It’s been quite some time since I have written about My Tape. I tried on multiple occasions, but forming words around what life has been like has felt impossible for a long time.
I have to write about My Tape as honestly and openly as possible because it can’t help me to share half-truths. It doesn’t help me to shroud the tough stuff. And there has been some tough stuff.
I consider myself a moderately strong person and then I think of the other people in my life:
My sister and her ability to raise a teenage boy and almost-teenage girl so exceptionally and with commitment and with joy.
My friends whose baby so unfairly has cancer and their ability to still find a way to keep their older daughter’s life full, normal, and fun – not to mention find time to write a thank-you note for a meal delivered.
My good friend who lost a parent suddenly and even though I know the devastation has be all-consuming at times, she has still managed to handle all that comes with that loss – including selling her childhood home – with her unbreakable spirit and grace.
These people are strong.
I am not them. I am generally a mess. When the going gets really tough, I do tend to shift into hyper-gear but I usually just take on far more than I should. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism. Maybe it’s instinct. Maybe it’s both. I don’t know. I just know that’s how I generally deal.
Over the past eight months, I experienced loss and uncertainty to a higher degree than I ever have before. It proved to be too much for me to power through. I spun out of control. I ate and drank to dull the emotional and physical pain. I squirreled myself away. I disengaged.
My anxiety, which I normally keep in check with exercise and sleep, escalated to a barely functional level. Unable to get a full night’s (half night’s?) sleep, getting myself to work was getting harder and harder. I would have full on anxiety attacks in the middle of the day triggered by just about anything. I’d get home and just want to feel a sense of calmness…get my mind to slow the hell down…and out came the wine. And the chips. And the ice cream. And the isolation, because who wants to be around that?
The loss of the most important friendship of my adult life, a heartbreaking discovery, never ending physical pain, and no sleep lead to this unbearable level of anxiety and with it came depression.
I didn’t want to see people. Not my friends. Not my family.
I wanted to curl up with my dog, in my bed and shut out the world. In January, there were literally three people, including myself, who knew everything going on with me. Today, there are six. The additional three? Two therapists and a dietician.
For someone as open as I normally am, the secrecy of all that was going on added to the guilt and shame I felt. I couldn’t and shouldn’t have shared everything with everyone and it just isolated me more and more from the people I care about.
I withdrew from everyone and everything. The only tasks I accomplished were absolute necessities. I didn’t (don’t) have energy for more than that and keeping my head above water most days.
I watched my friends struggle with my withdrawal. I felt their frustration every time I declined an invite or backed out last minute. I empathized with the betrayal they must have felt at my seemingly instantaneous departure from our social circle. I have been there…on the other side…on their side. There is a feeling of abandonment like no other when a friend removes themselves from your life and while I didn’t want to hurt them, I didn’t know how to be around them either. Getting up and going to work took just about every ounce of energy and motivation I had. To keep up the “I’m great!” facade on the weekends, too? Nope, I couldn’t do it and since I also couldn’t tell them what was really going on, I just…avoided them. Everyone.
In February, I hit my breaking point. I had gained 15lbs since October and I was missing work, binging, purging, drinking, and still not sleeping. My eating disorder behaviors were completely out of control.
That’s the thing about eating disorders. They provide a false sense of control. I can’t control what’s going on in my life? Fine. But I can “control” what I put in my mouth. If I hide food, then it’s just mine and no one can judge it or take it away. That’s “control,” right? Oh, and when I want to get rid of it? I can control that, too.
I was rapidly coming undone. I finally called an in-patient eating disorder center to discuss my situation and possibly check myself in. They had a wonderful in-take process that helped figure out what level of care I really needed at that moment. Obviously in-patient care is a big step and they wanted to be sure was the right one.
Through the process, it was determined Intensive Outpatient Therapy (therapy multiple times a week) would be the appropriate level of care. I made appointments with my primary care physician, endocrinologist, a new therapist, and a new dietician specializing in working with patients with eating disorders.
Since the “dark days of February,” and what feels like one thousand doctor and therapy appointments, I’ve been officially diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety, and Bulimia. The Fibromyalgia explains the pain and with it, the rest explain the anxiety, depression, binging, purging, and even the inability to sleep.
There are no blood tests for any of these things so it’s really based on signs and symptoms. Treating them are just as hit or miss. I have started on a medication which has drastically reduced my anxiety and pain and I honestly don’t know where I would be without it right now. Of course, it also messes with my sleep more than before, but I’ll take functional and tired over anxious and isolated. At least for now.
For now, the biggest risk to my health is the bulimia. And so I that’s where I start the road to recovery.
Eating disorders live in the darkness of shame, guilt, and secrecy. It’s the only way they can survive. When the behaviors and the reasons behind them are revealed, the shame and guilt subsides and the eating disorder has no function. So I’m told….
I am far from totally transparency. I feel buried under my shame and my guilt, but at least now, with a plan in place, I see a tiny pinhole of light.
So here I am. In the muck of recovery and attempting to come out of the darkness.
Still trying to change my tape.
Recovery is and will be my biggest struggle yet because my choices are:
Focus on losing weight or focus on recovery.
There is no “both.” They are mutually exclusive. I literally can either get better, or I can worry about losing weight and since it’s been my lone goal for the last 25 years, I’m not sure how to not focus on losing weight so I can get better.
At least while I was trying to lose weight I could commiserate with my friends and class participants. So unfortunately, it is part of regular conversation with every woman I know. Now I have to ignore that talk. I have to focus on recovery.
The thing is, it’s already so hard walking into the gym to teach class having gained 45lbs in 4 years and now…now I have to do it knowing I will most likely gain more before/if I lose again. Recovery involves throwing out the diet talk. Throwing out the good foods vs. bad foods thoughts. It involves listening to my true hunger feelings and then honoring them. It cannot include restriction. In the end, the hope is my I figure out the actual real balance of food I need to fuel my self when I need energy, to celebrate without guilt, to eat without labels.
At the gym, I feel like a fraud and, at the same time, I just want to yell, “Do you know how hard I work? It’s not like I want to look like this!”
If I’m being honest, though (and that’s the point, right?) I felt the exact same way 45lbs ago. There are posts on this very blog to back that up. And I’ll tell you this: I’d feel like that if I lost 60lbs tomorrow.
That’s what an eating disorder is. It’s mental and emotional sabotage. It’s my mind racing with completely irrational thoughts all day long – all the while packaging itself as a coping mechanism wrapped in a security blanket.
My eating disorder makes it impossible to love and respect myself for who I am, not what size I am.
But I have to try. The alternative is too grim. It’s not what I want for my life.
Therapy is hard, but good. What’s that we say (no doubt while sprinting in RPM)?
If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.
Well this is the biggest challenge of my life. And I am changing.
Just writing this – putting it out there – not letting this eating disorder fester and grow in secrecy – that’s a big change.
I have been spending more time with friends and family and getting out a bit more. I hope they will wait for me. I hope they will understand my need for space at times. I hope they will forgive me for keeping them in the dark for so long.
Because it feels good to be headed back towards my old self even if that girl seems so far away right now.
Or maybe I’m just headed forward, towards the new me. The next me. Elizabeth 2.0.
Change the tape, right?