A Letter to my Eating Disorder

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week. I’ve been working very hard this past month. My weight’s continued to go up (at a painfully slow, incremental rate), which it needs to do in order to keep my doctors and therapist, but which continues to increase my anxiety. Per my treatment team’s recommendation, I’ve agreed to be at home as much as is possible without changing my work or school schedule. Being home ensures that I follow my meal plan exactly, as my mom’s watchful eye is never far from my plate! It’s been a long two weeks, and I know the next couple are only going to feel longer, but I know I’m doing what I need to. In my therapy appointment today, my therapist talked about the loss I’m going to be experiencing in the coming months. She compared it both to leaving an abusive relationship, and also to being an olympic athlete, saying, “I’ve had my run, and now I’m done. I’m going to find something different that I can excel and put my energy into now.” I continue to experience more and more of that grief the closer I get to being weight restored. In an effort to help me express this, my therapist had me write a letter to my eating disorder, saying goodbye. I thought I’d share it here.

 

To my eating disorder-

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write this letter. You’ve been partially out of my life for a while now, but in some ways you’re still very present. I can feel myself cling to you with every fiber of my being, not wanting to let you go as you’re being pulled away from me from my psychiatrist, therapist, dietician, mom, supporting friends, and of course, the chemicals helping: Prozac and Zyprexa.

We had a good run, you and I. I honestly can’t imagine the last six years of my life without you. You gave me someone to turn to in the midst of my family’s collapse, something to excel in when I lost my sport and greatest passion due to injury, and most importantly, a sense of calm and numbness unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. But you caused me a lot of heartache, too. Physical heartache, actually – according to the EKG I had to have before I went to Residential, my heart’s already suffered one heart attack, and I know if I keep fooling around with you, I’m at risk of having another one that I may not be so lucky as to recover from. You stole other things from my body, too. I’m embarrassed to wear my hair down because of the way you caused it to fall out in clumps – one of the many side effects of malnourishment – and denied me of having my period (and potentially my ability to have children) for years. You’re the cause of so many missed experiences, as well, more than I can even recount. The many things I said, “No”, to in order to follow your rules, the freshman homecoming dance I spent in the hospital, the cross-country meet I feigned sickness for in order to evade eating, the college scholarship to run track in Alabama I had to turn down because my mom couldn’t trust me to be that far away from home. And let’s not forget about the numerous stress fractures likely compounded by you, either – or Raynaud’s the circulatory disease I developed as a result of you at the young age of fifteen.

Eating disorder, I’ve done so many things for you that I would’ve never done otherwise. You turned me into a completely different person; you made me to be a liar and a cheater. You’ve damaged relationships so badly that I can’t believe they’re still intact. You caused tension to flood places where it never belonged. I’ve been so blessed by the people God has put into my life to support me in this fight. I’m going to utilize them to help turn me against you, to remind me that you’re no good for me.

Despite all these things, eating disorder, I don’t hate you. In fact, I still love you a lot – that’s what makes it so hard to say goodbye. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live without you; you’re my comfort, my security blanket. But in the moments when you’re calling me back to you – when you’re lying to me, saying that I’m nothing without you… I’m going to remind you that in fact, it’s you who’s nothing without me. And unlike you, I’m not fighting this battle to keep me with you alone. I’ve got a ton of professionals on my side as well as my family and friends who love me and who care about me. Most importantly, I’ve got God on my side. And while I know you’re caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain, I serve a living God who tells me to cast all my cares and anxieties on Him. He is stronger than you. And with Him, so am I.

Sincerely, and Farewell,

 

Bridgette

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The Last 10 Percent

My anxiety has been unequivocally bad over the last couple of days.

Actually, I take that back. It’s been this bad before, but it was under different circumstances. It was when I was in treatment.

The differences between going through the process of weight restoration during AN recovery in an inpatient setting and on an outpatient basis are astronomical. In inpatient, I had support around me at every turn. Every meal, every snack, every bathroom break. There was never a moment I was alone, and there was a great deal of security in that. These days, as I’m trying to restore weight without having to re-enter treatment, I’m alone a lot more than is ideal. To me, it makes it feel like I have an option as to whether or not I follow my meal plan. My mom reminds me that it’s not. If I want to live a  full life, I need to follow it precisely, as that’s the only way I’m going to ever return to my healthy self. Not Bridgette’s sick-self, constantly going to appointments, having to check in with my mom, and being at home on the weekends.

