I do not need to see an eating disorders specialist nor go to Renfrew, Remuda, or Rogers Memorial Hospital. I do not have a problem. I am just thin and what's wrong with being thin? Even if I am depressed and anxious, even if I am yanking up my size zero jeans and fighting with my husband about food and eating and hearing from everyone that I need to gain weight and my niece's nickname for me has become "Skelator"?

I'm just fine. Other than being severely underweight, of course. There was the daily counting of calories and weighing myself. And the fact that I was becoming quite popular at the office for the weekly donuts/scones/ {insert forbidden food here} that I brought in. But I wasn't doing anything else except restricting, therefore I could not have anorexia.

My treatment with that dietician ended after she declared I wasn't making any progress, i.e. I had not gained any weight after four months of treatment. Soon after this, my psychiatrist terminated with me (I had been seeing him from depression and anxiety) because he agreed I had anorexia and he wasn't equipped to deal with it.

So I went to Rogers Memorial, only to check out AMA 24 hours later. The psychiatrist there declared I would be dead within a year if I didn't gain both insight and weight. My discharge papers were a dismal declaration of how ill I was. Prognosis: poor.

As most of you know, I did eventually agree to see an eating disorders specialist who convinced me to go into Beaumont Hospital for two weeks of refeeding. But even though I was connected to a TPN line running nutrients into my body, I remained unconvinced I had anorexia.

You see, the eating disorders patients there all did strange things like cut their food into tiny pieces and hoarded sugar and salt packets and get angry because we weren't allowed to have no-calorie sweeteners for our coffee like the other patients. One woman carried around a notebook filled with recipes and pictures of food,  another continuously chewed on ice and a third would not eat her food without loading it with salt and pepper and mustard and whatever other condiment she could get her hands on (since I didn't care what my food tasted like — the blander, the better — I was happy to give her my packet of condiments each day.)

I had read about these and other behaviors and decided there was no way I could be anorexic because I didn't do such things. I became a bit annoyed by these behaviors and seriously wanted to tell one girl to please please please stop pressing your grilled cheese sandwich between five million napkins before I lose the last shreds of sanity I have left!

But this was years ago, and I notice I have my own little food rituals. I can't eat foods that touch each other and I have to eat one food at a time. (I notice normal people eat a few bites of this and a few bites of that.) I can't tolerate foods with sauces or gravies, unless they come in a box and I know the exact calorie count. I can't pick up a sandwich and bite into it; I must either cut it up or deconstruct it. I need to eat slowly, and I actually do cut my food into tiny pieces, thus taking more than an hour to eat a meal most people can finish in twenty minutes.

Have I had these rituals for years and just didn't notice? Or did I develop these food rituals as an attempt to gain some control? Or are these behaviors the manifestation of anorexia as I have continued to recover from it.

The few times I haven't been able to adhere to these rituals? behaviors? has caused a weird sort of anxiety and strangeness, as if I didn't do it right. I usually need to take an anti-anxiety medication before I can eat out with friends. Restaurants feel like torture unless there is some type of salad I can order. I was positively thrilled when Bob Evans, my husband's favorite restaurant, came out with its light menu and listed the calories, fat grams, etc. on that menu.

Denial hangs around a long, long time. I weigh 97 pounds and have been actively restricting food since January. I feel exhausted, and yet often can't get to bed until 4 or 5 a.m. I have trouble concentrating on anything; class work, magazine articles, watching a television show, holding a conversation. I have gone through the assessment process at Renfrew and plan to be admitted in May for the 30-day day treatment program.

But despite all this, I said to my husband last night, I don't think I have anorexia. I think I am just thin and everybody is making too big a deal out of it.

Then I dreamt last night of those food blogs, the abundant richness taunting my sleep. I could almost smell the cinnamon sprinkled on the oats and taste the creamy saltiness of the almond butter. I opened my small container of yogurt, which was not mixed with granola or sprinkled with fruit, and wondered why I would ever question that I have anorexia.

