27 October 2010

Denying Anorexia

I am denying anorexia nervosa the victory it is trying to claim. The past month has been one of struggling with rampant anxiety and constant voices in my head first whispering, then screaming at me to stop eating and go back...

You don't deserve to eat. You are a gluttonous pig and should be ashamed of yourself. Look at how you have let yourself go...

Every pore of my being is filled with anxiety. I am frightened to get out of bed and start the day. Each class assignment taunts me, reminding me that I am stupid and unable to grasp the concepts of English rhetorical theories, literary elements and critical analysis. I can barely decide what to put on my fat body each day!

Each day feels like a treacherous journey through a threatening landscape. I feel as if I could literally crawl out of my skin, the raw bones and veins exposed and scrapped against the sharpness of life. I want to hide, become invisible, burrow under the covers and never come out; anything to be safe.

Anorexia kept telling me there is a way out. Just eat less. Anorexia promises that the thinner I become, the less I will feel. I will be free again. Free of this anxiety which has become my constant companion, and that tempts me with a permanent way out of all this...

I am fighting these lies, conjured up in my brain by anorexia and most likely fueled by a lack of full nutrition. Even the thought of doing things to combat the anxiety, such as yoga, brings me to the edge of panic.

Then yesterday I drank two Ensure Plus. Dr. Sackeyfio has been trying to get me to increase my calories for some time now, assuring me that full nutrition and reaching my healthy goal weight will lessen the anxiety and make things easier for me. Easier to get up in the morning. Easier to do things. Easier to study. Easier to just be.

Of course, in spite of my earlier vow to do whatever he said to get better, I first ignored his advice and instead did things my way. I mixed different tranquilizers, and sometimes added a glass of wine or two to that. Sometimes I would throw in one of my migraine painkillers. It got to the point I wasn't sure what kind of cocktail I was ingesting; anything, anything at all to stave off the anxiety.

I liked these options because of course, none of them involve weight gain (I just factored in the calories from the alcohol.) But a tiny part of my brain told me I was behaving stupidly, and I was quickly going down the yellow brick road of addiction to tranquilizers, pain killers and alcohol, or else putting myself at risk of doing something stupid that would 'accidently' kill me.

Then I did something terrible while filled with anxiety and despair, and it could have cost me my life. I felt as if I were being eaten alive by anxiety, and part of me wanted to die. Then I stopped and thought of David and our love for each other through all of this. I thought about my hopes for the future; to write and learn and reach out to others. I thought about my upcoming presentation at an English conference and how proud I was to have been chosen as one of the participants. I was really looking forward to reading my paper about anorexia, and perhaps opening the eyes of some people.

And I thought of Dr. S and how hard he has worked with me, how patient he has been and how much he has believed I will recover, even when I didn't believe it myself. I thought of the words he often says: You are more than your body size, and you have so much to offer the world. I would reward him and his hard work by dying? Talk about being ungrateful.

So after another day of feeling anxiety crawling all over me, I knew what I had to do. I don't need a different medication or more tranquilizers (not that he is likely to increase my dosage, anyway.)
I need full nutrition. I need what anorexia keeps telling me is bad for me — food and calories. Even though I have been eating, my body has been so depleted by anorexia, my brain is still starved and not totally thinking clearly. This creates the cycle of anxiety and eating less, and eventually my weight would have continued to drop (I already had lost two pounds.)

I kept hearing Dr. S's voice, telling me to eat more and that will heal me. I finally decided to believe him. And after two days, I do feel calmer. Anorexia is still screaming at me, but it is starting to melt like the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

How many times can I deny anorexia? As many times as it comes back — until it is gone for good.

16 October 2010

In the borderland of anorexia recovery

I thought anorexia had been torn from me body and soul forever after David left.
Now he is back.
And so is anorexia.
Anorexia nervosa started creeping back a few weeks ago.
Taunting me with anxieties and fears; driving me to seek solace in dangerous places.
I look in the mirror and wonder who I am with this newly gained flesh.
I step on the scale, the relentless pursuit of thinness hovering in the back of my mind.
I know the numbers are a lie, and mean nothing without the power I give to them.
I know the path I have been on has been one of health and recovery and life.
I think of the future, and there are two alternative paths.
One is the path of anorexia and self-destruction. I fight to face the feelings stirred by recovery, but sometimes fail and use medication or alcohol to dull the inner pain. I don't want to become the victim of an accidental overdose. I want to learn how to handle anxiety so powerful it feels as if it could kill me.
The other path is one of healing and hope. It is a scary path, filled with anxieties that must be faced and food that must be eaten and weight that must gained. For I know until I reach my healthy goal weight, the anorexic thoughts will continue to nip at me and I will not be free. But I am so close to being free...
From 3-7 October 2010 journal entries.

