Intervention and Treatment Memories

I gained a lot of weight during the time I was on chemo for leukemia.  It’s been very hard to get rid of it, as I’m also perimenopausal, and limited physically as far as what activity I can safely do.  Add a history of eating disorders, and the idea of losing weight is actually rather frightening at times.  I guess in some ways that’s good, since I don’t take for granted how bad things got the last time I relapsed in 1995-1996.  It took years to put my life back together so I could eat normally, and longer than that before I could accept my body without being disgusted by it.  My oncologist told me just to be thankful I’m alive (which I am), and don’t focus so much on the weight.   Easier said than done.

The last time I started to relapse coincided with being diagnosed as diabetic, and suddenly having to account for everything that passed by my lips. I lost about 50 pounds over several months prior to, and after being diagnosed (not noticeably abnormal ), and was holding my own without any eating disorder behaviors (purging- laxatives were my vice, restricting, excessive exercise, etc).  I ended up with pneumonia later that year (November 1995), and lost quite a bit of weight in a few days, and the sensation of being ’empty’ and seeing the scale numbers drop was enough to trigger the old eating disorder stuff that started when I was in my late teens and twenties (early 80s).  I’d been free of the anorexic end of things for many, many years.  It didn’t take long for being around food to cause anxiety, and for numbers on the scale, calorie books, and blood sugar meters to drive my entire life.  I lost another 50 pounds in about three months.  Other people noticed.

I worked at a drug and alcohol treatment center as a detox RN (and weekend charge nurse of sorts- if anything was wacky on campus, I had the last word if it was OK or not, though with serious stuff, I had plenty of folks to call for feedback and input) , so my coworkers were very aware of what addictive behavior looked like.  And denial.  And refusal to listen to rational feedback.  I coasted for a bit, but by the time a formal intervention was done, I was in bad shape.  Eating anything was excruciating.  Every night, I was asking God to just let me wake up in the morning.  And I literally crawled up the stairs to and inside my apartment.  Chunks of skin fell off of my heels.  Things weren’t good.

The day of the intervention was on the day after having worked a double shift.  I got off at 7 a.m. and went to rest for a while in one of the cabins my coworker had (she lived a few counties away and stayed on campus when she worked- we worked weekends and Mondays) while she went to do some discharge summaries, which I planned to do as well once I got some rest.  She came and got me at around noon, and asked me to come with her to get something to drink, and also drop off something in the Operations Director’s office.

I never saw it coming.  Inside the Operations Director’s office were my boss, her husband (who also worked there with the clinical staff), the medical director, day charge nurse, and several other people, including clinical staff who I worked with as well. There were 8-10 people there.  When I saw them all in the office, I knew what was going on.  I was terrified, but also wanted to stop fighting the wars in my head over something as ‘stupid’ as food.  It’s never about food, but that was what was going on mentally.  I was told of the plan to take me directly to my apartment to pack (supervised), then driven to the San Antonio International Airport to be put on a plane.  Someone would take care of my dog (that’s a whole different story), and my car could stay on campus where it could be monitored.  I’d fly to Houston, where an outreach employee would meet me, and be sure I got on the flight to Los Angeles.  That was the only way I’d be allowed to come back to work. What I hadn’t told them was that my primary doc had told me that I probably wouldn’t last a month, tops, if I continued as I was.  Their timing was perfect.  I wouldn’t have been ready before then.

So, off to Los Angeles I went.  Scared to death… I knew they made people EAT in eating disorder treatment.   But, I figured the sooner I got with the program, the sooner I’d get out of there.  So, in a feeble way, I’d begun to surrender on the plane.  By the time I got there, I was so exhausted from the double shift, then the intervention, traveling, etc, that the guy who picked me up thought I’d OD’d on something that made me semi-coherent.   I was just flat-out tired, and told him I was there for not eating (I never looked like I was starving as much as I was- curds of cottage cheese were something I worried about).  I was also exhausted from the battle fatigue from what had been going on in my head for months.  I’d been ‘confronted’ a couple of weeks earlier by a former coworker from another place I worked, about my weight (she was dropping off her child for treatment), and she asked if there was anything wrong with me.  I didn’t know how to answer.  It didn’t register that losing fifty pounds would be visible to anyone.  Seriously.  That jarred me a bit, but the intervention had the biggest impact.