I don’t need to go into detail regarding the relatively constant state of panic I’ve been in over the last couple of days, because what I just said is informative enough. It’s been relatively constant. At work, at school, in my own home — you name it, it’s been there, ranging from a moderate sized pit in my stomach to a full-blown panic attack. It leaves me shaken. But, there’s a bright side. I’ve been reassured by my providers that my increased anxiety is proof that I’m getting closer to where I need to be. What am I talking about? Why is anxiety a good thing, you may be wondering? That’s how I felt too! Then I read this article that my dietician shared with me.

If you don’t want to take the time to read it (though I’ll say, it’s a great read!), I’ll sum it up for you. Basically, there’s new scientific data that says when someone in recovery from anorexia nervosa gets to between 90 and 95% of their restored weight, anxiety increases significantly. The level of anxiety then decreases back to a normal level once they’re fully weight restored. Well, surprise, surprise, 90-95% is exactly where I’m at! While it’s been a rough few days and I know will likely be for a few (weeks) more, I was very encouraged by these findings I read about. I’m really thankful my dietician passed it along. She always knows just what I need!

 

-Bridge

The Last 24

If you’ve seen the show The First 48, you might have gotten my (intended) pun of a title. My mom and I are suckers for Dateline and other crime-TV shows (we actually have one on right now!), and I don’t turn down an opportunity to use a pun when I see one. The last 24 hours have been good. For that, I am so, so thankful. It’s moments like these, when I experience a bit of a break from the eating disorder, that I’m rejuvenated and reminded why recovery is worth it, and why I keep fighting.

I had my appointment with Dr. Rock yesterday, and it went well. He decided to stay vague and not give me the specifics of my weight, but he said that I’d held up my end of the contract, meaning it had gone up at least the amount we’d agreed upon. Instead of feeling anxious upon learning my weight had gone up, like I normally would’ve, I felt okay. It’s amazing how quickly things can turn around, seeing as moments before the appointment, I’d felt like I was going to puke, so conflicted as to whether I wanted my weight to be up (the E.D. didn’t want) or down (which would’ve meant disappointing my mom and providers, as well as losing them). My mom came to my appointment (Thanks for the snow day that allowed her to, Beaverton School District!), which I think helped, but I also just felt a sense of calm after the appointment that I normally don’t. It was very welcomed (Thank you, Jesus).

This morning, I had my weekly session with my therapist. My mom came to that one, too! I walked out invigorated and renewed after we worked through some cognitive remediation therapy, a technique used with the goal of increasing my brain flexibility, and reducing my rigidity around eating disordered thoughts and behaviors. We also talked about how my treatment is really, so simple if I just follow the plan that’s laid out for me. It’s only when I begin to listen to the eating disorder, and try to manipulate things that it gets complicated. I was able to identify that my automatic response to hearing those words “follow the plan” is that I need to be submissive, but my therapist reframed it as imagining I’m following a training program, and my providers are my coaches. That, of course, was right up my alley, and left me feeling excited to get home and get training! We agreed that I would look at this as a 30-day program, just to start out, and that for the next 30 days, I would follow my meal plan TO THE T (just as I totally would if it were an exercise program’s plan), checking in with my mom and my providers as I go along. So, I came home this evening and mapped out a little program for myself in a journal, complete with a checklist of my behaviors each day and a spot to record my highs and lows, mood in the morning and evening, level of motivation, and any other pertinent tid-bits from the day.

Tomorrow, I’ll go to church with my mom and begin Day 2 of my training regimen.

I’m excited.

 

-Bridge

A War Within

Yesterday was a particularly rough day for me. It shouldn’t have surprised me, seeing as I’ve been doing relatively well. I’ve been following my meal plan, and I’ve been eating more variety. I even had tacos at the Blazer game I went to on Tuesday night. Tacos that I didn’t prepare, and furthermore did not know the caloric content of. Uncertainty — it’s where the eating disorder finds its footing. It caused it to rear its ugly head yesterday, and while fortunately, the thoughts haven’t been this bad frequently over the last couple of months, I thought it was a good opportunity to share what they can be like. They tend to get worse when I’m adhering to my meal plan and abstaining from exercise (as prescribed).

A peek inside my head (Wednesday, Feb. 1)-

1:00 pm: I feel like I’m going to throw up. I need to text Mom. I look down at the parmesan and herb bagel sandwich staring in front of me, my eyes wide. It looks back at me, gobs of cream cheese staring, mockingly. How am I going to eat this? My brain begins rolling, trying to come up with ways I could get rid of it. There’s not a garbage disposal in this house, so that’s not an option like it is at home. I guess I could bury it in the garbage, but what if one of my roommates see it? What else can I do, what else can I do…

1:07 pmBridgette! Get it together! You have your weigh-in in an hour and a half! You need every last morsel you can get! Eat that bagel and cream cheese with turkey, and go get yourself a Gatorade, too. Maybe you should’ve put more cream cheese on that bagel…are you sure that’s two tablespoons? You can’t afford to short yourself any calories here. Remember the deal: your weight needs to be up by Friday if you’re going to keep your providers. Eat, eat, eat!

