Dejá Vu All Over Again … Is It Ever Gone ?

I never imagined being in the middle of this again. I’m “old” compared to when it all started eons ago. In mid-May, I’d been at a higher weight than my normal high weight because of trying to get meal delivery of healthy foods- but the calories were insane, even when I tossed stuff out. I stopped that, and started eating more produce with no attention paid to calories (seriously, how much damage could golden beets do?). And then things changed. I remember the date but not why that day. I started writing down everything I ate. I limited how often I ate (never did do three meals a day, but more like one meal spread out during the day. That’s been a longterm thing). “It” got a foothold.

Gradually, though faster than other times, I cut calories. And yet it wasn’t really that conscious. Yes, I knew I was eating less. That was the point of eating fewer calories, but I didn’t think it would spiral so fast, or take me completely down the rabbit hole. It’d been 25 years since the last overt relapse (it’s never really been gone, but more ‘background noise’). I thought I was doing OK. I was trying to do the right thing with the produce and lean proteins. And yet, here I am.

I look back at my history of starvation, and think about the summer of 1981 when it really got bad and became a ‘formal’ disorder; I’d lost 40 pounds in five weeks (oh, the joy of a 17 year old metabolism and a summer job where all movement was on foot). The scale ruled. At the University of IL in the fall of 1981, it continued to get worse. I was passing out on the bathroom floor, and had to be carried down a flight of stairs by a paramedic multiple times since the elevator only went to the eleventh floor where they’d have the stretcher; I lived on the twelfth. The hospital stays in 1982 and a bit of 1983 were useful for keeping me in one piece but never addressed the reasons for slow self-destruction. Then outpatient therapy with the same psychiatrist I had in the hospital until I moved to Texas in late 1985. During that time, my mom bought my laxatives, and I had $20/week for food (back then, that was enough- I ate cod and canned potatoes for a long time). When I left for Texas, fresh nursing license in hand, I was stable-ish.

There was an inpatient medical hospitalization because of diuretic abuse in the summer of 1986. They put an exercise bike in my room since I was going stir crazy being confined to the room, but when my potassium level came back, the bike went out. It took days of IV and oral (yuck) potassium to get it back up to normal. Once it was up, I was speed-walking the halls, IV pump in tow. I remember watching the wedding of Prince Andrew and Fergie in the middle of the night. After being raped in January 1987, I didn’t eat for a month, and was sent to another hospital, checking myself out after 3 days. That was different- I couldn’t stand anything in my mouth, and either dry-heaved or gagged when I even opened my mouth, brushed my teeth, etc- it wasn’t the same as the eating disorder. It was revulsion at what had been done to me. I coasted for a while with outpatient group therapy (not helpful), dietician, and MD monitoring. But the rules were ‘no diet foods or sodas’… I gained a lot of weight, eventually hitting 300 pounds.

I was at that weight for many years, and eventually ended up diabetic. In early 1995, I’d lost weight (about 50 pounds), and had every diabetic symptom in the book, but ignored them. A pre-employment lab draw and urine test showed the elevated blood sugar. I’d worked at that hospital before, so when the orientation coordinator told me that the employee health nurse wanted to see me, I couldn’t figure out what she could possibly want. She handed me my lab work and asked me to review them. I immediately started bawling. The hospital couldn’t have been more supportive. They got me into diabetic education classes (being a nurse and knowing about diabetes is nothing like having it), found a doctor who could see me quickly, and made sure that I knew that if I felt any low blood sugars to let the supervisor know, and she’d get something from the kitchen for me.

The late fall of 1995, I was working at a drug and alcohol rehab center that was ranked among the top five in the country. I was still adjusting to the diabetes, and focus on food was a huge component of that. Then I got pneumonia, and lost a chunk of weight in a short period of time. I hadn’t been hungry while coughing my brains out- there was no intent, but something flipped a switch. I went on to lose another 50 pounds in 3 1/2 months, along with skin on my heels, hair, and my ability to function normally. My boss lived in the same apartment complex I did, and would drag me out to Denny’s, where waitresses would comment on my lack of eating. I’d get that “told ya” look from my boss. A co-worker was leaving pieces of food on a plate near me, and then going back into the medication room where she did most of her work, so I wasn’t “watched”. I’d eat a bit of it, but always felt like I was doing something wrong. My landlady made a comment about the change in my looks. I thought they were all a bit delusional.