I am now following a couple of these blogs; I need the images and descriptions in a way I can't describe. I want to eat with all my senses. This is my dream, and I believe full recovery will be achieved by first being able to eat without fear.

I have been eating with my eyes.

17 April 2010

Giving up control

Things I love, or why I must give up control in order to recover:
Sunsets of deep, fiery reds melding with dark and dusty blues, making my heart long for unknown things and unknown reasons.
Broken, yet beautiful butterflies, bravely fluttering wings during their last minutes of life.
My husband's face as he leans toward me, his dark blue eyes filled with love as he softly touches my lips with his and strokes my hair, whispering, "You're beautiful." He has been through so much, and continues to love me unconditionally, always saying "You are more than your illness."
Songs of joy and sorrow, the music aching and so beautiful I must listen one more time.
Reading a book in which the characters are real, the setting is true and I feel like I am saying goodbye to new friends after I've read the last page.
Crying when I read something sad or joyous, knowing the tears make me human.
Pictures of exploding galaxies and new worlds, imagining that there might be life out there from whom we could learn how to preserve our own earth.
People who are honest and courageous, sharing their struggles and triumphs through their beautiful blogs.
Thinking about the possibilities of life, and wondering where I fit.
The laughter and playfulness of children I hear at my church each week; they truly are part of the service and are witnesses to the command of Jesus to bring the children unto him.
Art of beauty and truth that gives me a glimpse into the artist's soul.
The poetry of Anne Sexton, the truths she told and the beauty in which she wrote in spite of her pain.
The books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, comforting me on a cold winter's night as I curl up and read of life more than one hundred years ago and realize we haven't changed as much as we might think.
The challenge of battling anorexia nervosa, the compassion it has taught me and the lessons I continually learn from it I believe will make me a better person in the end.
The small flame of belief which continues to burn in me daily, giving me hope for recovery.
All those who take the time to read my writings, give me support, and send me their love and hugs.

All of these things and more are why I must recover. I realize I will need to give up control to the people who know better than me how to heal me. There will be no more bargaining with recovery; I either recover or I die. I do not want to give up the things I love, and I want to experience life in all its fullness.

I will never forget how it felt to be afraid of food and life, the sense of isolation and anger so deep I lashed out at myself by carving into my flesh. I won't forget the feeling of denying my hunger, of looking at other people eating naturally and longing to be able to do the same thing. I will always remember the feeling that I wouldn't recover, and that my entire self-worth was dependent on weight and calories and how little I could consume in one day. I can never forget feeling like a slave to anorexia, the shackles so tight it takes years and hard work by many people to shatter them

Several people have told me this week I will some day use my struggles to help others; I feel they are seeing something in me that I simply can't envision. I will always remember and it always will be a part of me. Perhaps this sounds strange, but I would not change anything that has happened. There will come a day when I will write about being recovered. The rest remains a question mark.

(Just one more picture of me with my little friend, the broken, beautiful butterfly now fluttering in heaven, wings healed. Goodbye, little one.)

14 April 2010

604 calories

(Warning - This post could be triggering to those in recovery. Please do not read this if numbers or descriptions of restricting would be harmful to you.)
604 calories.
That is what I consumed yesterday. I made sure I got up too late for breakfast. I had my morning coffee sans sugar. I called myself a pig for drinking 230 calories of heaven in the form of an ice-cold McDonald's orange pop for lunch to accompany my four nuggets (trying to ignore the Happy Meal slogan on the box, which reminded me this amount is meant for a child.) I measured exactly one-third cup of rice and one-third cup of peas for dinner.
I went to bed hungry. I felt guilty because millions of people, in particular children, go to bed hungry without choice each night. And I have a choice. Or do I? Who is in control here, anyway - me or anorexia nervosa?

