The Two Doors

I looked up today and saw before me two doors:

The Door of Bingeing Hell

and

The Door of Death by Starvation.

I suppose each  door has its pretty decorations.

I have peeked through each doorway enough times to know what’s inside.

I guess I see myself inside those rooms.  I see different shapes and expressions and feelings and colors.  I feel pulled into the space beyond the doors.

Long before I put these words into writing, I resigned myself to the Door of Death by Starvation.  If I pass through here, The Door of Bingeing Hell won’t need to close in after me anymore.

At some point in a kid’s life, she is taught that if she is good, she will be rewarded, and if she is bad, she will go to Hell.  I tried to be so damn good until I found out that life has nothing to do with fairness.  It isn’t a moral issue that I ended up with anorexia nervosa.  Some people get other horrible diseases.  Some people get their taxes audited.  Most don’t win the lottery.  I’ve never even won “free groceries.”

Maybe there is a Door of Free Groceries.  Maybe there is a Door of Free Stuff that Nobody Ever Wins.  Maybe there’s a Door of Stuff You Can Just Have.  Maybe there’s a Door of God.

If there’s a Door of God, is there a God?

If there’s a Door of Me, is there Me? and…do I even fit through my own door?  Have I made the door so rigid and narrow that I can’t ever get through no matter how thin I get?

Remember the story in one of those Peter Rabbit books where Pooh went to visit another of the creatures and got “stuck” in the hole after having eaten too much honey.  Pooh didn’t fit back through the hole.  If I remember correctly, Pooh had to “diet” his way out of the hole and home again.

Beatrix Potter, shame on you.  Unfortunately, the problem of Pooh’s honey-eating sticks in my mind vividly.   Surely, this story had a much, much more profound influence on me than any fashion magazine.

This is probably true for a lot of kids my generation who grew up with Pooh Bear.  I used to believe that babies came out of their mothers’ stomachs, like Roo came out of Kanga’s stomach.

If there’s something in there, just pop it out.

Get it out on the table.

Let’s eat.

Then we grew up and learned that we could pop things into the toaster, and later, the microwave.  We  were the Pop-Tart Generation.  Never mind how many calories are in Pop-Tarts.  The point was that you could press a button and change the world.  You could even have the world decaffeinated.

Then along came Starbucks and changed the whole definition of “choice.”  People forget about the simplicity of plain coffee and order these multifaceted mocchafrappawhatever and wonder if maybe, having spent so much on these fancy “coffee drinks,” they may need to rely on Free Groceries for the rest of the month.

My supermarket offers Points for Free Gas.  What good is Points for Free Gas if you don’t have a car?  What good is Points for Free Gas if you don’t even have a driver’s license?

So yes, I do have other doors to consider.  There is the Door of Useless Free Gas and Unwanted Fancy Coffee Drinks.

There is the Door of Wasted Lives.

There is the Door of Possibility Unseen.

There is the Door of the Last Breath.

And as weather gets cooler, people will be closing their doors more and latching them.  So if I’m going to get through before one closes, I’d better do so, soon.

Batten down.  It’s already October.

 

Hurricane Irene, the day after: Coping with destruction, and my eating disorder

I was walking to Watertown Square this morning on my way to catch the #71 bus so that I could get to therapy, and passing through the shortcut, where I came upon a downed tree right across the path.  The entire tree had been uprooted and lay squarely in front of me.  When I attempted to walk around it, I saw that it had left no hole behind, that is, no empty space where the base of the tree, with its roots, had been.  The rain and water running along the ground had quickly filled this hole with outlying dirt.  The tree will leave behind no mark, just emptiness, and for the few of us who have traveled that path often to remember, “Yes, there was a tree about right there,” memory.

Often, since I first ventured out last night after the worst of the storm had passed for a time, I had seen fallen branches, but this was my first personal encounter with an uprooted tree.  I was alone on the path.  It appeared to completely block my route uphill to the sidewalk and the edge of the street.  Sometimes, I am so deep in thought while walking on that path that I have my head down, and the headphones blasting, and I don’t see what’s ahead of me.  I simply walk by rote.  Had I not seen the tree ahead of time, I would have nearly fallen upon it perhaps, and then, taken quite by surprise and shock, laughed at myself and my foolishness and told myself that life tends to do things to us that we don’t expect, and we’re doubly surprised if we don’t look ahead.

Sometimes, though, it’s all you can do but to step forward once, and then another time, and then another.  That is what walking is, after all.  Sometimes all we can do is to feel the process of walking itself and concentrate on that and not on the path we’re following or its destination.  I’ve been feeling that way since I nearly died of starvation at the end of July, only a month ago.

In my journal entry for July 26, I wrote, “I ended up staying up all night.  I drank coffee to get my heart rate up, then just stayed up. I want to get to my appointment with [my therapist], and until then, won’t let myself die in my sleep.  I starved very well.”  At that appointment, my T and Dr. P brought me to the hospital.  Whereas for the last few weeks before my admittance, while I was losing weight very rapidly, I wrote down not only everything I ate and when I ate it, but everything I did during the day, and once I got to the hospital I felt the necessity to continue writing down the food I ate while there that came up on my tray.  But I ate a few vegetables,iceberg lettuce without dressing, and nothing more.  After some time, my therapist told me that I would be forced to accept feeding tube nutrition if I didn’t eat.

On August 2, I wrote, “[my T] came to see me.  She says I’m on a hunger strike.  I am just taking things one day at  a time.  One minute at a time. Thinking about nothing but survival in this horrible place.  No longer thinking about life and death.  I do not want to think about life outside of here.  Only day to day things on the inside.”