I went to the treatment center in California (they no longer ‘do’  eating disorder treatment, thank God), and it was horrible.  The facilities were pleasant, and the food was really good (which amazed me, since I didn’t like much of anything, but all of the fresh produce ALL THE TIME was great) !  A few of the staff were decent, but eating disorder treatment it was not.  And the primary ‘assigned’ therapist I had was bad news… I was not allowed to speak about some things that seemed therapy-worthy to me. The ED patients had a table segregated from other patients in the dining room (and we were often like an exhibit in a zoo for the other patients who wanted to see if we ate), and one OA meeting a week (otherwise we went to AA).  That was the ED program. They may have been great for chemical dependency and/or dual diagnosis, but I was a generic eating disorder NOS (not otherwise specified) patient.  They didn’t get that right either.

When I first got there, I was so weak that when I went on the ‘beach walk’, I could barely make it.  Walking in the sand was exhausting, and I was having a lot of trouble even keeping a visual on the rest of the bunch who opted to do that activity.  My jeans were falling off, so they gave me a trash bag to tie two belt loops together, then trimmed the excess so it didn’t violate the safety rules about plastic bags.

The day before I was sent there, I’d packed up a detox patient to go there for more dual diagnosis issues than we generally dealt with at our facility, and then I showed up as a patient. Surprised her !   We sort of stuck like glue together, trying to make sense of the place.  Then another patient, AND person who worked where I worked showed up… They were both dumbfounded about the detox and treatment  process (so had a lot of questions), but come to find out one hadn’t told them all of the things she’d been taking. I told her she needed to fess up for her own safety.  They’d come to me (their former nurse) before talking to the staff there.  I wasn’t licensed in CA, and I was off the clock out there- but I was glad to be of some support.  We all needed each other out there.

There were a few of us ED patients, and we stuck together between groups, wondering where the ED services in the brochure were.  But, I managed to survive 36 days out there. The last 10 days, I had a virus of some sort, and wasn’t allowed to participate in any groups or meetings (but wasn’t sent home). They’d taken me to an ER, where they had me pee in a cup, and then decided I had a BLOOD virus- from a pee test…  The group would literally come to my room at the end of the session to say hello.  I could go outside and sit in the sun (or smoke), but no activities anyone else was doing. I could go to the dining room with everyone else, so it wasn’t like they were worried about me giving bugs to someone… but whatever.   I had a few roommates, some ED and one alcoholic,  (at different times) who were nice enough.  But I left there feeling totally unprepared for going home and making it OK.  I had no aftercare.  I was more scared leaving than when I got there.  But it was a great motivator to not want to ever end up in another situation like that was.

One really funny thing happened one evening, during my ‘banishment’ from groups, when I was outside  smoking.   One of the techs (fondly called the ‘clipboard jockeys’) came running around the corner asking if I’d seen the REST OF THE PATIENTS.  All of them !  😮  I told him no, and he was sure I must know something, even though I wasn’t allowed in groups. I really didn’t know. Come to find out that the rest of the patients were doing the evening community group, and after the tech checked everybody off of his clipboard, they went to another room to mess with him, and hide.  Eventually, all showed up, and the tech laughed, but I can imagine the thoughts going through his head about how he’d lost the entire lot of patients, except the puny one not allowed to go to groups.   That would have been a serious pile of incident reports and phone calls.

In the meantime I’d been told that I would NOT be allowed back to work where I’d been working at the time of the intervention until the director of nurses OK’d it (she had some serious boundary issues, and was also a neighbor of mine who had been in contact with my therapist in the treatment center- acting like some sort of information verifier.  The treatment center wouldn’t let me talk about being raped until my boss had reported to them that it had actually happened when she found the info and news clippings in my apartment when I was gone). Anyway,   I really liked that job, so that was a huge loss until I showed I was doing well enough to come back.   Eventually, I did get to go back, and stayed another couple of years until things started feeling unsafe with a huge increase in census, and no changes in detox/nursing staffing for several months.    But I’ll always be incredibly thankful that I got to work in that facility.  I learned a lot, and am a better nurse for my experiences there.  I still am in contact with several people I worked with there.