98.2 pounds.
That's what I weighed yesterday morning. The ritual of the scale hasn't stopped for three years. It's always the same: get up, blurry-eyed and sleepy, then go to the bathroom before stepping naked on the innocent-looking white box which decides each day whether I will restrict or eat. I would like to drop kick my scale across the room, set it on fire, smash it with a hammer or hurl it off the tallest building I can find in this small town. (I have many fantasies of revenge for this hated symbol of my descent into anorexia; I've destroyed several over the years, only to go buy another one.)

I am a hypocrite. For weeks, I have been posting on a pro-ana blog deploring the very behaviors I am doing, trying to convince these young girls to stop and think before some of them become sucked into the hell of anorexia. I tell them they don't want to do this; that anorexia can't be ditched as easily as a bad diet. Several others also have posted on this particular site and one woman (Marge of Lake LaBerge) was particularly blunt with them, calling them (freaking) morons and telling them they will look worse than the heroin junkies hanging out in her Vancouver neighborhood.

So why can't I stop doing this to myself? I am the freaking moron. I worked so hard last year to gain weight. I had to consume about 3,000 calories of food and Ensure to reach 110 (which still is too low, but much healthier I was.) It was sheer hell; the whole refeeding process was one of feeling bloated and fat and moody and I could hardly stand myself.

I ended 2009 with the incredibly positive post, "Leaving ED- one year later." "I dream of the future, one filled with love and teaching and writing and learning." I thought I had it all wrapped up. I thought 2010 would be the year I would conquer all my eating disorders fears and behaviors, and put the whole damn thing behind me.

Things starting falling apart by January 2. Happy Freaking New Year's! My words and my hopes make me want to throw up. I try to help others and support them when they are struggling,

I called The Renfrew Centers after my one-week IP stay in February. I tried to eat more after I was discharged, but soon ditched that plan when David went to Florida for two-weeks (Ana was just ecstatic about this, rubbing her hands with glee at the thought of restricting and cutting and oh my!) and haven't stopped restricting since. I am convinced if I don't do something more, my next trip to Beaumont Hospital will be to the morgue.

I have completed my assessment and plan to be admitted to Renfrew's 30-day treatment program (so sorry, insurance doesn't cover residential) the second week of May. The program is designed to help me overcome my fear of food and weight, and then dig a little deeper through various groups and programs. The idea is to teach me healthy coping skills to replace my all-time favorite, restricting.

So if I am doing this (and borrowing thousands of dollars from my father to pay for my living arrangements), why have I been trying to basically destroy myself the month before I go? To prove how sick I am? To make sure I am at a low enough weight so any gain will feel less traumatic? To sabotage any chance at succeeding?

Or because deep down I am a hypocrite who really doesn't want to get better? Am I really pro-recovery? Or has my past associations with pro-ana sites and my current campaign to convince a few pro-ana girls triggered me? Am I falling again for the message that I need to be thin, so thin you can see my ribs and clavicle and protruding spine? So thin that it hurts to sit in most chairs?

So thin that I get sick again? Is that I want? To become so sick I can't go to Renfrew? Why do I try and sabotage any attempts at recovery? (I've done this for years. I continue "Bargaining with Recovery.")

Am I a hypocrite? I've always tried to be honest here. But I can't yet write about what is underneath the anorexia. Exposing the roots would be too much, too violating. What's underneath, at least as far as I have explored with my doctor, feels dirty and slimy and too ugly to ever trust telling anyone else. And I can't seem to stop restricting, especially after we talk about what's underneath; what might be the root causes of me developing anorexia.

590 calories.
That's what I consumed today. I want to go lower, but I know I need to go higher.

Who is in control here, anyway? Because right now, I feel out-of-control.

11 April 2010

Shunned from an online recovery community

The technique is effective and stunning. It is akin to shunning, which has been used by various religious sects and cults throughout the centuries to keep people in line — a member does something wrong and she is immediately cut off from the community. No contact. Access denied. The person is not worthy to be part of the community until she repents of her sin and delivers a mea culpa, promising to sin no more.