This was a very small world in my hospital room on the medical unit.  People were there for all sorts of reasons, and unlike psychiatric units, where you see mainly doctors of the specialty psychiatry, on this medical floor, doctors of every specialty you could imagine were meandering about, as well as nurses, medical students, housekeeping staff, visitors, stray patients who were able to walk on their own or with a bit of assistance, and hospital volunteers.  The workings of a large medical hospital–and this hospital was one of the most prestigious in the country–amazes me.  But all this I only saw from my bed, looking out into the hallway through the door, or through the window when the blinds had been pulled up.  I had no interest in the hallway for the first week, though.  I had no interest for anything past the edges of my bed for the first few days.  I had simply collapsed there.  I thought about the bed itself.  Whether the bed was raised or not.  Getting unhooked from the heart monitor so that I could walk, with assistance, to the bathroom and back.  Finding the call bell.  Trying to talk into the loudspeaker properly when someone answered. Asking for coffee.

This was my world for a long time.  My world has grown since then, beyond the call bell and the IV pole and the route from the bed to the bathroom and back. Now, I can walk just about everywhere I walked to before.  And I have come upon trees that have suddenly appeared before me on my path.

This tree I saw now showed me the power of Hurricane Irene, with her strong winds and rain that knocked over anything unprotected, and brought down objects that weren’t supposed to fall, things we didn’t bargain for.  Last night when I left the house briefly after the winds had lessened, a neighbor, out for a smoke briefly, pointed out to me some rubble that was once rooftop.  “Couldn’t be anything else,” he said.  “Look at the size of those concrete pieces!  Well, it doesn’t matter.  No one got hit by them.”

Self-starvation is a powerful, destructive act.  When we think of self-harm, we think of cutting oneself with a razor blade, or burning one’s skin, not to cause death but to cause pain and bleeding.  It is said to bring relief to those who do it habitually.  But self-starvation and other destructive eating patterns are also self-harm.  I am learning this.

While Irene was raging outside, I was engaged in my own destructive acts.  It seems like I am not anywhere near eating normally, even now.  I am still underweight but not dehydrated and weak like I was.  This is hard to explain but I’ll try to:  I derive incredible satisfaction from having an empty belly and feeling weak and faint.  I derive incredible satisfaction from putting off eating, if only for an hour, if I can, just so that I’ll eat less.  I derive incredible satisfaction from eating micro-bits of food and gaining strength from those bits.  There were days in July when the only substantial thing I would eat were a few cubes of potato.  When the potato made contact with my tongue, I salivated to the point of drooling.

And now, hospitalization and a boost in my nutritional status took some of that away from me.  But I can’t stop trying to destroy myself.  I seem to be born this way.  When Irene was just south of us Saturday night, I drank a couple of gallons of liquid all at once.  Perhaps a reader might recall that while it’s good to hydrate oneself, consuming huge amounts of liquids can cause an electroyte imbalance and, very quickly, death.  It all started with thirst, and drinking, and more thirst, and more drinking, and I could not stop myself.  I did this knowing that what I was doing could kill me.  I spoke with my T today, and she called it a “water binge.”  This is the second time in my life that this has happened.  The other time was in 1997, and it only happened once.

I wasn’t sure how the water would work itself out, and I was scared.  I had a full belly and I kept piling more in.  Where would it go? Would my stomach rupture?  Would my kidneys give out?  Would I puke?  At best, it would be that.  It surprised me when something happened that I hadn’t thought of: spontaneous diarrhea.  I had, unintentionally, purged, bulimia style.

I instantly realized the appeal of bulimia, the addiction of purging, and the desperation of the bulimic act.  I thought bulimics threw up to rid themselves of unwanted calories.  No, there’s much more to it, much, much more.  Feeling my stomach suddenly empty itself gave me incredible satisfaction.  I wanted to do it again.  I told this to myself knowing–again–that stomach emptying, no matter which way it goes out, causes an electrolyte imbalance that if done repeatedly, over a long or not so long time, can be fatal.  I also knew that I was getting myself into some serious shit with the water drinking imbalance already.

Sunday night Irene slowed enough for folks to get out.  Imagine what happens when you’re consuming a lollipop, and before you finish, you drop it on the sidewalk.  Picture the ants running after the sugar.  That was what the sidewalk looked like last night.  Parents were coming out with kids on bikes and babies in strollers to see the end of the rain and feel the wind on their faces and in their hair.  Kids carried their scooters and readied themselves for their rides.  Dog owners came out with their dogs to get some relief.  No one wanted to be cooped up anymore.  Folks were friendlier than usual.  Many wanted to talk about the storm: what they had seen and heard, how closely the storm goings-on followed the experts’ predictions, and what was going on in other cities and states.   Me?  I didn’t talk to anyone.  I went straight to the supermarket and bought a gallon of chocolate milk.

It is not true what they say about gross consumption of milk and throwing up.  This is not a universal reaction.  If it is, then I have just proved you all wrong.  I drank it and didn’t throw up.  Let me say, though, that I drank it for the purpose of throwing up because I was convinced that this was what would happen.

Today I told my therapist that I had drunk the milk for this purpose.  She listened carefully.  She didn’t laugh at me.  I tried to describe what it felt like last night standing at my kitchen counter, gallon milk jug in my right hand, glass in the other, pouring cup after cup of it, and drinking, drinking, drinking.

Destroy, destroy, destroy.

It was a tough night last night.  Right before I left the house to see my therapist, I began a note to her stating my wish to refuse any kind of eating disorders treatment from now on, and focus on treatment that, unlike eating disorders treatment, focuses on treating oneself and one’s body with respect and kindness.  I ended up not liking the way I worded the document, and deleted it without printing it.

So I took the shortcut into Watertown Square, walked around the downed tree, and arrived, soon enough, at CVS.  I usually don’t take this bus, but wanted to stop at the CVS, so this was the route I took.  I wanted to stop at the CVS because I needed, at that moment, to do the self-harming act of stuffing myself with candy, unnoticed, on the near-empty bus on the way to Harvard Square.

