Eating Disorder and Getting Personal

This may just be the most personal post yet.

I despise pictures, but somehow seem strangely drawn to looking at old ones. Lately it has become nothing more than a morbid game of comparisons. While I am happy for my friends in recovery and all they are doing, it somehow makes me seem inadequate and I begin to question my own recovery.

I tell myself that my story doesn’t matter, that I really have nothing to say. I want to be an advocate and help others, but how when I am so drawn into denial. I am one of you, one of the people who struggles with an eating disorder, but was never hospitalized, never had a feeding tube, who believed she was never “thin enough” to have an “actual” eating disorder.

While many of these thoughts have become easier to grasp over the years, there are still certain ones that are more triggering than others.

Becoming better with understanding that “yeah, I was ‘thin enough’ to have an eating disorder”, because they don’t discriminate based on looks. I was still struggling, I look back on pictures from mission work, or a cruise, and the first thing that comes to mind is how I purged on the cruise ship many times, and spent most mornings in the gym on the ship.

My body has changed tremendously over the course of my life. When I look back I see a heavier girl with boobs, she didn’t eat at school, but would purge when she got home. She hid it from her family and would take the dog on a walk after dinner, or get in the shower.

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I believed, like many other children, that I was solely responsible for my parent’s rocky marriage, drinking problems, their fighting, etc. I was convinced that since my own father didn’t want me that somehow the problem was me, I was the common factor.

I was cursed/blessed/given boobs. It was many of the physical attributes I hated about myself, known as the girl with the “big boobs”. I hid behind big hoodies, hoping to go unnoticed.

When the weight began to really come off, and people became more aware that I wasn’t eating, it became concerning to some. Some people tried to talk to me about what I was doing, others tried to talk to my mom. It all fell on deaf ears, and I played dumb, using the typical, “I already ate” excuse.

I began running, told myself it wasn’t “that much”. 3 miles became 5, which quickly became 7, and so on. I was always rationalizing it by saying, “It’s not like I’m running ___ miles”, but it would inevitably become that number.

Some were concerned, others didn’t know me well enough to be concerned, they told me how great I looked, others wanted to know what my secret was. Still, I rationalized it by telling myself that “Sick people couldn’t run this much.”

If I was to sit down and be honest, I would say I went from a heavier girl who hated her body and was always self-conscious, to a smaller version of that girl. She still hated her body, but she was also poisoning it, giving it laxatives, not feeding it, and so consumed with the thought of running and restricting that she chose running over Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry and Virology classes. She hadn’t had her period for as long as she could remember, she was put on crutches from tearing her entire IT band from hip to knee, she had to have her gallbladder taken out since it was storing so much bile from not eating. She still believed she was completely fine, refusing any food she hadn’t made herself, fearing liquid calories, living on egg whites and veggies.

Sitting down I still struggle with believing that I wasn’t worthy of recovery. There are others who needed it more than me, who were worse off than me. I compare my journey, my recovery, my body, to those around me and while I know it isn’t healthy, I can’t help but believe that they are more worthy, more important than me.

 

Self-Empathy & Compassion

Self-empathy, to me, I feel like this is a brand new topic. One read about in fictional tales, along with princesses with flowing locks of hair and birds that make my bed for me.

In Brene Brown’s book, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), she goes on to explain the difference between empathy and sympathy. I’m very guilty of using these words interchangeably for years, but now having such a better understanding of the words. I want someone to empathize with me, but don’t want their sympathy. Brenė puts it,

“When they talked about their ability to overcome shame, they clearly pointed to empathy: sharing their feelings with someone who would understand and relate to what they were saying. Conversely, women used words like hate, despise, and can’t stand to describe their feelings about sympathy seeking- looking for sympathy or being asked for sympathy.”

Empathy, is looking for acceptance, and understanding that we are not alone in our experiences.

It has been argued you cannot give what you don’t have, this also including love and empathy, but I respectfully disagree. It is so much easier to give others empathy and the benefit of the doubt. I questioned daily why I was much more able to cut others slack, or be more understanding of others, why I was so hard on myself, and I believe this is a lack of self-compassion as well as empathy towards myself.

I fully believe that everyone has something in their life they are dealing with. Whether it be a sick family member, mental illness, recent death, financial issues, whatever it is, so I attempt to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. That is it though, right there. I don’t know everybody’s story, as much as I love hearing peoples’ stories and hearing how far they’ve come. What if I did though? Honestly, I might be more empathic and compassionate towards them, realizing what they are dealing with on a daily basis. Why is that any different than myself?

I know my story, I know what I have been through. I may not think it is “All that bad” but I know there are people out there who believe I am “brave” “strong” “courageous”. It is the shame of believing the lies I have been fed for years, and internally believing that I am not deserving or worthy. I am much more empathetic and compassionate to those I don’t know their story, than myself.