Last night, I went to my page at MentorCONNECT and saw a large, white square stating that I was banned from the community for two weeks. I started to cry, thinking what have I done?

I soon received my answer via e-mail. Apparently I had written a blog post which was considered "triggering" to some other members who reported it. This was not the first time I had written a blog post which was reported as triggering. (I will talk specifically about triggering a little later.)

I joined this community with the highest of hopes. The basic idea behind MC is to connect someone with an eating disorder with someone who is recovered with an eating disorder, the idea being "relationships replace eating disorders." The community also contains a variety of pro-recovery groups, such as recovery music,  how to deal with having an eating disorder while in college and others.

I started this blog, Leaving ED, initially to write through my feelings as I struggled with recovery from anorexia. I was surprised when people started reading my blog and following it via Facebook and Google. I felt gratified people felt my words worthy of reading, and the support given by my readers through the past years have often sustained me through some very dark times. I thank you and hope you continue reading, just as I have read many of your blogs and have been moved and enlightened by your struggles, hopes and honesty as you move through this journey of life.

MC also has a place to post blogs. I liked that idea; I enjoy writing and feel I have many things to say and sometimes do it well. I read through a few blog posts to get a feel for what other people were posting, and while I admit I did forget one rule with one of my MC blog posts (I mentioned weight, which is strictly verboten), I tried very hard to not write things that could be considered triggering.

I first got an idea that my writing style and MC's incredibly unrealistic view of what should and shouldn't be written about (any mention of restricting or other eating disorder behaviors also is strictly forbidden) with "Acceptance???". I posted this in November 2009.

I wrote about my struggles to accept my body's additional weight and not feeling as if I conform to society's standards about what is beautiful, and it was a depressing post. But I do not feel it was anti-recovery. I was in recovery; I was moving forward and was finishing up my first semester of graduate school. But anyone with anorexia struggles with the weight gain, no matter how much she knows it is needed, and sometime accepting your new (and larger) body can be hard.)

I posted it on MC looking for words of support, just as I had written words of encouragement when I read about someone struggling restricting or bingeing or purging behaviors (I later found out that these posts also were swiftly removed and the writers either suspended, banned temporarily or forever.)

The next day I went to my MC page, looking for those words of hope. The white box, prominently featured in the middle of a colorless background, told me I had been suspended. Shunned. Cut off from the community.

I was stunned. The explanation was in my e-mail — my post had triggered some people and I could return in a week IF I could show I wouldn't do it again. I couldn't force myself to eat dinner that night, and I struggled with eating for several days afterward. I felt awful.

MC continued to send its daily and weekly mentoring moments via e-mail. These daily e-mails reminded me that I had failed, that I might have had actually hurt someone through my words, and were very triggering. Each one made me think I wasn't good enough, that I had failed at recovery and being part of a pro-recovery community. Each day, I felt worst and I wondered why I didn't just tell them to stop sending me the e-mails. My doctor advised me to leave MC because being suspended was hurting me so much. (He also felt the site and my increasing use of the Internet were taking the place of real-life human interactions.)

I didn't listen.

I returned to MC with much trepidation; I was afraid to post anything. I began to ask myself how helpful is an online recovery community if I was filled with fear every time I wrote anything, even if it was just I was having a bad day? I also received an e-mail from a former member who left after she tried to convince the administrators that a group for women 40 and older might be helpful (ironically, MC started such a group after this woman left.) She explained in-depth how uncomfortable she felt there and why she needed to leave for her continued recovery.

MC suggested running each blog post past one of their administrators before placing it on the site. I did that a few times, but I began to feel my writing was not completely honest. I was censoring myself because I was so afraid of again being suspended.

But I was suspended again after I wrote about being afraid of food in January 2010. It is almost impossible for me to describe how hurtful that was; the feeling of rejection was just one factor contributing to a downward spiral that I am still struggling with today.

Still, I wanted to be part of an online recovery community and I decided to try MC one last time. I began to relax a little when a few other members commented positively on my (censored) blog posts.