I told my therapist today that I think I have a problem with self-destructiveness.  I can’t seem to stop.  Either I slowly and deliberately and with considerable thought harm myself with starvation, or I lash out and strike at myself by bingeing on solid food–or simply by extremely and rapidly overhydrating myself.

What the fuck?  What is going on here?  Yes, I have always starved or binged.  I have always enjoyed having something to sip on or chug down.  But the water binge was something new, and I really, really, really don’t think I have ever been this self-destructive in my entire life.  I do these things knowing they are dangerous.  Maybe I should add that perhaps I do these things because they are dangerous.  I am becoming less and less fearful of the risks I am taking.  I feel like I am, yes, putting my feet one foot in front of the other on this unstoppable path of destruction.  It is the path laid out for me by the experts: they’ve seen it before in kids that do harder and harder drugs.  Kids who take bigger and bigger risks.  Kids who dance closer and closer around the Hole of Death, knowing that if they get too close, they will be sucked into Death, their life taken from them by the roots.  And soon enough, the storm around them, the storm that is of their own making, will, with its heavy rains and running water along the ground, fill in the Hole and bury them with surrounding sand, grit, and dirt, along with their stories, and their pain, and if they had any joy left, that too. Maybe a few who knew they existed, who had seen them along the path as it came uphill near the road would remember, but there would be no record, the hole now filled completely, and instantly.

My therapist asked me some questions, if I thought I wanted to stop, or if I thought I could in fact stop.  I answered neither.  We’re going to do a workbook together to help me with self-harm.  It’s supposed to help with the feelings you get that cause these acts.  The workbook, she said, will teach me alternate methods of coping with those feelings, things to do that won’t be self-destructive.  I told her I’d give it a shot.

I also told her, in all honesty, that I am so weary of this that I frequently do think of giving up.  I think of dying and it seems like it would be a relief to me.  I think of it as an alternative and I think of it frequently.  I don’t think that saying this makes me weak, or a quitter, or a sinner.  I am tired, that’s all.

I came home and the phone rang.  I picked it up.  It was the Police Chief telling everyone where to put their yard debris for pickup when the trash trucks come around.  I guess that doesn’t apply to me, since I live in a large apartment building, but for the occasion, I emptied the trash.  This bag of trash dates back about three weeks.  Like everyone else, I have my own personal debris.  I discreetly stepped with the bag down the hallway to the trash room and dumped it.  Then I walked, one step in front of the other, back to my apartment, and now will try to deal with what’s left.

After Hurricane Irene: Taking the tape off the windows and coping with my eating disorder

I am a person with anorexia nervosa who lives in an area affected by Hurricane Irene, near Boston.  My anorexia manifests itself in self-starvation with breakthrough periods of bingeing without purging.  I have had this illness for  over 30 years.  I have had some good times during those 30 years in addition to times of illness.  I relapsed in 2008.  It is now 2011.  Hurricane Irene struck today, and that didn’t change things much.  Not that I expected it to.

I never purged. This is a weird thing because most people with anorexia do purge following a binge.  I seem to be unable.  Saturday night, the night before Irene was to grip New England, I came the closest to self-purging that I have ever come.  I loaded up on all sorts of liquids.  This I did knowing that it was extremely dangerous to over-hydrate myself.  Afterward, I wasn’t sure what would happen.  I thought what I had drank would come up, or my kidneys would process it, or it would manifest itself as edema.  No, it sat there.  And finally, all at once, what was in my stomach zoomed through my intestinal tract into the toilet.

Now, that felt pretty good. More than good.  So good that I knew what I’d done was wrong and addicting and that I had purged, even though I hadn’t thrown up and that it hadn’t been a conscious decision that I had made.  The Bug was in me.  I wanted that release again.  Tonight, I went out and bought a gallon of chocolate milk.  I had heard that you can’t drink a gallon of milk in one sitting without throwing it all up.  I wanted this for myself.  I came home and drank the gallon of chocolate milk really, really fast.

It didn’t feel good to be drinking it.  Nothing felt good about it.  I didn’t like the taste of it.  It didn’t quench my thirst.  It didn’t feel good in my mouth or my throat or my belly.  It didn’t feel good in my feelings.  I pictured myself dying this way, a gallon jug, nearly empty, in one hand, a glass in the other, pouring myself some over and over, my organs giving out on me, or, most likely, my stomach or intestines rupturing.  I pictured myself falling to the floor, the chocolate milk spilling all over me.  I imagined pissing all over myself.  I imagined hitting my head as I fell, and biting my lip or my tongue.   This image didnt’ stop me.  I kept on drinking the chocolate milk even though I had absolutely no more room for it anywhere inside me.  I told myself that I’d heard that no one can drink a gallon of milk without throwing up and I will not be the exception.

Well, apparently some joke was played on me.

I told my friend tonight that I have now crossed yet another line.  I have been crossing them since late April.  It all started with the edema.  When I saw my puffy, puffy feet and legs, how they swelled and swelled and didn’t look at all like my own feet anymore, I felt like my life was over.  And pretty much, it is.

I crossed a lot of these lines in July when I was starving.  I felt myself sinking into it, into deeper and deeper layers of self-starvation.  You get to the point where you can see death plainly in view and say hello to it and play with it some. I think if you’ve ever been there, if you know what it’s like to bring yourself into a space where you’re easily slipping away…or not.

That space has a certain taste to it.  I had that taste in my mouth all the time during the month of July.  And I think that was what I tasted when I drank the milk, not chocolate at all, but the taste of playing with death.  It is the taste of going way, way too far with my body.  I will not live if I keep this up.

I lay down with the milk in my belly and dozed.  The milk is still sitting there.  It didn’t go anywhere this time.  I slept, got up, slept again, drank water, slept.  It is still sitting in my belly, all 128 ounces of it.  Guess I’m going to have to wait this one out.

