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I wrote my bulimia-confession post as a disclaimer to allow me to ethically continue blogging about food. I had no idea it would go more viral than anything I’ve ever done – over 9,000 views to date.

Within hours of posting, readers flooded my Facebook inbox, blog and cell phone with supportive messages, and confessions of their own struggles. It was as if a sheet of social fabric – that protective sheet we cast over inappropriate and vulnerable matters – was rippling in the wind, exposing glimpses of the guts of society. Alcoholism. Depression. Anxiety. Sexual assault. And many more battles with food.

One Halifax musician I was talking to put it perfectly – “Everyone has their own shit. Everyone is dealing with something. But no one talks about it.”

After three weeks of feeling like a beetle under a microscope, I will continue.

* * *

Magnets on a wall at the eating disorder clinic.

Magnets at the eating disorder clinic.

The eating disorder clinic I go to is located on the fourth floor of the mental health building at the hospital. Past a glass door enshrined with the words “Eat For Life”, a few padded chairs, ED-information pamphlets and psychology magazines sit by a grey secretary’s desk.

Down a hall, broad windows light a dining area and spacious kitchen, recently renovated with two fridges and glossy appliances.

Two carpeted therapy rooms marked by dim corner lamps and tall chairs meant for long sittings. The remaining doors lead to private offices of an in-house dietitian, lead psychiatrist and several psychologists.

The treatment program is run like school. Patients customize personal schedules based on the clinic’s fixed weekly schedule of meals and themed therapy groups.

My current schedule has me going to clinic three days a week.

On Mondays, I attend a goal-setting group that provides a practical foundation to recovery. For this group I complete and submit detailed weekly food journals, and set weekly goals towards normal eating.

Tuesdays, I do two meals with recreational therapy in between. Rec therapy sounded lame at first, but it lets me put energy into arts and crafts and leisure – a starkly refreshing change from food, exercise and escapist habits.

On Thursdays I do breakfast and an emotional management group where we learn techniques to undermine the compulsive behaviour central to eating disorders.

As I looked down at my schedule at clinic a couple weeks ago, I felt a cold rock of fear in my belly. I guess my self-destructive habits have existed so long they are normal, and change is scary. I don’t know my recovered self, and I fear for her vulnerability. If there is anything worse than rock bottom, it’s the fall.

As I pictured clinic hours eating into my sacred disordered space, instinct urged me to turn and run. (Two years ago, I did.) Instead, something remarkable happened. I felt support.

I am walking up a steep hill to recovery, and as I lean back in reluctance, people’s words of support press against my back, like little hands, holding me up. Words of relating and acceptance and encouragement, offers for phone calls and coffee dates and hugs. So many hands.

Support is a palpable thing.

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2 thoughts on “ED Recovery – Week 4

  1. “Instead, something remarkable happened. I felt support.”

    how did you start this process? how did you get out of the sick ED dance? how did you tell people that you had this problem, that it’s getting a hold of you, and that you want help? how did you get them to listen to you? Were you ever concerned that no one would listen because you didn’t look “sick enough”?

    I ask because I have also had an eating disorder for ten years that is barely managed and has taken priority over a ton of other aspects of my life, throughout its life, in ways that have often been humiliating and leave me defeated. I fall into it at times – like you – and I find myself liking it when I’m down there.

    how, after all this time, did you decide that a better life was worth the work? how did you overcome the fear of facing life without the ED? how did you overcome the shame (or did you feel shame?) of speaking about your sexual assault experience?

    (honestly, I have been wanting to ask you this for a long time, but I think part of the problem is this: no food goes in, no words come out – it’s just you, and it.)

  2. Hey Heather,

    You asked a lot of questions, so I will answer them in order.

    1. How did you start this process / get out of the sick ED dance?

    Well, I’ve started this process three times now. The first time, after maintaining straight-As in school and hiding bulimia and chronic night terrors for too long, I had a mental breakdown, cut my wrists, and admitted myself to the hospital at the urging of a close friend (Carolyn.) There I was admitted to Mental Health Short-Stay for four nights while they medicated my anxiety enough that I could sleep, and completed a detailed, interview-based psychological assessment. I was diagnosed with PTSD and Bulimia, and enrolled in a 6-week program called “Mental Health Day Treatment Program” where I was rehabilitated into normal life enough that I could safely live unsupervised until there was room for me in the ED day treatment program, which I entered a couple months later, and attended for over a year until I was recovered.