Then there was yesterday. A member posted on my MC page that my blog posts "inspired" her and gave her hope for recovery. Her comment inspired me to post "You are so much more than your body size." I was very moved by this statement by my doctor (it made me want to cry and it made me think) and wanted to share it. After posting this blog post, one woman on MC wrote she could relate to my struggles and had had this same conversation with her husband the night before.

That was the last comment I was allowed to read. I went back to the page about an hour later. The white box stated I was banned for two weeks. Shunned. The support community was not available to me. Because I had made a mistake. Because I am human.

I had had enough. Part of recovery includes eliminating toxic influences from your life and I didn't want spend the next two weeks crying and berating myself for being so stupid as to write a blog post that talked about the realities of recovery from eating disorders. I deleted my page (you are allowed to do that via the white box) and e-mailed MC, giving the group notice that I would not be returning.

I refuse to compromise my writing. Anorexia is a complex disease and recovery does not occur in a linear fashion, but instead moves in twists and turns and can manifest itself. Restricting and purging and cutting and many other behaviors do happen while recovering. We in the eating disorders community need to open the doors wide and be honest about the realities of recovery. We are either part of the problem or part of the solution, and I believe total honesty is part of the solution.

I also see my doctor's point about MC and other online recovery communities replacing real-life human connections. This experience has taught me that what I really need and crave are those connections, the everyday face-to-face experiences of talking with people, giving them hugs, the give-and-take of conversations which can include anything from talking about your struggles to the latest book you have read.

Besides, I already have an online recovery community right here. On Leaving ED, I can be as honest as I want and know that most people will not judge nor shun me. The support I receive here is phenomenal; I can't thank all of you enough who have read and posted supportive comments through the years. Your support has sustained me, your struggles have moved me, and your courage has inspired me.

10 April 2010

"You are so much more than your body size."

"You are so much more than your body size," my doctor said to me today.
I sat there quietly, thinking about that remark. What does he mean? Who am I? Who was I? Unwanted tears — God, I hate being weak; I used to be so strong — threatened to spill as I thought about who I might be besides my body size.

"You have so much to give to the world," he continued.
I felt confused. What do I have to give to the world? The world has demanded that I be thin and I have become very good at accomplishing that. What more does the world want from me? How thin do I need to be to be THIN ENOUGH? But I knew that's not what he was talking about.

"In spite of everything, you are still reaching out, trying to help others," he said. He mentioned my gift for writing, and how I still try to help people understand anorexia and those who suffer from it through my words.
"But what about helping Angela?" he asked
Sadness filled me, and I whispered, "I don't know."
I then confessed that I felt guilty about going to Renfrew in May; that I feel like I have failed him. Failed by not recovering.

I was supposed to be the shining example of recovery. Everyone said so when I entered Beaumont Hospital in August 2008. I had only been battling anorexia for about a year. I readily agreed to the TPN line, feeding nutrients to my heart and body. I ate everything they put in front of me, and after my first-day meltdown, I kept my mouth shut and adopted a passive-aggressive approach to treatment. I didn't know then I wasn't helping myself; I was just marking time until I could get out of the hospital and start starving again.

Several nurses and fellow eating disorders patients were very impressed by my supposed motivation, not realizing I felt as if I were dying on the inside and wanted to rip the TPN right out of my body. One nurse knew I would I would go home and continue to eat, become weight-restored and then put anorexia behind me. Ipso facto, it would be as if I never even had the illness. One patient said most anorexics don't fully recover, but that I was different because of the short duration of my illness and that I would be Dr. Sacekyfio's success story; the one who made it, the one who recovered and made all his hard work and dedication worthwhile.

No one can live up to those kind of expectations, and I started failing almost from the day I walked out of Beaumont on that sunny, warm and windy day in September 2008. I was restricting again within a week. I didn't understand why after having just spent two weeks in the hospital trying to get better, and I truly did want to get better. And yet I didn't want to get better. I wanted both — to be thin, thin as society admires; and yet recovered and back to my self. What did they want from me, anyway? I was thin, wasn't I? Thin enough? What else could I do?