So I got up and decided that now that Hurricane Irene is winding down, there was no need to keep my shades taped closed, or my windows taped up.  So I unpeeled the tape, and put the pieces into a big wad.  As I removed each piece, I felt kind of a sense of relief and release about it all.  The tape made a loud noise as I removed it, but left no mark on the window.  I found the noise, grating to ordinary ears, strangely satisfying to me; in fact, I found that the more tape I removed, the more I enjoyed this tape-removal sound, and I wondered why an annoying sound can, in a certain context, be pleasing to the ear.

Removal of window tape is removal of something that has kept the window from breaking into a zillion pieces when it smashes from the force of wind or if it is hit by a tree branch.  The window is on one hand freed, but on the other hand, it is left unprotected.  It is like what happens to a child when he or she grows up and leaves home.  Or what happens to a mental patient, or any patient, who leaves the hospital.  It is like what is happening to me now, crossing these strange lines I’ve been crossing.

In a few days, my apartment will look back to what it looked like before.  I’ll set the desktop computer back up, I’ll take the plastic off of everything, I’ll move everything back to the wall, and plug stuff back in.  I’ll empty the returnable soda bottles of their water and give them to the guy down the hall who does the returnables and earns a little money for himself.

Today, I will take public transportation, which turns out is running after all, to see my therapist in Boston.  Most likely, I will tell her about having crossed this line I have mentioned here.  Most likely, I will tell her about the image I saw as I drank the chocolate milk, with the jug in one hand, and the glass in the other, of my collapse, of my body giving out at last to not only years and years of having an eating disorder, but to this specific incident of self-abuse.  Perhaps also I will tell her how my stomach felt stretched to the absolute limit not by binge food this time, but by liquids I’d drunk.  Perhaps I will tell her that I did this not for the purpose, if there is a purpose, of bingeing, but ultimately, for the satisfaction of releasing it from my body, as I did Saturday night.

But the point is, the point is, the point is the crossed line, not the fact that Saturday I discovered this release.  That isn’t that big of a deal because obviously it was a random happening.  In June and July I told my therapist about the lines.  Sometimes, I went in there and I told her I’d crossed another one, and she’d ask me about it.  I want her to know about this one.

Now, I ask myself, why is it important to me that my therapist know about these lines?  In July, I knew that she was going to stop being my therapist soon because I was not committed to “recovery” and was refusing inpatient eating disorders treatment.  I figured she didn’t want to help me die, so she would just drop me.  She did, but kept inviting me back to her office, much to my surprise.  She now makes a point of telling me that after all this time, and after all that’s happened, she will stick by me.  I will tell her about the line today and see what she says.

I took all the tape I’d removed from the windows and made it into a huge wad and put it into the trash bag.  This bag hasn’t been emptied for a while.  I had promised myself that I would take out all the trash in the apartment before we were evacuated, if this were to happen.  The wad was so huge that it took up a fair portion of the bag, and stuck to the walls of the bag as well.  I imagined the wad as big as myself, as big as the room, as the universe, just wads and wads of sticky packing tape, unruly, untamed, without restraint, like my hair when I don’t keep it in an elastic.

I thought of how some parts of being human are always kept inside of us, tightly contained, and never, never let out free, or they will destroy us, or so we fear.  I thought of my hunger.  I thought of my thirst.  I thought of the great abyss within me.  I thought of the hole left by what is missing in my life, and the fact that I don’t even know what this thing is.  I realized that this hole, this space, this void, creates this incredible destructive power.  This power is my eating disorder, but it is much, much more.

Last night when I went out, many folks were wandering around on the streets.  I guessed that they were tired of being cooped up.  I saw kids on bikes and skateboards, families together, and joggers.  They were like ants coming out to inspect spilled juice.  The sky brightened, then darkened as the sun set, then brightened to indicate that the hurricane was leaving us.  If you’d observed carefully, you would have seen me.  I was the skinny lady crossing Main Street with a knapsack filled with a gallon jug of chocolate milk.

 

 

Coping with my eating disorder as the worst of Hurricane Irene is upon us here in Boston

Must say, it’s bad, bad, bad out there.  I’m not even peeking out at this point, taking advice from what I’ve read online and staying away from windows.  I ended up taping them with packing tape in the shape of an X–I really don’t know if that’s the way to do it–and taping down my shades, not that it’ll do any good.  I no longer trust the trees out there.  I saw a downed tree branch and I’m guessing that it came from tree #2, which has already lost a fair amount of limbs over the past few years and needs to get chopped down, or will, when all this is over with.   It’s not a large tree, not like the one that blocks my neighbor’s view of me during the summer months, so that I can walk around naked in my living room and not be seen.  Of course, in winter, the tree is naked, so it is useless as a coverup and I have to either pull the shade or keep something on.  Well, being skinny and, I’m told, not having much meat on my bones, I find it freezing in here no matter how warm someone else thinks it is, so I’m well dressed, trust me.  Well, I’m rambling here.  The wind, let’s say, sounds real bad, worse than it’s been all day, and if you’ve heard that Irene has been downgraded to a “tropical storm,” well, that doesn’t mean anything really.  It’s closer to us, so it’s worse right now.  Weather dot com says “gusting to  48” but I’m guessing that sometimes it gusts higher.

I’m wrapping things in plastic more and more.  I can’t help but allow my mind to wander and mentally pack a suitcase for evacuation.  I live in elderly housing, so they may evacuate the building to protect the seniors, whose health is compromised to begin with.

How does all this affect my eating?  Something inside me told me I didn’t need much food in the house.  I had some canned food.  Sort of.  Enough for yesterday.  I have juice and V8 and milk.  I thought I’d cook up some rice while we still have power.  It’ll keep a while without refrigeration.  This is Julie’s idea.  The eating disorder’s idea is to forget making rice.