    The second time, I was sexually assaulted and suffered immediate and full relapse within 24 hours. Having been through treatment before, I knew the signs, and readmitted myself to the program a couple months later. I didn’t stay though; I was too angry and not ready to confront my demons. I got a weekly psychiatrist and tried to deal on my own.

    Last April, when after some major restriction and weight-loss I could feel bulimia swinging back and wanted to ward off the weight-gain. So I reapplied into treatment in hopes it would prevent me from gaining weight again. (Healthy!) I procrastinated in the application process all summer, desperately hoping I could recover from the relapse on my own, and FINALLY started going to treatment a few weeks ago, by which point I was binging and purging daily.

    2. How did you tell people that you had this problem, that it’s getting a hold of you, and that you want help?

    I started by confiding in a few choice friends, and followed their advice to speak to my doctor. I gradually opened up to a couple of my bandmates about it, because I was having difficulty ordering at restaurants and felt the need to explain in order to defend my integrity. (I’d rather they see me as having an eating disorder, rather than concluding I am an obnoxiously demanding and inconsiderate patron.) When I started treatment again, integrity again demanded of me that I be open about my medical situation, and so I wrote my confession post, hoping to alleviate my guilt. I did not at the time realize how much a public confession would do for me.

    It really helps to consider your ED a serious medical problem, like diabetes or cancer.

    3. How did you get them to listen to you? Were you ever concerned that no one would listen because you didn’t look “sick enough”?

    The first time I entered treatment, I remember stepping onto the clinic scale for my first, weekly, “blind” weight-check, and I started to cry. The psychologist asked why, and I explained that I was afraid I was too fat to get treatment.

    Having gone through treatment, I have observed other patients’ weights, and it’s everywhere. Extremely underweight, slightly underweight, average weight, slightly overweight, and very overweight. In ED assessment, your weight is a way to cross-check your reported behaviour for inconsistencies; weight is not a prerequisite for admittance to long-term treatment. (I believe it plays a factor in entry to the in-hospital program, which has limited space and is therefor reserved for life-and-death urgency.)

    Can you imagine the horrible irony if you had to be under a certain weight in order to get ED treatment? Horrible.

    4. How, after all this time, did you decide that a better life was worth the work?

    Once I had contemplated suicide, I realized that anything would be better than a life with an untreated ED. This thought required a certain humility; I had to admit that my illness is beyond my comprehension, beyond my resources. I had to accept defeat at the hands of bulimia, and in so doing, accept guidance from others. It’s part of the disease that your rational and perceptive abilities are, for lack of better word, fucked.

    5. How did you overcome the fear of facing life without the ED?

    I have not. I am struggling daily with this fear. Will I be fat? Will I never feel satisfied? Will I get assaulted again? Will I still want to be a musician? Will I be recognizable at all?

    One thing I remember from my first taste of recovery was how much more mental TIME I had each day. Time to think, and daydream, and invent. When you’re sick, so much time goes into food and exercise and body obsessions – I can’t wait to have my mind back.

    One more factor: I am 26, and want to have kids. If I don’t recover, my kids will be at an increased chance of developing an ED themselves. I can’t do that to them.

    6. How did you overcome the shame (or did you feel shame?) of speaking about your sexual assault experience?

    I have not overcome the shame and battle it daily. Especially as I reduce ED-behaviours, I am experiencing overwhelming feelings of shame and anger and sadness that I have previously numbed out with B/P, restricting, etc. I had a long cry in a café washroom this morning, and will probably cry again tonight. I don’t know how women overcome sexual assault. I hope and pray to regain my confidence and lessen the pain.

    It has been explained to me that once my ED-behaviour has been completely replaced by healthy coping mechanisms (talking to friends, cognitive strategies, relaxation, self-care, etc.) only then will it be safe for me to get into underlying issues of sexual assault and abuse.

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