This is the borderland of recovery. The word borderland implies a middle state of not belonging to any place or group. You are the "other." I am not yet recovered. I still sometime restrict and count calories and fight the thoughts of anorexia. I still weigh myself every day, and that number still means something to me.

Yet, I am not emaciated nor in physical danger, except for a persistent low potassium level which could impact my heart function (I also have potential heart problems from having scarlet fever. Typical for me, I try not to think about it.) But I am overall healthy and my mind is more clear than it has been for months. I know I must continue on the path of recovery. Neither my mind nor soul could handle failing this time.

Perhaps I am not failing. As I traverse the borderland of recovery, I see both many obstacles and many sources of help scattered throughout. The main obstacle is my mind and the still-obsessive drive to lose weight and become unimaginably thin again.

I am trying to discern why this thought remain pervasive. My therapist believes I am still afraid of life, and this is my way of staying safe. But the question is why am I afraid of life? I'm not sure. Sometimes life is beautiful and wonderful; the sun shines through my study window and caresses me and the brilliant leaves of orange and yellow and red fill my yard. It is a dying time, and yet reminds me that everything God creates is beautiful and life will come again.

Things are going wonderful for me in many ways. My husband and I are reconciled and are working hard to reestablish the intimacy we shared before anorexia nervosa decided to join us as a third partner in our marriage. I am working hard toward fulfilling my dream to obtain my master's degree, and I was recently admitted to the English department's writing program. This means I can pursue writing as my career, and use my skills as a writer and journalist to help people with eating disorders and mental illnesses. This means so much to me, and I am gratified in particular by one comment made by a professor reviewing my portfolio: "You have a rare gift." (She added that means she will push me hard to cultivate and hone that gift, and I might not always like what she says or wants me to do.)

I have a wonderful group of readers of this blog and recently it caught the attention of Ladies Home Journal. I am now working on a piece about my experiences with anorexia. I also will present my graduate paper on this topic at an English conference later this month, and will be interviewed by an Internet show by HealthyPlace.org next week. Finally, I am working on a presentation on eating disorders to present to students at the university, fulfilling another dream to begin to create a ministry to both present my story as a warning and help young people realize that we all different and beautiful in God's eyes and that is good.

But I'm not recovered. I am still walking through the borderland of recovery and know I can cross into either territory. At times, I feel as if I am on a very thin line and I am teetering either way. Cross one line and I am embrace life and all it has to offer. Step over the other line and I am looking at a lonely future with little hope and dreams destroyed.

My protection in this in-between state is my Lord and Savior Christ Jesus, and He guides me through the harrowing journey of recovery. He tells me I am beautiful and wondrous in His eyes when I look at my body and see fat that I want to carve out. He assures me that I am His child when I doubt myself and listen to my anxieties and fears that come of this world. He reminds me that my body is His gift and I am responsible for its care and love while I am on this earth.

I often wonder how long I will be on this earth. There are times I don't feel as if I belong here; the borderland is a lonely place and I haven't yet met anyone else wandering there, fighting for strength and recovery and wondering if s/he is the only one there. If you too feel as if you are in the borderland of recovery; if it is hard and you need an encouraging word or prayer, contact me via my e-mail on my profile.

I dream of a world where we all help each other; that not one of us becomes the Good Samaritan left forgotten by the side of the road. We all have wounds inflicted by our eating disorders and I believe we can help each other heal.

Christ Jesus is my guide through the borderland and will lead me to safety. Without him, I could not make it. But He also requires me to work hard on my own recovery. He will be there to guide me but I have to do the work, whether it means picking up the fork and eating the food or hiding from my feelings through unhealthy means.

The choice is mine. Choose to move forward and cross into the land of recovery. Or not.

09 October 2010

Treatment denied (Blogging for Sofia)

Sofia Benbahmed as a toddler.

The joy and wonder of life shine in the face of this little girl; dark, tousled curls framing her face, eyes closed and the warmth of a summer day embracing her as she clutches a daisy in each hand. There was a time when this little girl felt comfortable in her body. She didn't worry about weight and calories and body image. She was free like all little girls; running, playing and secure within herself and her world.

But at some point, something shifted within Sofia Benbahmed and she developed an eating disorder about twelve years ago. Now a young lady, she is struggling to overcome her illness and create a normal life free of fear and anxiety. She began residential treatment at Monte Nido in California in November. She spent three weeks there, healing and beginning her journey of recovery.

Sofia wrote, "During my time there I began to feel myself changing and rising to the occasion in a way I never had before. It was as though all of these years I have been  in a room with no doors or windows, and suddenly doors began to appear — and not only did they become visible, but I began to walk through them."

Then her insurance company denied further treatment.

Many of us know how it feels to be trapped by an eating disorder, looking for a way out and praying for recovery. I have struggled with anorexia nervosa for four years, and residential treatment was recommended for me about two years ago.