Seeing Myself In A Student

It is so difficult to compliment myself, brag on myself, or even see myself in a worthy light. My homework from my therapist this week was to “build a court case” against the lies I’ve been fed for so many years.

This is so hard for me, it is not like me to talk about what I have done or accomplished, because I just find that selfish and conceited.

My last post was about owning your story, but at the same time, owning it, doesn’t mean owning the lies you have been told your entire life. That is completely different. In an attempt to placate my therapist, I sat down the night before, and did the assignment she had given me last week. I didn’t put too much thought into it, because that would have been stressful and scary (which I know is kind of the point, to push me out of my comfort zone.)

Well, yesterday, I decided I wouldn’t wait last minute. I got home from my appointment, sat down and began to really think about the assignment and how difficult it would be. To not do it would be giving into the lies, rather than fighting them, but to do the homework meant dealing with the lies and trying to combat them with bragging on myself.

 

So, as I sat there, staring at the paper, it really hit me that this assignment was going to suck.

I began to think of my kids when I worked at a school, and one girl in particular who came to my mind and heart. I missed her, she had a very difficult home life, was hands down, one of my favorites, a heart of gold, and sassy as all get out (A girl after her own teacher’s heart).

So I started the assignment with, “What Would I Tell Alisha?”

  • You have been through so much, and are so strong.
  • Stay loud and loving.
  • Be there for your brother, you guys will be close.
  • You can’t control your parents.
  • None of that was your fault.
  • You are so loved.
  • It is ok to ask for a hug.
  • Be honest.

This is the girl, who was one of the smallest in her grade, yet, with a older brother, she would be out on the basketball court showing all the guys how to shoot. She was loud, sassy, played like one of the guys, but has a heart of gold.

Every day she would come running down the hallway, yelling my name and run into my arms. I was one of the select few who she came to for hugs and compassion, she didn’t want to lead on that she too, was tough, but needed love.

 

The day she came to school with stitches above her eye and scraped up, my heart sunk. The more I found out about her home life, the more I wanted to pick her up and take her home with me. No wonder she was tough and snarky, but I loved her just the same.

 

Reading the list that I would tell one of my students, but at the same time, me, not wanting or asking for help.

College and Eating Disorder

First, I wanted to apologize.

The days of class I skipped.

The days I couldn’t pay attention.

Or, the days when I would skip your class, and you would catch me running around campus walking back to your office.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care, it was that I was just more consumed with burning calories and making my Eating Disorder happy that I didn’t want to sit in class.

I didn’t want you to take my struggle as apathy or anything like that, and for the professors that did know about my struggle, I’m thankful for all that you did.

It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to go to class, I physically didn’t have the energy to be there. I was freezing, exhausted, and all I wanted to do was go out and run this anxiety off. Running was more important to me than school, studying, or any sort of life.

Classmates would comment on how athletic I am, and how impressed they were at the distances I was running and how often I went to the gym. (Little did they know I had eaten an apple in maybe two days, and the violent shakes were from the Hydroxycut, not the coffee like I told people.) They didn’t see the girl who laid in her bed crying because of her electrolytes and her legs were locked up again, or the girl who ran to the toilet at 2 am because I had taken the laxatives too early and was up in the middle of the night.

College just seems like one big blur to me. Life was a half-hearted perfunctory routine of get up, run, go to class, run, go to work, maybe go to the gym, and start all over again.

Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with one of my professors. I had her class during the semester that I left for treatment. We sat outside, laughed and caught up on all that we had missed. She told me that I looked happy and she was so proud of me. That, was what I needed to hear. That I didn’t disappoint her, or had somehow failed at being a “normal” college student.

She went on to say that she talks about me frequently, how I never asked for special treatment, and did continue to show up and do well in her class. The only thing I ever asked was if I could take my final early, (I was admitted on finals week).

I was honest and told her that while I was in her class I was consuming more diet pills and laxatives than actual food, she shook her head in a concerning way.

The most difficult was a male professor, only because my senior research also included a food log, which I was sure would lead to me failing my senior research if I didn’t have any data to actually document. He was very understanding, and I missed half of the following semester since I was still in treatment. Returning in March to his Biostatistics class, he was shocked and surprised to see me walk in the door. I had three tests to make up, multiple practicals, and I was determined. He was willing to work with me and said I could take an incomplete and finish the semester when I was feeling better. I told him I was supposed to graduate this semester, and I wanted to catch up.

I did, I finished school on time and graduated on time, missing half of a semester of Biostatistics, Virology, and Biochemistry.

I am very thankful to have the support I did through my academic career. Both of those professors actually wrote me letters of recommendation. They believed in me, even when I didn’t think I could.

Who, Not What, Are You.

Who are you?

If someone was to ask you who you were what would you say?

Would you identify yourself with your flaws?

