25 May 2010

Eating my pie (chart)

What makes up a person's identity? Relationships Interests Career Friends Education Beliefs Goals . . . Eating Disorders

Yesterday we explored our identities. Each one of us drew a pie chart, proportioning out what we felt made up our identities.

Anorexia nervosa took up three-quarters of my identity pie chart. How did that happen? When did anorexia slide in, taking over until it began to eat the other portions of my being?

And how can I stop anorexia from consuming what's left of me?

The other quarter of the chart has personality/outlook and spouse as the next biggest portions. That also saddens me. Depression and anxiety are scrawled in as the dominant features of my personality right now. When did I lose my ability to smile and laugh? When was the last time I laughed, really laughed with joy???

Then there is David. How could I allow anorexia to so consume me he only rated a small piece of my identity? I love him so much and think of him constantly while I'm here. I miss waking up next to his warm, smiling face in the morning. The safety of lying next to him at night, arms around each other and knowing nothing could hurt us, is gone. I go to be each night in a twin-size bed, wrapping the covers tightly around me in a pathetic attempt to feel held.

How could I let things get this bad again?

I have fought to keep the other parts of my identity. Squeezed into the chart are interests and my (sometime) strong belief in God and my Lord Jesus Christ and the importance of serving others. Friends and education are still there and both still mean much to me.

But anorexia nervosa is the demon swallowing all of it. Like a hungry monster, it is moving across the landscape of my identity and tearing chunks out of it here and there. Anorexia became larger as I became smaller. But why? Will there ever be an answer?

Now I am fighting back. Each bite of food I take is another step toward making anorexia's hold on my identity smaller and smaller.

Not that I like it. I hate every mouthful and the urge to just dump the food in the trash is strong. I fight urges to just jump up and scream, "I hate all of this" and then hurl across the kitchen my still-full plate with the hated food. I crave laxatives to cleanse my body of all this food inside me like a junkie craves meth or crack. I still want to feel the emptiness of restricting, the cleanliness of a pure body.

I become more depressed the longer I am here. My therapist here says that is normal and it will get worse before it gets better because my eating disorder is fighting back. (It feels strange to write about a different therapist — I am so used to working with Dr. Sackeyfio and will I ever meet with him again? My fear of abandonment runs deep.)

I keep waiting for the thrill of recovery, the sense of a new life to kick in. I keep waiting to feel and sound like the others here. But so far it's not happening.

But what would I be going back to if I left now? The ghost of myself, memories of a different life fading with each day of restricting and becoming smaller. And eventually, nothing.

Identity. When will I know who I am? I once was so certain — or was I? Am I too old to figure all this out again? It feels like being a teenager in some ways, with mood shifts and questions and answers elusive as wisps of dandelion fluff floating through the summer sky.

Identity. I want, no I need, a different pie chart. I am choking on this one, choking on anorexia and its relentless hunger for me.

Identity. And I am ... ???


Anonymous said...

i know, a little, how you feel. if i had to draw a pie-chart of my identity a large part would just be "nothing".
perhaps it is not so much that your eating disorder has destroyed the other parts of your identity, but it has distracted you from them and masked them from you so that you can't even see who you are/were.

carry on carrying on. i hope that it does get better soon, and better than you expected and hoped it to get, so that the worse bit now seems worth it. best wishes.

Anonymous said...

I can identify with your pie chart because my mental illness was at one time my whole identity. It was a several year process that I remembered who I was. Who I *truly* was without all the trappings of the illness. Every once in a while I still watch Lion King--go ahead, laugh, its okay, ;-) when Mufasa says 'Remember *who you are*' it kind of centers me again. When I feel the illness starting to rear its ugly head and it is trying to stake its claim in my life again.

anyway, you write beautifully, as always.

You have my continual love and prayers.


Pen said...

I wonder if all of us with Eating disorders feel like the eating disorder is our identity? I wonder if that is why they are so hard to let go of? I will pray for your continued recovery. Hang in there! I know from experience that it does seem to get worse before it gets better. I am too, so frighten to start treatment again and have to Deal with all that food... but we NEED it. It is our medicine! Let that be your new drug! I will do the same! (Notice I don't say I'll TRY) I think "try" means you won't!

M said...

I think people with eating disorders are often less tolerant of ambiguity and so find it difficult to sit with the idea of an open identity ... one we create (vs. "find") over a lifetime; one which flexes, changes, dips in and out, often doesn't remain static or follow rules.

My experience with the "feeling better" part of ED treatment is when I have been eating long enough to physically notice I feel better (at least two weeks in, after initial re-feeding symptoms/issues have lessened) and in an existential sense of self-respect for "doing the right thing."

I have never hit a place of emotional "better" ... even during a years-long period of remission. All the same mental "stuff" was still there; the same kinds of thoughts, etc. Some people *do* express a recovery high, but others don't (and those who do often say later that they were just saying what they thought people expected to hear ... or what they expected to feel). Therein is a powerful and common cause for slips and relapse ... disenchantment, frustration, disappointment, impatience, and plain unwillingness to feel sucky in the name of some vague promise of something better.

I think the bottom line is whether you choose to stick with a recovery plan, no matter what. Or not. Most of us want to pick and choose which parts of treatment and recovery behavior we might prefer or are willing to do, and to what extent. But most of us also find again and again that negotiating with an eating disorder always circles back to a losing proposition.

It's pretty reasonable to imagine you would feel depressed or not-so-happy when you are surrendering a coping mechanism, a defense mechanism, whatever degrees of false identity. Clinicians have always told me that nothing will ever be as powerful as the eating disorder, so it's a matter of substituting healthier thoughts and patterns without the expectation that it will "do the trick" the way ED behaviors may have served a role.

brokenwords said...

This is very common for eating disorders. We often lose ourselves to the e/d. I remember in the documentary "Thin" Shelly saying, "I used to have a personality." I've never felt a recovery high either, not in all the time I spent in remission. I felt betrayed by the books and memoirs that said life was so great post e/d. It wasn't. It was still hard. I said once to my e/d specialist, "Where is the promised land? Why aren't things better now that I've gained all the weight back?" He said to me, "Who promised you it would be better?" It wasn't better. But I was healthier. And being healthier, I could learn to cope with my issues in life. I always found refeeding to be the most depressing, difficult time. This is very, very common. It's almost like you have to feel worse before you can feel better. It does get better in some ways, but it takes a long, long time. It takes time to get used to facing life instead of running away from it. And as my therapist pointed out to me the other day, anorexia is a way of running away from life. It's like an alcholic learning to live without booze - it's a new experience. And nothing about it is easy.

Give yourself time. This is just the beginning. This is why many people wrote in other posts that treatment centers are just a jump start, or a beginning.

You will start to find your way back to yourself. As you give less to the anorexia, it will take less from you. You can begin to create your life and identity anew. It just takes time, and a whole lot of effort. Identity doesn't just happen - we have to build it. You can do that. It's so hard right now. But in time, you'll see that every day gets a little bit easier. This is just a very long process.

K8B said...

There are some great posts here. Brokenwords and M in particular are really excellent.

It is hard to keep going. But it is worth it. I know that it sounds trite, but putting others first (like your husband) really helps. My husband, son, friends, students and colleagues are all worth my putting up with the pain and distress of everyday life. As I've said earlier, life can be good. It can also be horrible, boring and painful; but my belief is that my pain is far outweighed by the pain I would inflict on all of those who care for me if I didn't stay in recovery and alive. I don't have the right to put that burden on them and I'm lucky enough not to have been so ill (apart from once or twice) that I can't see that. I sincerely hope that you can feel the same.