My insurance does not pay for this type of treatment. Furthermore, when my treatment team recommended partial hospitalization (the highest level besides hospitalization that my insurance will cover) this past spring, I was denied treatment three times even though I was at my lowest weight and was quickly becoming medically compromised while the various powers-to-be at the insurance company debated with my doctor about the necessity for this level of care.

I was finally admitted to a PHP after my doctor told the insurance company I would soon end up in the hospital. I remember my own fight with the insurance company; how it wore me down and made it harder to focus on recovery.

It is because of my own experience that I am taking the time to write about Sofia, someone I've never met. Sofia's treatment team has recommended that she return to Monte Nido and receive the full treatment necessary to recover, but her insurance continues to deny her.

Sofia Benbahmed continues to fight for recovery in spite of the fact that she is becoming sicker every day. To contribute toward the costs of her treatment, go to GiveForward.org. You can read Sofia's complete story there, and see what a brave and determined young lady she is and how she takes full responsibility for her recovery; it is not easy for her to ask for financial help to pay for the treatment she so desperately needs. You also can find more information through Miss Mary Max's blog; she is the one who spearheaded the "Blogging for  Sofia" campaign.

Everyone deserves the treatment their doctors and health professionals recommend. Insurance companies have no right to play God, deciding if this person is worthy of treatment while that person is not.

I am honored to have a small part in this effort to gain treatment for one person with an eating disorder. I just wish that appropriate treatment would be readily available for everyone who needs it.
Sofia Benbahmed today.

03 October 2010

Survivor's guilt (living with anorexia)

She was thirty-three years old and died of anorexia. My therapist told me this almost as an aside, near the end of Friday's therapy session. Our talk had centered on who I am besides anorexia, and how I continue to hold onto strong anorexic thoughts and tendencies in spite of working so hard to regain weight and health.

I said I had been struggling for the past week, bombarded with urges to restrict and feelings that I did not deserve to eat. I have been restricting; missing Ensures and eating lighter meals when I can get away with it. I also have been using other means to stave off the ever-increasing anxiety; extra tranquilizers sometime combined with pain killers make me feel calmer; a glass of wine added also helps.

Anything not to feel. Anything to forget how strong I was, how well I have done, only to have it start falling apart for no apparent reason. I am not an inspiration. I am a failure, heading for a relapse if I don't find a way to stop it.

Dr. S. said it was because part of me still wanted to hide; hide from life and a relationship with my husband and obtaining my master's degree. Hide from all the responsibilities that come with being healthy and recovered.

He is right. There are times I want to dive right back into anorexia.

I said I miss my uber-thinness, the feeling of my bones and concave stomach. I sometimes crave to be that small again; it is unlike any other feeling in the world, the world of anorexia. It is so damn seductive, so alluring sometimes I can't think over the still-loud, screaming voices that try to urge me on to the impossibility of being thin, so thin I am just a whisper . . .

I also know what I stand to lose if I chose this path. My husband. Writing. Any hope of getting my master's degree or having a successful and fulfilling career. Friendship.


(But I would be with God.)

Strangely, I never have really believed that I could die of this illness. There are a few times awareness has tried to trickle in, but then my heart beats and my mind thinks, and the thought of anorexia killing me seems so remote.

I cried yesterday when I realized how close I was to my goal weight. I felt both happy and bitter, the two feelings intermingling until I just felt overwhelmed and exploded into tears and self-recriminations. I looked down and hated my body and what it has become; rounder, feminine and softer.

But I want to get better.  I ate the foods and drank the Ensure Plus necessary to gain weight starting in September, and I was so determined to do it after my husband left, to prove I could recover and we could still have a life together. I moved forward in faith each day, and felt the promises of tomorrow whisper, you can do this.

But then there is guilt.

Why do I deserve to live when so many others have died from anorexia?

The guilt eats at me, tells me I haven't suffered enough and I don't deserve to eat nor recover. Why is anorexia like this? Why is it the only disease that tries to entice you back to it? Why does it make you feel guilty for becoming better?

Today I decided to eat less. And I have. Is that supposed to be the great accomplishment of my day?

I can still move forward. I must move forward. But right now I am frozen.

Frozen by guilt. 

Frozen by fear.

Frozen by anxiety.

Frozen by anorexia. 

Frozen by the thought relief could come soon.

(But what type of relief? Which will I chose? I have thought about the woman who died of anorexia all day. What were her hopes and dreams? Was she surrounded by loved ones at the moment of her death? Did she once dream of recovery? When did it become too late? What does all this mean to me?)

The part of me that wanted to die, that developed anorexia in the first place, thinks why not?

Survivor's guilt (living with anorexia)

Guilt fills me

The thought of
young woman

By anorexia.

I ask myself
Why do
continue to live?

While others die?

Feeling cheated
of the
meant for