Why am I saying this?  Why am I personifying the ED?  My therapist does this all the time.  I don’t buy the theory, though.  I hate personifying the eating disorder.  I even told her I’d prefer not to, even though many therapists like to do this.  I don’t think of my eating disorder as a person “Ed” that I’m married to or whatever.  I think that’s childish.  The book Life Without Ed is all about the person Ed.  It’s a fabulous book with fabulous ideas in it, but I couldn’t get through it.  I didn’t like the way I was being spoken to in the book.

I have met Jenni Schaefer in person, and she’s nothing like she is in her books.  It’s hard to explain.  I saw her speak at a MEDA location in Newton, Massachusetts.  She’s a powerful speaker, and she didn’t speak to us like we were kindergarten kids.  She explained why she wrote the book the way she did, with short chapters structured in a specific way.  I didn’t buy her explanation, but I highly respect her decision to do the book the way she did.  At the end of her talk, she sang and played the guitar an original song.  (She lives in Nashville and, like many living there, is an aspiring country singer and has a “day job” to support herself in the meanwhile).  As it turned out, the entire, I mean entire audience–and I haven’t any clue who was eating disordered and who wasn’t and don’t care–couldn’t hold back the tears as she sang.  Wow.  I wished I had tissues because I really couldn’t hold it together.  Then there was a long book-signing line and I joined it near the end of the line.  I had Life Without Ed and Goodbye Ed, Hello Me  ready for her to sign.  I was wearing a beanie cap that I had knit myself (I was cold), and when it was my turn in line, she asked me if I had knitted the hat, and there was a bit of discussion about how knitting seems to be a meaningful hobby for people with anorexia.  I was in tears when she signed the books.

I write in short chapters, too.  I like being “to the point.”  I find short chapters annoying except in certain situations, ironically.  In This Hunger Is Secret: My Journeys Through Mental Illness and Wellness, just about every chapter is brief.  I did this because I was inspired to write my book the way Kenny Fries wrote The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory, which is the most brilliant book I have read in recent times.  After I read Kenny’s memoir, I went on to read some essays on writing using this “braided” structure (read Kenny’s book or my book and you’ll know what I’m talking about) that were very, very helpful.  Switching over to this structure was a brave move on my part.

Am I brave now?  Probably not.  If I were brave, I would break out of the bad pattern I have with my anorexia.  My special friend refers to this as a “loop.”  You can’t get out of it unless you really work at it.  You get stuck in it unless you can take charge and use all your strength to break free.

Right now, Hurricane Irene is breaking loose, unleashing her power, and sending tree limbs flying onto power lines and into buildings, into the middle of streets and blocking them, all over people’s yards, and even on top of cars and squashing them.  Irene is blowing stuff over and sending it all flying.  You can see the destruction everywhere.  Wind and rain is out of its usual pattern of sunrise and sunset, reasonable weather (considering this is New England), and scaring the pants off of us.  Irene is showing us her strength.  She is not kidding.  She is a force to behold.  She will not let us forget her.

My eating disorder has the power over me that Irene now has over the East Coast.  My anorexia has the power to destroy me, and has recently nearly done so.  It didn’t, though.  I survived.  You could say that I was rescued.  You could say that I lucked out.  You could say that I took shelter in a hospital just in time, that the hospital was structurally safer than my home.

Maybe someday, I will be like a mountain, and Irene won’t be able to blow me over.  You know, this is something I don’t truly believe will ever happen, but it’s a nice metaphor to consider right now that I hear the wind howling outside and I am taking shelter in here and getting a bit of writing done.  But when I was kept in my shelter of the hospital, right after my eating disorder, as powerful as those gusts of wind outside, almost blew me down, the chaplain, who made a surprise visit maybe an hour prior to my discharge from the hospital, helped me, for a small moment, see myself as that mountain, and I felt a calm come over me that I haven’t felt for a long, long time.  I can’t say when I felt the peak of that calm, because I only felt it for a short time, but it was genuine, and real, and right, and I knew in my heart that I truly deserved every bit of that calm, peaceful moment.  And then the storm came back, but I didn’t forget what had happened.

They say the eye of the storm is deceptive.  They say not to go out in it.  They say if you do, you’ll get knocked over after the eye passes.  No, this wasn’t me as a weakling before the Eye.  There are times when my eating disorder offers me the calm of the Eye, and then I fall back into the destructiveness of the storm–very quickly.  When I almost died, it was  because I had stepped into the calm of the Eye, knowing I was approaching death and rushing to prepare for my demise, realizing that I didn’t have much time, but I felt a strange peace, accepting what would happen as inevitable.  I didn’t question it.

At that time, there were many, many things that I kept secret from everyone.  You could say that at that time, I had more secrets in me than I ever did at any other time in my life.  It’s something I’m working on right now.  I still have many,  many secrets.  The chaplain knew, without asking, that I had this tendency, and asked me about it.  She said that you can’t keep a secret from God, that God sees everything.

If I were to talk to God right now, and I don’t–I don’t pray–what would I say to someone–or perhaps God is an “it”–from whom I can hide nothing?  Do I need to say anything at all?  Actually, I think that maybe, when I’m ready, I will have some things to say to God.  And for sure, I will pray for Puzzle.

Whenever I met with one of the chaplains at the hospital, I requested that they pray for Puzzle.  Not one of them thought that praying for my little dog was an unreasonable or silly request.

Maybe it is a God who is keeping Puzzle completely calm during this storm.  She hasn’t a clue what’s going on outside.  She has had no reaction whatsoever.  She is incredibly strong in the face of a force as powerful as my eating disorder.

May we all be so brilliantly equipped.

Coping with my eating disorder while Hurricane Irene bears down

I am a person with anorexia nervosa who was recently hospitalized for severe malnutrition and dehydration.  When I went in I was in pretty bad shape.  I was in a medical ward for ten days and spent a few days “upstairs where I *belonged*” in the psychiatric ward, which was hell for me.  I was then released and spent eight days on the worst streak of binge eating I have ever experienced.  I went back in voluntarily, spent 24 amazing hours in the psych emergency room, where I did a lot of healing, then went “upstairs” again for a few days, and was released.