I remained confused throughout that fall and winter, fighting to recover and sabotaging every effort I made. I would eat a sandwich, only to take laxatives. I would write, hoping the words would help save me. Then I would throw away my lunch.

And I would often think of what everyone said and thought that I was supposed to be the one who recovered. My mind was swirling all the time; the words recovery and anorexia and failure taunting me until one December evening, I couldn't stand it any more and cut myself in anger.

I had failed. I was under 100 pounds again. I was afraid of food, and my panic attacks were increasing every day. I couldn't even sit at the computer and write a simple news story without my heart racing and thinking I was a failure.

I did not become the shining example of recovery. Instead, I was filled with almost uncontrollable anxiety and a strange heaviness which had nothing to do with weight. I struggled each morning to get out of bed for work and I dreaded each word I had to write.

The unthinkable had happened. My refuge, the one thing I had always been able to count on, my writing, my gift, the essence of my soul ... became a hated thing. I had once thought I'd rather lose anything except being able to write, and now I was losing everything and my ability to write.

I checked into Beaumont several days after Christmas 2008, the first of five psychiatric hospitalizations between that one and February 2009, mainly triggered by anxiety and fear of food and weight. I could find no peace; no solace in writing, no connection with God. I had failed, and I knew it and I blamed myself for having anorexia and I would scream inside myself to stop, just stop, can't you quit being so freaking sick and weird for once?

I agreed to take a low-dose of Seroquel in February 2009, during the last of my five hospitalizations. It calmed my anxiety, allowed me to sleep and rest and write. I also was treated for severe anemia, returning to work after almost three months sick leave.

I weight-restored during those months of sick leave. It was the worst time of my life. I hated food, I hated feeling full, and I hated every pound I gained. But I also began to feel as if I were returning to life, and that maybe recovery was possible. I felt confident enough to leave work and go to graduate school, and even though there were some rough spots, I enjoyed learning and the new challenges. I was able to stop taking Seroquel in October 2009, and my Ativan dose was down to less than two milligrams a day.

January 2010. Everything fell spectacularly apart, recovery exploding into a million shards. I couldn't get the thought out of my head that I didn't deserve to eat, that I didn't deserve food. I immediately cut my calories down to about 300 each day. I threw away food my husband made for me, and began to engage in some really strange behaviors, such as eating one or two grains of rice at a time and ripping my lunch meat into tiny shreds. I couldn't (and still can't) pick up a whole sandwich and bite into it; I had to deconstruct it into a million pieces until much of it was inedible.

Then I discovered proana sites and joined several of them under the alias Ana Magersucht. (See "Grace and the death of Ana M" for more about this.) I started — but never wrote a word — a proana blog, and posted about my drive for thinness on several proana sites. I dived in headfirst, part of me determined to enter that black hole and never come out.

"You are more ill now than you were two years ago," my doctor said one January day this year, as he tried to convince me to go back into the hospital. He was particularly concerned about the alternative, proana Facebook personality I had created and my total immersion in all things proana and my philosophy that I should remain anorexic forever. After all, losing weight and being ill was what I was best at, right?

I went back into the hospital in February, this time connected to a NG feeding tube because my ketones were high, my potassium was low and I was literally starving. I couldn't think, and didn't care. I had failed again.

I asked him how he can tell I am restricting and struggling before I even say a word. He replied my whole demeanor changes. He is right. I become a different person, one with little hope. A person who feels drained and tired and ready to give up. But, as he always reminds me, I am not a quitter. I never completely give up, or else I wouldn't continue to make my weekly, two-hour (one-way) trips to meet with him each week and I wouldn't be planning on entering Renfrew's 30-day program in May.

It's lucky for me that I have a doctor who is even more stubborn than I am. For every argument I present stating why I can't get better, he is able to come up with ten arguments to give me hope that I can get better.

