I had what I would call “an unfortunate reality check” yesterday.
As many of you know, I have been on exercise restriction for some time now (17 months, actually, but who’s counting?). It started back in December of 2015, when I was admitted to residential treatment, and has been in place (to some degree) ever since. Some of that, however, has been self-imposed. I made the personal decision to take a year off from doing cardio after reading Decoding Anorexia and learning about the increased success rates seen in patients who do so. However, once my year was up, I’d fallen back into a place of needing to restore weight, and so was advised to continue abstaining from cardiovascular exercise. This has been one of the most difficult parts of my recovery, but I am proud to say I’ve adhered to my medical professionals’ recommendations. There have been days (many, actually) that I have wanted nothing more than to get out my frustration, anger, joy, anxiety, sadness, glee — you name it — by running until I hit a wall…but I have refrained. It’s a constant battle between healthy Bridgette wanting to do anything and everything to get my weight up to a place where I’m healthy enough to exercise, and the eating disorder, who tells me if I go over my meal plan by a single ounce, then my entire world will fall apart. I’m thankful that more and more, the former seems to be winning out.
I will say, abstaining from cardio has had many benefits. For one, I’ve learned a lot of new coping skills. Coping skills that I know I wouldn’t have had to learn to use if I could’ve evaded my emotions by “running them out.” Secondly, it’s prevented me from relapsing farther than I already did. I strongly believe that I would be in a much, much worse place right now and would be having to restore a great deal more weight than I am already having to, if I had added cardio back into my exercise regimen once I was granted the “Ok” to do so. Thirdly, it’s helping me view my relationship with exercise more healthily. It’s no secret that cardio exercise is an instantaneous calorie burner, and for someone with OCD, anxiety and depression, and anorexia, that can quickly turn into a full-fledged addiction. I’m really proud to say that I enjoy each and every time I walk into the gym to lift weights now, (albeit wishing I could be there for more than 20 minutes at a time!), and that I feel strong when doing so. Fourth and lastly (though I could probably think of more things!), abstaining from weight-bearing exercise has helped maintain my physical health while going through this recovery process.
“What am I talking about?”, you may be wondering. “Exercise is good for your bones?”. That is true, but as it turns out, it’s only true under certain circumstances. Exercise increases bone strength when hormone levels (FSH, LH, estrogen, and estradiol) are high enough. Otherwise, it can be detrimental to the bones, causing irreversible damage to an already weakened body.
And that is where my unfortunate reality check comes in.
I’ve been dying (yes, dying) to go for a run, increasingly so as the weather has gotten nicer and I’ve seen more and more people out doing it. I talked in my last post about wanting to run the 5k that my roommates participated in at the Wanderlust mindfulness triathlon we did last weekend. I wasn’t given my treatment team’s blessing to run it, so I walked it…but that sparked a new conversation. How did we really know my bones weren’t strong enough to handle this? My weight is the highest it’s been in a long time, and actually a weight that I’ve had my period at before (years ago). Couldn’t my body just be taking a long time to start my period, but physically be ready to do so?
Naturally, I presented these questions to my team. They were understanding, and agreed to order blood testing to check my hormone levels. The deal was: If my hormone levels came back “normal,” we would discuss increasing my activity, as that would mean my bones were strong enough to endure more exercise without damage. It would also mean that my period was on its way to returning, but likely was just going to take a bit more time. What “increased activity” would look like was TBD, but you can bet I started brainstorming the minute they said, “We’ll see.” What would I do first?! Where would I run; which trails would I hit? Should I do my favorite loop around the Nike campus, or go back to where we did our summer cross country runs up on Wildwood Trail? Oh, and I could LAP SWIM! That sounds so nice, especially now that we’re getting warmer weather! Not to mention the drop-in gymnastics class I’d been so eager to try ever since before I hurt my hand… I was brimming with ideas, and I hadn’t even gotten the go-ahead yet. You could say I got a little ahead of myself.
Friday I had my blood work done, and I prayed. Oh, I prayed so much. I wanted this so, so badly. I knew that I still had to get to the new weight my treatment team had set, regardless of the outcome, but if I could just be granted the go-ahead to go for a run, I would be so, so happy.
I wasn’t supposed to learn the results until my follow-up appointment with my psychiatrist this coming Friday, but because I’m annoying and wanted to know the results, I called him over the weekend and asked if he could please call me on Monday to let me know; I couldn’t wait any longer.
Well, it turns out that I will be waiting longer. My levels were too low. Not a little too low, but quite a bit; low enough that he doesn’t think my period’s going to return in the coming month, and certainly too low to add in any weight-bearing exercise. To say I was devastated would be an incredible understatement. I got the call from him yesterday morning, and have spent much of the day today pulling myself out of what I know could easily become a state of depression. Despite the sadness, I went about the rest of my day as planned. I still went to the gym and did my 20 minutes of weight-lifting that I’m allowed to do three times a week, and I enjoyed every single second of those 20 minutes. I kept plans to meet up with my Dad, and then my friend Elizabeth later in the afternoon. I will go about the rest of my day, and week, and months to come, doing just what I have been: plugging away at recovery. I know that I can be proud of all the achievements I’m making, even if I can’t run yet. I know that in time (and with added body fat), my period will return. I know that one day, somewhere down the line, I will be able to go for a run — and OH, how I will cherish that day!
It was a really good reminder. I learned from my dietician that though my being at this weight was high enough to trigger my menstrual cycle years ago, it likely is not anymore. The reason for that is: research has shown that each relapse causes a higher body fat percentage needed in order for the body to have a period. The science behind that is that the body doesn’t feel “safe enough” to worry about using the nutrition is getting on non-vital functions, like hormones. Each time I’ve relapsed, my body has had the rug (i.e.: nutrition) pulled out from under it, and therefore, it doesn’t want to waste any unnecessary energy producing hormones. So, while X pounds may have been enough weight for me to have my period before I’d relapsed multiple times, this time, my body may decide that it’s not ready to have a period until I’m at X+Y pounds.
This has been sobering for me. It was an unfortunate reality check, but also a great reminder of the damage I’ve done to my body, and the damage I will work to never do again. I’ve put my body through the ringer and back these last six years, and now I am paying the consequences. I know a lot of people have a hard time reconciling these types of instances along with having a faith in God. I have a hard tine reconciling many things in my faith, but not this. The Bible tells us that God is just. It tells us that He loves us and wants what’s best for us, but also that he is fair, and righteous, and enforces punishment. I don’t believe that God is punishing me by doing this, per se, but I do think I’m paying the consequences for the actions I did to my body.
The one saving grace for me, in all of this, is that my treatment team is proud of me. They’re really, really proud of me — and I can’t even begin to describe how good that makes me feel. I’ve pushed myself in multiple ways over the past month especially, from going above and beyond eating what’s on my meal plan, to trying out new recipes, to being honest and owning up about when I’ve cut something out, and then making up for it, etc. All three of them (therapist, dietician, and psychiatrist) have told me individually how proud of me they are, and I don’t take that lightly. It means a lot, because they don’t always say it… so when they do, I know it’s genuine. I know that I am doing a good job. I just need to keep at it, and I’ll get there, eventually.
I didn’t intend for this to become a full-length blog post, but I guess that’s just what happens sometimes. It’s hard to keep things short when there’s so much I have to say! There’s a lot more I could write about, but for both my sake and yours, I’ll cap it here. This week is week 8 (out of 10) at school, and as classes are ramping up for final projects and exams, I know things will continue to get more and more stressful. If I don’t blog from now until a few weeks from now, you’ll know why!
I hope you all have a blessed week, and as always, thank you for walking this journey with me.