For those of you who were told you would never recover from anorexia nervosa, that you would suffer from some sort of eating disorder for the rest of your life, this message is for you:
I was once inhabited by an Evil Being named The Thing. The Thing ran my life. This was some sort of psychotic phenomena that no one seemed to understand–including me. The Thing lived in my head and caused me such misery that I could barely tie my shoes in the morning, or shower, brush my teeth, or wash my hair. Sometimes, my parents had to care for my dog, Tiger, because I could not safely take care of her. Much of the time, I could not leave my apartment, and I could not be left alone. I was so confused that I would throw out valuables and burn things on the stove. Sometimes, The Thing affected my balance and coordination, and it also caused memory lapses due to the fact that it was always interfering with my thinking process. Mostly, it “scrambled” my thoughts, jumbling them up so that I could make no sense of them. The Thing also was not without its human qualities. It was a sadist, torturing me daily. Sometimes, it told me to do things I did not want to do. Sometimes, it told me to kill myself, with step-by-step instructions.
I suffered with The Thing for two solid years, daily. After the first year of struggle, after constant battling with some of the doctors, who said I was “faking” The Thing, that is, complaining of something that didn’t exist just to get attention, I was exhausted, completely hopeless, and ready to give up. There were no answers, none at all.
Finally, a brilliant medical student, a man I truly respected, trusted, and liked more than the doctors at that point, took me aside, and we had a talk. I think his name was Tarik.
“Julie,” he said, “I know you have suffered a long time with The Thing. I know The Thing lives in your head and I know The Thing is real. The truth is that The Thing isn’t improving. We have tried everything. You have the best doctors here, and we’ve tried the best medications. You have mentioned before that you suspect you’ve had The Thing for longer than just this past year, is this true?”
“Yes,” I said, “I believe I’ve had some form of it for my entire life.”
“Well, then, what does that tell you? Think about it.”
“What do you think? Look at your history.”
“That I’ll have it for the rest of my life?”
“Yes. That is what I believe. I know this is hard for you to hear, Julie. I can only tell you the truth as I see it. I know I am only a medical student, but I have observed you very closely, I’ve been in meetings with you, and I have discussed your case with the doctors. I am telling you that it is now our goal to help you cope with The Thing, to learn to live with it from day to day. Do you understand what I am saying?”
I began to weep, but did not hesitate to respond. “I understand,” I said, “that knowing this, this information, which, by the way, does not surprise me, I need to make a switch.”
“Right. Go on.”
I sobbed, “I don’t have to fight anymore! I’m free!”
Over the course of the next year, we worked to help me cope with The Thing. It was tough. I got worse and worse. I became despondent. I could not live with The Thing, and The Thing was making increasing demands on me. I began engaging in cutting behavior, and became severely suicidal. For insurance reasons and complications, I was not hospitalized, but put in a “residence” on McLean Hospital grounds, a completely inappropriate setting for me at that time.
How does all this relate to anorexia, you’re wondering? I’m getting to it. Be patient.
Finally, when my suicidality became unmanageable at the residence, I was hospitalized for three weeks at a community hospital, and sent to a respite home. There, I was finally given the individualized care and attention I needed to deal with my multitude of mental problems. There were maybe three or four staff on during the day, and maybe four patients total living there. I am not kidding you. You could sit right in their staff office and talk to them. I lived there for three weeks and then was sent home, and they cared for me at home for a total of 90 days. In December, 1997, I still had The Thing and it was just as bad, but I was less suicidal, and that was the goal of the respite program, to help me live on my own again safely. I was truly grateful to the program and the staff.
Later that month, I bought a computer that had Internet capability. Remember dial-up? I got used to that sound, and my phone was tied up for much of the day from then on. No, I never became an Internet addict, but yes–I did make friends! Through e-mail correspondence, I learned that I was capable of relating to other people in spite of The Thing. I learned to make friends. I learned to share. I learned closeness. I learned give and take. I learned that I was capable of helping and supporting others. And I allowed others to help me.
On my 40th birthday, January 8, 1998, The Thing left me, suddenly and unexpectedly, and never returned.
TO THOSE OF YOU WHO WERE TOLD YOU WOULD NEVER RECOVER FROM ANOREXIA NERVOSA:
It is 2010 and most clinicians believe that full recovery is possible for ANYONE. Many who recover do not recover fully, this is true. But this does not mean that anorexia is life in prison.
Anorexia is an addiction to starvation. The theory of addiction is that you have it for life. But look at it this way: I quit smoking cigarettes. I don’t smoke. Period. It’s a simple as that. I don’t suffer from being a non-smoker. As a matter of fact, I enjoy not smoking. I can walk fast without getting out of breath. My lungs feel great. I don’t stink of smoke. My coffee table doesn’t have ashes all over it. I’m not shelling out all kinds of bucks for packs of smokes. And I’m going to live a lot, lot longer because I’m a non-smoker. No, I don’t suffer from being an ex-smoker. But am I “recovered” from the addiction? What do YOU think?
IF YOU WERE TOLD YOU WOULD NEVER RECOVER FROM ANOREXIA NERVOSA, think again. I was told I would never recover from The Thing. It was a relief to me to hear this because I knew I no longer had to fight. Have you quit fighting because of what you were told? Have you been allowing yourself to slide deeper into your disease because you were told you would never recover? Have you given up?
Yes, I was told that I would always have symptoms of eating disorders. I was told that I would never fully recover. Do I believe them? You bet. It is absolutely necessary that I believe them. Believing that I will never recover gives me a sense of security. I can stop fighting. I can get comfortable. I can relax into Anorexia Heaven.
I believed that I would always want to die of starvation. I believed that that part of my anorexia would never go away. I believed that if I wanted death, then I would die–soon. But you know something? It suddenly went away. I suddenly stopped wanting to starve myself and suddenly didn’t want to die anymore.
I have hope in my heart.
IF YOU WERE TOLD YOU WOULD NEVER RECOVER FROM ANOREXIA, MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, THEY WERE WRONG.
My wonderful new book, This Hunger Is Secret: My Journeys Through Mental Illness and Wellness is now available from Chipmunkapublishing–click here to access. To read more about it at my home site, click here.