"You are so much more than your body size."

Those words continued to echo through my mind as I rode home. I looked at my too-thin face, the emaciation beginning to show. I wonder who I am besides my body size. But I am ready to find out, and I am trying not to feel like a failure. I'm trying to think of recovery not as a finite destination, but as a lifelong journey that will take me first to weight restoration, then guide me to health and self-esteem, and finally to joy.

"You are so much more than your body size."

Thank you. Someday, I will believe those words and I vow to teach that same idea to others. Because in my heart, I want to believe we all are so much more than our body sizes.

07 April 2010

Blinded by beauty?

The cover of Magazine No. 1 features a "larger" size model. She is a size four or six, and is touted as representing a "real woman." The cover of Magazine No. 2 features Celeb X sans makeup and does not retouch or alter the photo in any way (or so the editors insist.) She is glowing in all her 'natural' beauty, leaving the rest of us wondering why we don't have flawless, smooth skin.

These are two recent trends emerging within the fashion world that is being touted as progress by both many people within the eating disorders community and those who are trying to promote positive body image.

But is this really progress?

Let's take the first example. The idea someone who is a size four or six is considered more representative of the average woman is laughable in a country where the majority of women wear a size 10-12. The idea that a model sized 12 is considered "plus size," a la Crystal Renn, is ludicrous. I probably wore about a size eight pre-anorexia (my size depended on the brand; ever try to just go pull a pair a jeans off the rack and buy them without trying them on?) I considered a four to be tiny; of course, a four would now fall off me since my relapse.

The world tells me I should be proud to be a size one/three. My doctor tells me this means I'm ill and need to gain weight.

Let's take the second example. Jessica Simpson is on the cover of Marie Claire sans makeup. The editors also insist the picture hasn't been "Photoshopped" in any way. As a former journalist, I know that this is utter bullshit. ALL media pics are altered in some way in this day and age, if nothing more than to make the pic clearer or to clean up background noise or to enhance the color so it shows up in print better.

Some pictures of course — such as the the incredible shrinking photo of Phillipa Hamilton (another size four model considered "large") — are drastically changed, making an already emaciated model look as if she couldn't possibly be human. No one could achieve the proportions of altered picture of Hamilton and still live; her torso looked slimmer than the tightest corset and anatomically, there simply wasn't room in there for functioning organs such as a liver or kidneys.

My real problem with the fact that these two trends are considered so great is - what is so great about being beautiful? Of course, thinness still equals better in this society and no one can deny it no matter how popular Renn, Kate Dillon, Emme or other so-called plus sized models are. Fashion shows and fashion magazines are still filled with thin, pale, ethereal models who seem to float gracefully through life and look as if a morsel of food hasn't passed their lips in days.

But back to my question - what is so great about being beautiful? My grandmother was considered a great beauty in her time, and pictures of her as a young woman bears this out. She was considered so beautiful, she attracted men like flies and married seven times. But in the end, her beauty was not enough and she was left by her last husband in 1966 and never again married or was part of a relationship. Her sole accomplishments in life (besides collecting and discarding husbands) was to have two children; although my mother would say they basically raised themselves.

Her hair remained auburn until the end, and I could still see a trace of the fine features and bone structure that was her crowning achievement. She died alone, living in subsidized housing and somewhat estranged from her children and grandchildren. She had no friends, and neither a funeral nor memorial service was held for her. We said goodbye by cleaning out her small apartment, filled with hoarded TV guides and tons of QVC jewelry, much of it still with the tags attached. I was given a small, 1930s diamond ring of hers; a gift from my grandfather from their first marriage and he still says to this day she was the most beautiful woman he ever saw. I feel sad that is what he thinks of after two marriages with her.