The intervention likely saved my butt, even though I had a lot of work to do ON MY OWN when I got back.  I got every professional book on EDs I could find, and did an ‘as if’ thing.   I looked at what I needed to do ‘as if’ I were carrying out orders for one of my patients.  I had to detach for a while.  Eventually, I was able to make it about me, and feel like I was doing OK. (The one OA meeting/group in town was ‘lead’ by someone who brought specific diets to show to the group- nothing 12-step about it, so I passed).  Whenever I see the show ‘Intervention’ or someone getting nailed on Dr. Phil, it brings back a lot.  Interventions are terrifying, but there was also a huge sense of relief at not having to go it alone any longer.

For those who think it might happen to them, just go with it.  Let everybody talk, and then be thankful that you don’t have to get well by yourself, and it doesn’t have to be perfect.  One step at a time, even if they’re baby steps.  A slip doesn’t have to become a relapse.  It beats being tied to an addiction that wants to kill you !  Things can get better, IF you are willing to let someone nudge you on your way (feels like an emotional sledge hammer, but in retrospect, it’s more of a send-off to the rest of your life 🙂 ).

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Dieting With An Eating Disorder History

When I started Nutrisystem 80 days ago, I had some nagging concerns about how to lose the weight I’d gained on chemo without going nuts and ending up in a bonafide eating disorder relapse.  I’m not sure that concern ever goes away.  I haven’t done any purposeful eating disorder behaviors since 1996-1997 (it was a process), and no purging since March 1996.  Yet, there were so many years of my life, starting at a young age, when disordered eating was the only way I knew how to eat at all.  It was what I was taught.

I’ve lost 43 pounds in 80 days. That’s faster than the advertised 1-2 pounds/week on the Nutrisystem literature (and any healthy weight loss plan). I’m not purposely eating less than I’m supposed to- and when I tally the calories, fat, carbs, fiber, and protein (which is more for diabetic/insulin reasons),  I’m not compelled to cut back to crazy low numbers.  There have been days when I don’t eat all I’m supposed to, but it’s because of headaches and the accompanying queasiness.  I think some of that is because of the sucralose/Splenda in some of the Nutrisystem products (they don’t use aspartame/Equal)- so this week I called Customer Service, and was able to arrange to send back all of  the Cinnamon Buns and some of the Honey Wheat Bagels (had to do with the 30-day exchange policy).  They are sending me some Granola Cereal- no artificial sweeteners, low fat, and good protein (for granola).  I really liked those Cinnamon Buns. 😦  But, I’ve had a headache every day since I started eating those with the last order. It has been a constant 6 day headache.  I’m still not sure why bagels need an artificial sweetener.  Sure, the yeast needs honey or sugar, but adding sweetness just to make them sweeter?  Yuck.  They did still work with the salmon spread I came up with, but I’ll just have to find a store bagel that has good fiber and protein.  But I digress.

I still have the body image issues. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see 43 missing pounds. I know my clothing fits differently (or in the case of 3 pairs of shorts, just falls off).  I know the ‘numbers’ say I’m losing weight, but I don’t ‘feel’ it.  My ‘old’ pajama bottoms fit again. My t-shirts fit better. My bra doesn’t make me look like the Michelin Man.  But, I’m still waiting for my rings to fit again.  And I’m waiting to see the change in my appearance.  I took ‘before’ photos, so I will have something to compare myself to.  I hope I can see it.

I’m not sure how to see myself normally.  That part of the recovery puzzle never did work itself out.  My dad asked me how much I plan to lose, and I don’t know. I told him I’d know when I got there (which can be a scary thing to think about- those with eating disorders are never happy when they reach one goal). I have a BMI number I want to get under, but it’s not anywhere near unhealthy thinness.  When I was in the worst part of any given eating disorder period, I thought that the low 70s was a perfectly reasonable weight to aim for, at 5 feet 6 inches tall.  I do know that anything below a BMI of 18 isn’t good- and for my body type, I don’t want to go below a BMI that is much higher than that. I know I have to be careful not to keep looking for some ‘magic’ number- and that I have to be vigilant about not getting into numbers games in my head.

To look at me now, ‘eating disorders’ (the ‘thin’ ones)  are not what someone on the outside would even consider being a issue of mine , but I’ve been nearly 100 pounds heavier than I am now, and 70 pounds lighter during my adult life (18 or older). Between the relapses with anorexia, I’ve also been a compulsive undereater- people don’t talk about that. It’s not quite as bad as the internal demands of anorexia,  but the focus on food and weight is still abnormal enough to affect functioning around food and eating; social events with food are very difficult, even though the diagnostic criteria for anorexia aren’t all there.