1:13 pm: Don’t listen to that. You don’t need to gain any weight. What are those people trying to do, make you fat? You’re not going to feel any better about yourself by eating those 500 calories, I’ll tell you that much. You’ll probably feel worse; look at all the grease on that thing. I can see it going straight to your thighs. The pants you’re wearing right now won’t fit you, that’s for sure.

1:20 pm: But think of everything you get to do once you’re at your weight! Who cares if those pants won’t fit you, you’ll get new ones with that Nordstrom gift card! And you’ll get to work out!

1:26 pm: Work out? It won’t even be worth it. You’ll be too uncomfortable with your body to wear athletic gear in public. And those Zella running tights you love? Yeah, forget about it. There’s no way those are going to fit.

1:30 pm: No, Bridgette! You need this! DON’T give in. You are stronger than this! You only have an hour now before your appointment! You need to hurry up and eat or your weight is most definitely not going to be up and you might lose your team!

1:37 pm: Come on, loser. Find a couple pocket weights and stick ’em in your pants. No one’ll know the difference, it’s a win-win. Your weight will be up and you don’t have to get fat. No harm, no foul.

1:45 pm: That’s not true! Harm AND foul! That’s lying! Come on, Bridge, DON’T go backwards! You’ve come this far and your body needs this! You haven’t had your period in almost a year.

1:50: ** Text comes in from Mom **

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1:51 pm: ** Begins eating sandwich **

2:15 pm: **Finishes lunch **

So, yes, I ate the bagel. The bagel and the turkey, and the cream cheese and the carrots. I was absolutely certain afterward that my weight had increased, probably a couple pounds. I would’ve bet you money on it. The eating disorder was that convincing. Yet, per usual, I got weighed in and was told my weight hadn’t budged. Not down, and certainly not up. Not even an ounce. It hasn’t been a week since my last weigh-in, so my team isn’t letting go of me. That weigh-in will come on Friday.

The two voices in my head are polar opposites, and I know that. It doesn’t seem realistic that both would be experienced by the same person, let alone in the same day. But they were, and they did, and they do (and will continue to). That’s life with an eating disorder. It can leave a person feeling literally insane, and that’s just how I felt today. That’s what causes the majority of my panic attacks: feeling overwhelmed with the uncertainty of how I feel. I feel both ends of the spectrum, the healthy me and the disordered me, so strongly that it becomes hard to separate what’s real from what’s not. I don’t know how to describe it other than as if I’m witnessing a war, and I’m a third-party to it. It’s like I’m an outsider looking in, but looking into my brain, and the winner of the war determines my behavior. I can separate the rational and the disordered parts of my brain from each other, but I often have a hard time hearing the rational one because the disordered one gets so loud. Not only is it loud, but it’s deceiving. I expressed these feelings of frustration, and really, utter exhaustion, with my dietician at my appointment today, and she gave me an article that related to what I was feeling. It’s a paper entitled, Wisdom from those recovered.

You can’t trust an eating disorder. When I think back to having an eating disorder, it’s what I imagine schizophrenia to be like. Once I had gone through treatment once, I knew what was healthy and what wasn’t, I knew what I needed to do to maintain my weight, but this other side of me – the eating disorder – cared far more about not gaining weight. So I did things I never would have imagined doing. I lied, I hid food, I came up with schemes to avoid eating even a drop of yogurt – looking back on it, it seems insane, and it was, but it was the work of an eating disorder, which is not a sane or rational disorder. You cannot act toward an eating disorder as you would toward a rational person. You have to be firm and unyielding, and the eating disorder will do everything possible to bend and break the rules and wear you down. Parents: take that trust you have in your child and use it to fuel your belief that the trustworthy person you know is still there, but they cannot emerge until you weed your way through the convoluted games of the eating disorder, and to do that you have to stick by what YOU, the rational person, know is healthy.

I’m so thankful to have a dietician (and a psychiatrist and a therapist, not to mention my mom!) who cares so much about me, and who has enough insight into this disorder to understand what I’m saying when I come to her in a panic. I’m  going to keep working hard, and keep fighting the voice in my head that tells me not to do what my team has prescribed for me, and I’m going to keep doing just that: exactly what they tell me to.

 

-Bridge