These two trends disturb me because they are perpetuating beauty as the crowning achievement for women. I have been told I am beautiful; I do not believe it and I certainly do not possess the beauty (thank God!) that my grandmother did. As my grandmother's beauty faded, she grew bitter and worked frantically to keep it up; but to no avail, we all age and no amount of creams or hair dye can hide that.

Don't get me wrong. I like to look nice; I wear makeup and try to dress in clothes that are flattering, although at my current weight of 98 pounds, I look emaciated and there's no hiding it. I'm particularly sensitive by my stick-thin arms (that someone so kindly told me looked "anorexic") and the vein on the left side of my face on my forehead which is again prominent since I've lost weight. Most of my recovery clothes are too big, and I am reduced to wearing leggings and baggy shirts, or else dressing like a teenager at 44. (I like to call such clothes "Sluts 'R Us" clothes — will the trend of showing so much skin never end???)

I guess that would bring me to another question - what's so great about being thin? I haven't enjoyed it. I'm cold most of the time, and I can't afford the designer clothes paraded around by majority of still-thin models. It hasn't brought me happiness; in fact, I've recently spent each morning crying and begging God to take away my anorexia and each afternoon searching for a treatment program that my insurance will pay for and I can go to in May. My relapse back into anorexia and current obsession with weight and calories and size sucks up much time that I could be learning and reading and living.

So I would ask all of you these questions:
What is so great about being beautiful?
What is so great about being thin?
And what could all of us as women accomplish if we didn't focus on being beautiful or thin?

And finally, have we as women really progressed? Or have we only traded one corset for another?

(Bonus question for thought - What constitutes a "real woman," anyway?")

03 April 2010


If only I could live within all the beauty of this world and beyond . . .

If only I could be free. I dream of freedom. It remains elusive, and I am beginning to think I am impeding  my own recovery from anorexia. I am beginning to realize that I only I hold the key to being well. My doctor asked me the other day — why do I persist in trying to prove to myself that I am unable to recover, when I was able to do it before. But, I said, that was just weight restoration. No, he replied. You were beginning to be restored to life.

As my mind flies back to the months before my relapse, it really does seem like a dreamworld. Now I've re-entered the world of Ana. Every morsel is suspect; every bite is taken with fear.

Still, I dream. Why can't I stop? Why can't I just accept I have anorexia and let it take its course? After all, Ana keeps throwing her tricks at me and I fall for every one of them; I try everything I can think of to destroy my body. In the process, I sometimes feel I am destroying my soul. Even today, I tried (but failed) to purge a normal meal. Both my doctor and a good friend have told me God must have been watching over me during my first failed attempt to purge. If so, how long can I expect God to be patient with me?

Oh yes, I've written my obituary in my head many times and my greatest fear is that it will read that I died of "complications due to anorexia nervosa." That will be my defining moment, what everyone will remember about me. That I was thin, and that it eventually killed me. And nothing else will matter — not being a loving (albeit difficult) wife, daughter and sister; an award-winning journalist; a graduate student who has been called "brilliant" by two different professors; and, most importantly, someone who cannot live nor breathe without writing.

Still, I dream. The pictures of above are beautiful representations of my dreams of recovery. I want to dive into the colors, be immersed in the rich reds and deep blues. I want to swim amongst the stars, stare in wonder at the constellation of Cassiopeia. I want to dance with the fireflies.

Today, I moved amongst the butterflies at a local exhibit. The soft creatures fluttered around, gliding in and out and stopping to rest on a succulent flower or juicy bit of apple. The room was warm and humid, filled with people. The butterflies sometimes appeared a bit dazed by all noise and confusion.

Then I came upon a broken butterfly. Its brown and blue wings were ripped in pieces. This butterfly seemed tired, and fluttered by itself and would often hide behind a potted plant. My heart reached out toward this broken butterfly; its body was broken and my body is broken. The butterfly rested on my finger after some gently coaxing, and I whispered assurances that it was still beautiful in spite of the tattered wings.

For a few moments we were friends, and the butterfly's wings fluttered opened, showing the still-brilliant blue of a dusky sky.