I ate a lot when I first moved away from home in 1985, and no longer had the imposed restriction of my mom, or the original ‘diagnosed’ anorexia onset in 1981.  I’d been through inpatient psych hospitalization, and was ‘allowed’ to eat.  That led to unhealthy eating, and what I don’t really call bingeing, but more like finally being set free from a noose of thinness obsession.  My metabolism had to be messed up from so many years of dieting and starvation, which just made the weight pile on faster. “Normal” intake equaled weight gain.  I got morbidly obese- which is like a death nell for someone who has been anorexic/bulimic.  I relapsed a couple of times before the last one in 1995. Each time got worse faster.  The last one was really bad. But only those who saw what I was doing knew that I was in trouble.  To most people, I was too overweight to even consider that I was starving.  I lost 50 pounds in 3 months, and a total of 120 in about a year.  Some of that was from diabetes before it was diagnosed (weight loss is a symptom of undiagnosed high blood sugars), and then after the diagnosis I became very obsessed.

Now, I’ve lost 43 pounds in 80 days.  I  let my doctor know (that’s definitely not something I would have done during the ED years).  I know that the huge reduction in insulin is probably also a factor in how ‘easy’ this has been (when nothing I did before Nutrisystem helped budge the chemotherapy weight).  I am eating more protein than before NS.  The glycemic index of the food is much better.  Even the ‘junk food’ on NS is formulated to be healthy.  The Cheese Puffs, cookies, pretzels, and candy bars are tasty enough to order after I reach my goal weight.  It’s hard to find 8 gms of protein and 6 gms of fiber in 1 ounce of regular pretzels.

I still have a problem with feeling full. I loathe that feeling.  There is a lot to eat on NS.  Most days, I don’t get it all in, but it’s not about the numbers game- it’s about feeling really uncomfortable.  Gas-X has become its own food group.  On ‘headache days’ (whether from sucralose or not- I have chronic headaches), it’s hard to pack in every meal.  But on days when I don’t have the headaches or other pain, I like the NS food.  NS food is quite good for ‘diet food’.  I go off plan now and then and have restaurant food (and it hasn’t affected my weight loss). Some people on NS (per the discussion boards) must stay very rigid so they don’t end up in long binge cycles- kind of like alcoholics can’t have a drop of booze.  I understand that from my years of working drug/alcohol rehab, but I have to be less obsessive, and go ‘off grid’ now and then to keep some sort of balance with the real world.

One of my other reasons for wanting to lose weight (besides the chemo weight) is that I’ll be 50 years old later this year.  I didn’t want to hit that milestone at such an unhealthy weight.  I want to stack the odds in my favor for the ‘senior years’ (geez, I’ll get my AARP card soon- when did THAT happen?) 😮 . I plan to eat restaurant food on my 50th birthday in November, and I can pretty well guarantee there won’t be a carrot on the plate 😀  And I will have cake.  I don’t normally enjoy restaurants (mostly from the heat intolerance and dysautonomia), but I’ve been told the sky is the limit by my dad, since a 50th birthday doesn’t come around but once.  I don’t feel like I’m almost 50… no husband, kids, etc- I guess I bypassed some of the other milestones in life, and have a different frame of reference for a lot of things.  But, I don’t want to be fat when I turn 50.

So, I’m doing well on Nutrisystem, but I don’t think I’ll ever feel like a ‘normal’ eater.  I think that the risk of anorexia is always there once it’s ever taken hold.  It takes over very subtly at first, and then everything crashes and burns.  Being aware of this has been helpful.  The ultimate goal of being healthy has surpassed the desire to be ‘skinny’.  That part of my brain has finally grown up.  But the part of my brain that remembers the horrible years of torment from anorexia, bulimia, and other variations of those doesn’t want to get ‘close enough’ to the edge.  Ever. It has scarred me in many respects.  I guess that’s probably good.  Now to get rid of the rest of this unhealthy weight, and then maintain it like a ‘normal’ person.  I’m more than half-way to my random goal, set when I started NS  (I had to put something down) but people adjust them once they reach their original goals all the time.  I’ll just have to see what feels right.