I was crawling up my townhouse stairs to get to my bedroom towards the ‘end’ of that part of the ’95-’96 (and beyond) relapse and begging God to just let me wake up each morning. Then, a formal intervention sent my butt from Texas to California for treatment. My doctor had told me I’d be dead in a month- and I wasn’t underweight. But I was still starving. The place in California wasn’t treatment- it was a drug and alcohol rehab that admitted eating disorder patients. Literally nothing on the brochure for eating disorders was provided, except meals. They have since closed. I went home with no aftercare to a small town with few eating disorder resources, and my longterm therapist for post-rape issues that had surfaced suddenly decided she was no longer seeing patients. She’d kind of scolded me when I told her that I was having trouble with eating, and said that it wasn’t necessary to continue that. I was way beyond deciding anything about food by then. I was on my own.

I slowly began to eat better, though it took years before I could eat around people. It was all mechanical. At work, I’d hide out in my office or in a corner of the nurses’ station when it was quiet and nobody was around much. I lost another 20 pounds, which others noticed, but I didn’t. I wore (and still wear) clothes that are baggy. If it wasn’t falling off, I was fine. I knew I had a problem, but couldn’t reconcile my weight with anything that serious, in spite of everything that had been going on. Eventually, I was maintaining things fairly well, and while the background noise of anorexia never stopped, I was functioning. And as an RN, I was doing my job. Until becoming disabled in 2004. There was a suspected relapse in 2006-7, but I had undiagnosed reflux- and had dropped about 30 pounds. I was putting an NG tube in my own nose to get some nutrition in, which I’d NEVER do if “it” was back.

I thought that was it. I was somehow immune. I’ve been wary of diets since then, even if I had weight to lose (as I do now). But now, it’s a struggle to get in 400 calories a day, and I freeze up when I open the fridge door. I think about food all day long, but can’t get to the point of actually eating anything more than 160-170 calorie portions of frozen sushi that is thawed in the microwave, occasional yogurt, occasional crackers, and the dreaded glucose tablets when my blood sugar crashes. The idea of eating in front of someone else is terrifying- I don’t deserve food. There’s a war in my head about anything I consume. This morning, I thought about having an apple sometime today, and immediately the calorie tally started, along with the fear of a compact package of carbohydrates. It’s been confusing. How could I be here again? It’d been years since the last overt relapse. What happened?

Eating disorders are conniving and cruel. One ‘day’, things can seem OK, and the next there’s a drowning force of chaos and immobilization. Something moves from being fairly static with background noise to screaming and a desperate thrashing in dark, cold water to get to something safe. And at the same time, there’s another force that is pulling away from safety of the rational to the ‘safety’ of deprivation (it’s only safe because it’s familiar). There can be an honest wish to reach for what’s positive, only to be blinded by the merciless negative. It’s not about ‘control’ as theories suggest… control is shot fairly early on. It’s not about how I look- I live alone, so there’s nobody to ‘look’ any particular way for. It’s not about food- that’s just the tool of the tyranny. It’s not about fashion- I live in baggy t-shirts and shorts/leggings. There’s almost the hiss of a seething pit viper telling me that I don’t deserve what keeps people alive. It’s intense and filled with a loathing that is palpable. It wants me gone- not necessarily dead, but invisible. A non-entity. Erased. And it’s something that sucks the hope of something different and good out of my head, tossing it like a filthy, torn rag into the bin of dead dreams. There’s a glimmer now and then of an unknown concept of ‘normal’, but with no frame of reference, those glimmers are fleeting. And yet, they’re all I’ve got to hang on to at the moment. So while my head is an unending recording of reasons I am mandated to abandon food, one hand grips the bits of light, whenever they come.

Published by JillinoisRN

A disabled RN who is still trying to find ways to help people. I've got a lot of interests, and a lot of things I'd like to convey to people.... whether they want to 'hear' them remains to be seen :)

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