I have been pretty much okay.  I am delighted to be out.  Hearing of the storm was just another challenge for me.  In New England we’re due for something I’ve never experienced before.  I’ve seen bad rain, sure.  I think everyone living in the East has.  It can come down in pellets even in the heat of the summer.  It can be dry and hot one moment, and then, 20 seconds before the bus arrives, the sky can open up, and I’m soaked by the time I get on.  Sometimes, an umbrella is just the thing to bring on a bus trip into Boston.  Other times, an umbrella isn’t quite enough because it’s either too windy, and the umbrella turns inside-out (grrr) or the rain is so thick that nothing will protect against it.  On those days, it’s best to leave your laptop and electronics at home.  Some insist that they only need a hood to protect themselves against the rain.  I have never understood this thinking.  My little Puzzle wears one of the 17 or 18 (lost count) wool sweaters I have knit for her.  These are naturally waterproof.  Her fur isn’t.  I, in turn, wear one of her matching wool  hats and we go in style, even in the middle of summer.

But this will be different.  It’s like those winter emergencies we have all the time here in Boston, only it’s summer and we don’t get emergency weather in the summer except for a couple of days when it’s a bit hot out.  I have never been evacuated from my home.  Being a person with a psychiatric disability, that is, I do not have a mobility problem, but what some people call a “brain disorder,” I still end up spending a lot of time at home even though a physical problem isn’t what’s keeping me here.  My home is my home and because I’m here a lot, I cherish it more (I think) than someone who just finds it a place to sleep at night and store food in the fridge.  I haven’t had what folks think of as a “job” for a long, long time.  When I had “jobs,” they didn’t agree with me.  I guess when you think of things you value, “job” isn’t one of them for me.  Work is.

They say mental illness can’t be seen.  Sometimes, on public transportation (here in Boston called the “T”, which, by the way, will be closed Sunday and Monday) you see posters of smiling faces and on the poster is says, “What does autism look like?” or, “What does schizophrenia look like?”  Actually, anorexia nervosa is often a very visible illness because of the person’s extreme thinness.  But you don’t see that on the posters, just in the fashion ads in magazines.

I got online and read all the experts’ advice on how to prepare for the storm.  I’ve done what I can within reason.  Also, I have my own brand of common sense.  There are things they don’t tell you about that you just have to figure out for yourself.  They tell you to stock up on diapers, but they don’t say anything about toilet paper or “feminine” supplies.

Now is the time to think about what “things” I value most and might want to protect from harm at this time, or bring with me if Puzzle and I are evacuated.  Some things that immediately came to mind were my degree certificates, some of the best sweaters that I knitted for Puzzle (I can’t bring all of them), and a few of my old handwritten journals I have from years past (there are over 20 of these and I’m just going to have to pick a few to bring) that will be lost forever if I don’t take them with me.  As a memoirist, I find journals an important tool for writing and remembering.  I also find them useful when I want to learn about my life years ago, and about the onset of my eating disorder.  I have maybe 700 books here, some are quite expensive reference books, that would be destroyed if this place flooded.  There’s nothing I can do about that.  My friend recently gave me a wall quilt she made for me, that is quite lovely and easily packable in a suitcase.

I asked myself: If I have to go to a shelter, I won’t be able to weigh myself, what do I do…I might fly into a panic!  I dared myself to pack the scale.  No, I am not really packing, just packing mentally, but I dared myself anyway.  Instead, I took the scale off the floor, wrapped it in plastic in case this place floods later on Sunday (it’s Sunday already on the East Coast) and put it in the closet. Now, I will see how long I can leave it there, even after the storm is gone and left us, till I take it out again, step up on it, and admonish myself for not being as thin and starved as I’d like to be.

They told us to stock up on food and water.  I have water.  Food, that’s another story.  It’s a tough thing for someone with an eating disorder to deal with food, natural disaster or not.  Even when faced with a life-and-death situation, food is an issue…why?  Because eating disorders, for you idiots out there that don’t know, are fatal illnesses, that is, you can die of them.  Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of all the mental illnesses including bipolar disorder and major depression, both of which carry suicide risk.  It’s not just about being skinny and it’s not about vanity.  If it was vanity, I’d toss it aside in a natural disaster.  Let’s say I’d be capable of putting it on the back burner while Irene passed through.

But I couldn’t.  I did heed the experts’ advice, though.  I bought a couple of cans of stuff.  I bought things that felt safe for me.  For the most part yesterday, I didn’t eat much.  But then I started in on the diet soda, and I couldn’t stop drinking it.  I don’t know what got into me.  I just started drinking it and drinking it.  It tasted pretty good, actually.  I drank some water and some milk, and more diet soda.  It was easily two gallons.  Suddenly, I was very, very full.  And scared.  I am not supposed to be doing this.  It’s dangerous, very dangerous.  It can screw up your electrolytes and it can screw up your kidneys.  I was scared because since I have had this disorder for a long time, my system has kind of slowed down, and I know I’m not necessarily peeing right.  I sat there with my belly sloshing around wondering why I had done this dumb thing.  Nothing was coming out.  I figured I’d either pee real soon or throw it all up.  Nothing.  So I waited around.  Nothing.  My stomach kind of hurt.  I lay down and tried to think of other things.  I thought that what I had put into myself had to come out somehow.

Yeah, it did.  A bit later, I was shitting my brains out into the toilet.  I feel much better now.  I could feel better but letting go of it felt kind of liberating.  My stomach doesn’t hurt anymore–well, it does, but I can think straight and not be distracted by it, anyway.

