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.