Would you identify yourself with the size pants you wear?

“I am _______.”

How would you fill that?

The world has told us to fit molds, stereotypes and to hold certain expectations.

As if your importance and worth in the world is somehow based on how you look; and God forbid we are open about our struggles and flaws, which could somehow make us less human or less worthy.

Who you are is not:

                What you do.

                A label set by others.

                A diagnosis.

                Mistakes you made.

Why would I accept a label set on me by others?

                I don’t walk up to someone and say, “Hi, I am a recovering anorexic.”

“Hello, I am anxious.”

                                “Good afternoon, I am depressed.”

Honestly, to me, this doesn’t sound bad. It would be more real. People may stop hiding behind the taboo shame that comes with these labels.

But, these labels, regardless of what they are, are not WHO we are.

I’m gonna say that again for the people in the back….

                Regardless of what these labels are, THEY ARE NOT WHO WE ARE.

Use Your “Science Mind”

There are umpteen articles out there that are titled, “What Not To Say To Someone With An Eating Disorder.” Or “What to Say to Someone Recovering.” “How to talk to someone with an eating disorder.” “What is acceptable to say to someone with an eating disorder.” Etc, the list goes on and on, some are probably titled the same thing, with a different font, different capitalization, different spelling.

One thing that I have been told, on more than one occasion, is to use my “science brain”. Some background on me, I hate compliments, hate positive affirmations even more, and was able to finish school and graduate, while spending half of my final semester in residential.

I am a Biology Major, with a Chemistry Minor. After graduation I got a job offer several states away, after interviewing, weighing my options, and looking at the hefty benefits that went along with it, I took the offer. I am currently working as a Biochemist, specializing in HPLC Method and Development. All of this to say, I have been called “smart” for as long as I can remember. I am nothing more than average. I got a C in Inorganic Chemistry, passed Virology with a disheartening B, and that is nothing to the hell I endured through Cell and Molecular Biology, with a professor I referred to as “Dr. Douche Fuck.” (Only behind his back, of course).

So, when people tell me to use my “science brain”, it, well, it pisses me off.

Yes, I can tell you that carbohydrates are needed for the cell, as well as lipids, protein, etc. I can tell you glycolysis, the one letter amino acid codes, the vitamins and what the body uses each for. Logically, I know food is fuel, that you can’t gain anymore than you consume, I know basal metabolic rate.

I know people die from eating disorders.

My science mind is great and useful for information about health, bacteria, the works. My mind is also great at using denial and deception, along with ED. I believe that I am the exception, I believe that it will never happen to me. I spent years in denial, I craved my morning runs and the lifting, I still don’t believe I’ve done any long term damage to my body. To some morbid degree, that bothers me.

I wish I could sit here and tell you that I was the frail, feeble, weakling with the feeding tube. Knees knocking as I wait for the elevator because I am unable to climb one flight of stairs. That I had some miraculous story to tell.

I don’t.

I fight with myself and my body daily. Wishing I was thinner, that my stretch marks would go away, that my thigh gap was more obvious and my collar bone would protrude a little more.

It is very difficult sitting in program, in a room full of sick people, comparing my body to theirs. She may not be allowed to take the stairs. He may need help carrying his tray.

Me? I did 5 miles before program. I did push ups, I did crunches. You name it.

I am the heaviest patient in the room, I am nearly sure of it.

I wouldn’t say I am “ok” with it- but I am accepting of this fact.

I could probably also dead lift their body weight no problem.

It is this morbid sense of comparison that is so difficult to me. You are the heaviest one here. Yeah, but I lift and run. Or are you justifying the reason you are fat? No, I tell myself. I wonder how they see me though.

ED’s never ceasing manipulation.

My Worth Is Based On My Performance

It has always been something. It may be grades and my academic performance, sports and how many shots I blocked in the goal, or how many times I ran the bases. It may be dependent on how I scored on a test.

My worth is directly correlated with how I performed or succeeded. When I talk about something I accomplished, it is always in a way that makes sure people understood I could  have done better, just in case what I did isn’t up to their standards.

“Yeah, I tore my meniscus and ran the 15k. My time was a hair over an hour and a half… could have been better.”  “Yeah, the average on the test was a 74, I got an 89. Wish it would have been an A.”

I need to work on this. By who’s standards?  If running a 15k in the pouring rain was easy, more people would have been there. If everyone could get an 89 on the Biochemistry test then 74 wouldn’t have been the average.

I am my worst enemy and harshest critic. I’m not even sure who I am comparing myself too, besides everyone, and I can’t be everyone simultaneously… I can barely handle being “me” whoever that is.

But I immediately relate my performance and success to what I deserve and what I am worth. I want to be better, faster, smarter, thinner but stronger.

Well, now I have to get ready for my final presentation.

Practice being human & Trust the process

Namaste