I am 53 years old, no longer in my 20’s.  I can’t do this at my age.  No more mucking around with dangerous stuff.  You can die of this.  You can die of anorexia nervosa.  You can die anyway but it’s stupid to do mean things to your body.  I guess that’s one essential part of eating disorders that’s hard to overcome, the self-meanness part.  It’s kind of built in.

This on the eve of Hurricane Irene’s strike on Boston.  In 12 hours, winds will exceed 30 miles per hour, maybe 40 miles per hour, and at that point, vehicle travel is just plain unsafe.  If you’re going to have a medical emergency, forget it, you’re on your own.  Or that is what I heard.  So now, of all times, is not a nice time to be mucking around with my electrolytes.  Now or anytime.  Ever.

You know something?  I’m thirsty.  I don’t understand why.  I just am.  Maybe deep down inside, I thirst for something else, and can’t put a finger on what it is, and that is why I feel so empty inside, and why life seems to have no meaning to it.  I’m going to go have a drink of water at this point because I know it won’t satisfy or fill that longing even though my physical sensation is very real, my body’s sleight of hand, I guess.

I do remember feeling this way at the onset of my illness, that I’d lost something and was desperately searching for it, and that it was so lost and so deep-seated that I had lost sight of what it in fact was or that it even existed or had existed for me.  I just felt this void, and a deep hunger.  Whatever I had had, I wanted back.  Desperately.

I don’t think you get back things you had when you were 18, or 21, when you’re in your 50’s.  It’s over 30 years later, and life doesn’t work that way.  Maybe I’m wrong.  I’m not going to find it, whatever it was, now.  Whatever I find now, though, was unreachable then, because I was only 21.  So I should consider myself fortunate that I have lived this long.

I want to wish everyone peace during this hurricane.  Just take a moment during your preparations to remember loved ones who have passed, to enjoy cherished memories, to care for your children, to feed and hold your pets nearby.

I am managing as best as I can.  Later, I will call a friend in a different time zone, zone out, and sleep I hope.  I had my modem replaced today (for free).  That’s communication, after all.  Faster.  Better.  More efficient.  Wow.  I should be writing this at lightning speed, maybe running the Marathon next year.  Since getting out of the hospital, I’ve realized that soon, National Novel Month will be approaching, and I would like to get the ball rolling on my paperback preparations and get all that done by the end of next month.  So you will have a bit of hard copy to read next year I hope.

Irene, Irene, Irene.  I think I will share a bit of my chapter, “A Forgotten Line,” from my memoir, which focuses on the character, Irene, in a coming post.  See you then.

I will do anything to end it

After four horrible days of bingeing following my hospitalization for dehydration, malnutrition, and severe anorexia nervosa, I have reverted to starvation as a desperate measure to prevent another nightmare bingeing episode.

I left the hospital as soon as my Section 12 ran out.  I left last Thursday.  My doctors there had strongly urged me to stay the weekend.  But when I was handed a conditional voluntary form, I realized that they would then have the legal right to hold me there for as long as they damned please.  And if I wanted out, I would not be able to get out immediately, but would have to wait three long, grueling days in that “prison.”  For indeed, that was how it seemed to me.  They had taken away my privacy in the bathroom and shower, my telephone rights, 75% of my belongings, and severely rationed my fluid intake to the point where I was suffering constant thirst.  My therapist supported my decision so long as I was planning to eat properly when I got out of the hospital.  I said that I intended to.  This was a lie.  This wasn’t a tiny lie.  This was 100% a lie.

I was devastated, and taken by shock, by the first binge.  I was devastated by the second.  I was devastated by the third, and fairly certain that this series of them was over.  And when I binged the fourth time, I was, as they say, hanging by a string.  I came into my therapist’s office desperate to make the bingeing stop, and would do anything at that point.  But it had to stop immediately.  I could bear it no longer.  I am 53 years old.  I am not 20. I just got out of the hospital for malnutrition and extreme reduction in caloric intake that had been gradually increased. I have edema that is getting worse and worse.  My heart pounds when I binge and my heart rate increases.  My stomach sticks out on one side.  I eat to the point that I load myself until the food reaches the top of my throat, or so it feels.  I eat so fast that I risk choking.  I risk infection because the inside of my mouth is so bitten up and damaged.  In the past, I have passed out from extreme exhaustion.  And the emotional and mental effect?  That’s the very worst of it.

I told my T about all this.  And I told my T about the behaviors–what I do, what I eat, what happens to me…a lot of what I go through, a lot that I have never told anyone.  She asked a lot of questions.  I cried and cried and cried.  If anyone has ever believed me, if anyone has ever understood me at all, it was my T.  I am so, so alone with this, and have been for most of my life.  Anorexia?  Many people understand anorexia.  No one understands what an anorexic person who does not/cannot throw up goes through, because this is such a rarity…that I know of.

What we ended up doing was working out a great plan to stop the bingeing in its tracks.  Immediately.  The plan is tailored specifically for me and my behaviors and no one else.

Upon leaving her office, my eating disorder took over.  I got on the Red Line subway and then ended up at a drugstore after a while and gazed at all the goodies.  But I didn’t buy any?  Why I didn’t buy any…I do not understand the complexity of my thought processes at that point.  But I do know that at the drugstore across the street, the prices were ridiculous and I turned down the junk food for that reason.  That plus the bus was arriving shortly.  I came home.  I was terrified that I would binge.  So I got in touch with my T.  S.O.S.  She never got the message until late night.  I ate a few things that I shouldn’t have eaten, but it didn’t trigger a binge–why?  I think I was simply binged out.  From then on until I went to bed, I followed the plan we had set out.  Meanwhile, my T got the message and said she’d call me in the morning.

I woke in the night hysterical.  Crying over the bingeing, though I hadn’t binged for a while.  I woke up in a desperate, distraught, panicked state this morning as well, weeping, and it took a while to calm down.

