This is the last paragraph of my previous post:
“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. “
It’s hard to explain to people who don’t battle food- inanimate things that in and of themselves have absolutely no power over someone’s mind- how strong the eating disorder voice is. Food is meant to be a good thing, to support life. It’s used in celebrations and so many social interactions. And for those who get stuck in the chaos of eating disorders, it’s a source of shame, terror, pain, loathing, and the antithesis of what the person is without the inner tyranny. It turns someone who is kind, honest, hopeful, and thoughtful into an indifferent, deceitful, bleak, and unreachable shell. And as malnutrition progresses, the negative personality traits get worse. Neurotransmitters run amok from the lack of nutrition.
It’s also incredibly confusing at times. The lack of awareness of physical changes that are commented on by others is incomprehensible. I remember a former co-worker asking me what was wrong- was I sick? What had caused such a rapid weight loss? I had no idea how she could tell I’d lost any weight (I’d lost 50+ pounds at that point). It made no sense to me that she could see any difference from the last time we’d seen each other. I’d had current co-workers ragging on me for months, and just thought they were being overly dramatic considering the type of work we did (alcohol and drug rehab/detox). But someone I hadn’t seen for around six months? It made no sense to me, and I had no answer for her. How could I answer a question when I didn’t understand that the loss of fifty pounds was noticeable? It shook my walls of denial.
While food has no power to control the mind, it’s all I think about. I have ‘rules’. I vicariously binge and purge by buying and throwing away food. Frenzied cleaning out pantry shelves is also a stress reliever. When possible, I donate the items to food banks. If there’s not a very clear nutrition label on something, I won’t eat it. At one point in an early hospitalization, I counted curds of cottage cheese, and ate three. Three curds. They couldn’t be the ‘big’ ones- had to be medium sized curds. Standing behind me at the salad bar was an exercise in tolerance (or anger management). If someone asked me if I’d eaten that day, I’d say yes. I may have had an egg, but I had eaten. There were times when I bought supplements in a sort of attempt to grab onto something that could help, but then being terrified of the calories and unable to open the cans.
Away from work, when nobody could see me, I’d struggle to get up the stairs to the front door of my townhouse apartment, and then crawled to the upstairs bedroom. The bottom of my heels literally fell off, leaving craters that were painful to stand on for the 12-hour shifts that sometimes required a lot of walking, depending on what patient was falling apart where on the campus of the facility where I worked. The first time around, a third of my hair fell out. I had very thick hair, so nobody really noticed, but the ponytail holders got looser and had to be tightened more. It hurt to sit on anything. I wasn’t underweight, but the rapid weight loss caused a loss of padding in all the wrong places. My joints and muscles would lock up on the way home from work, and I dreaded getting out of the car because of the pain of ‘unlocking’ them when I stood up. Many nights, I cried just because I had to get out of the car. Nobody saw those times. It was mind-numbingly frightening. And yet, I couldn’t talk about it.
Probably the worst part was the impact on my co-workers and friends. I was always preoccupied, and while I could get by doing my job, I wasn’t the type of nurse I wanted to be- for the patients or my co-workers. I had no energy to meet my own expectations of myself. And the lying, or just omitting details when asked specific questions, wasn’t my norm at all. Depending on who was asking me something, if I knew I’d be busted, I’d just get quiet and brace myself for a lecture. I was willing to go to lunch with a friend, but I had to take laxatives ahead of time as a preemptive strike against the food. I hate feeling full (still). But I had to cram enough down to avoid confrontation. Even if out with a co-worker/friend to hit up the thrift stores (I lived in a town with great thrift stores), I knew that it was going to be difficult. When we went shopping, she’d try to get me to get clothes that fit, but that just meant people could see me more as I was- and my ability to hide would be gone. I wasn’t fooling anybody at that point, but it was incredibly unpleasant to have something on that showed ‘me’. Still is.
At this point, being on disability and living alone, I don’t have the pressure of being scrutinized or having to come up with some excuse on the fly. And I wonder a lot how I could be back in this maze with no visible exit. How did I not see it coming as fast as it did? Why couldn’t I stop it? And at my age? I still have legitimate weight to lose, so it’s hard to not be propelled by seeing the numbers on the scale go down. I also know that I’m nowhere near as bad as it gets in my head, even though the eating disorder ‘voice’ is predominant now. The pit viper will hiss louder. The demand not to eat will get louder, though there’s not much left to cut out. The disgust at not seeing it coming is harsh. I should have known. And I can’t tell people I know. I don’t want the scrutiny or lectures. I’ve been at starvation level intake for over a month. My ability to write about this with any insight at all will decrease, and everything will be focused on avoiding calories. I feel like a failure.