Since then, I’ve been starving myself.  I have eaten…nothing.  I looked at the food I’d promised my T I was going to eat, though.  I looked at the package.  Nothing.

Very soon, I felt…nothing.  No emotion.  No panic.  No more crying.  Just sitting here writing to You. I ran a few errands and did some very much needed cleaning around the house.

I started the starvation last June…or I think it was June…and the more intense starvation in July, and the structured daily activities, specifically to end the bingeing.  Don’t tell me this is happening again.  I want it…but I don’t.

Why have I made so many secret promises to myself?  Why do I lie so much?  Why do I hold back?  Isn’t this exactly what the chaplain was talking about when we met the last day I was at the hospital?  God sees everything.  God sees through all my lies, all my secrets.  Everything.  I can hide nothing from God.  God is all-seeing and all-knowing.

Isn’t it God that I now seek?  Isn’t it God that I now hunger for?  Didn’t the chaplain say that anyone that hungers, hungers for God, and has God in their heart, and that God has never left me, but has walked by my side all this time, all through my relapse in fact, though I have thought I did not believe, that I had lost my faith and had lost my ability to pray?

Wow.  No wonder I cry so much.

I am not going to share with you the letter I wrote to my T Monday night

I am not going to share with you the letter I wrote to my T Monday night following our session.  It is a goodbye letter.  I will have to say goodbye to the best T I have ever had because I am not committed to recovery and I am refusing treatment for my eating disorder, anorexia nervosa.  She is the last therapist I will ever have.

I told her there is no T in the universe just like her (I didn’t word it that way).  If another T were to follow, surely, that one would be a sore disappointment.  I will, however, have support.  I have services from the Department of Mental Health in place, so they will be following me. I meet with my worker once a week, on Saturdays.

My psychiatrist, Dr. P, will also “fire” me. I am not meeting her criteria for treatment. She will not treat someone who refuses all help. Leaving her is a very difficult decision I have made. She is an excellent shrink who has seen me through some very hard times.  I have been seeing her for–believe it or not–10 years.

I have printed out this letter. I saved the document in my computer files. I e-mailed it to myself as well. I plan to read it to my T and give it to her for her records. We meet tomorrow.

I am usually scared to read her things I wrote. I fear that she will react by rejecting me, “firing” me, or hospitalizing me. So far, she has done none of these things based on any document I have read to her.  But I am committed to reading her the entire document I wrote. I am convinced that she will not do any of these things based on what I wrote in the letter.

Okay, okay, here is one paragraph I am willing to share:

“I do like having someone with me in my aloneness.  I know that makes no sense or sounds like an oxymoron, but when you consider that I am in a state of starvation, I am truly alone, untouchable, numb, and my mind is curled up into itself.  So I like coming in to see you.  Especially lately.  I can sit on your couch and maybe uncurl a little.”

The letter is one page long, single-spaced.

Today

My T said she wasn’t going to hospitalize me because of the plan that she and my primary care doctor have worked out: I have to gain a pound by next Friday or else I will be sent to the ER to be evaluated and possibly sent to the ED hospital.  If I refuse, I may be Section 12ed there.

Well, I found out you can’t be Sectioned to the ED hospital.  Section 12 means you are forced to go there against your will.  And this is not possible at this hospital at this unit.  I called and checked.  I jumped for joy when the guy told me.

So I came home from my T’s office unhospitalized, free. I feel pretty good about that. She said by all means I should go to the ER in the meantime if I feel I need it, for fluids, or if my blood pressure seems too low, but all hinges on Friday.

I think this is total bullshit actually. Weight fluctuates. I think it should hinge on vital signs.

But this whole thing is going to be a problem. I dropped 5 pounds since I was weighed last Friday.  Much of this was edema loss, but some of it was regular weight loss.  There is no chance in hell that I will be up six pounds on Friday, even at 2pm.  And I’ve decided I’m not going to break rules and falsify my weight.

This means one helluva day.  This means spending a long, long time in the emergency room.  I’m bringing knitting to pass the time. I expect a lot of rigamarole.  I expect to go home afterward. I expect to be plain exhausted.

I’m exhausted thinking about it.

Vertigo gone, medical problems remain, etc

I think the vertigo problem is over.  I haven’t had it since Thursday except briefly, and today not at all.  Whether it came from my meds or from food…?????  Most of my experimentation shows that the vertigo was nutritionally related, and only the most recent experimentation showed that it may have been the meds.  I am now doing nothing different with either. No, this is not true.  I am doing almost the same with both.  My meds are the same.  I’m not certain but I think I’m eating slightly less.  I am responding differently to food.  This is part of the crossing over.  I am not hungry.  Mealtime could come and go and I could easily forget to eat entirely.  This doesn’t happen, though.  I do, eventually, remember, and eat at mealtime just enough to keep going.

I am aware that at some point I may need some more medical attention than I can get seeing my primary care physician once a week.  I am willing to accept care for a few days at a medical facility if it comes down to it.  I am not willing to go to the ED hospital and I will not sign myself in there, and I will not accept the feeding tube.*  I am not willing to be hospitalized for the purpose of gaining weight.  I am willing to be hospitalized for the purpose of medical stabilization or if hospitalization (without weight gain) is necessary to improve my medical situation in order to improve quality of life.

*I will accept the feeding tube if it is not being used to treat my ED, that is, if it is being used if I am unconscious following a car accident, etc. I do not give permission to use the feeding tube in these situations to cause weight gain.

So let all that go on record.

I see my therapist tomorrow at 1pm.  If I’m as much of a basket case then as I was today at 1, she’ll do what she has to do.  I accept this.

It seems to get better as the day rolls on.

Shhh……

Another anorexic shift

Another shift happened to me today.  I felt myself cross over a line into someplace Other, like beyond a mirror where you can’t touch me because when you try to touch the mirror, you only touch yourself and you only see yourself.  But I am beyond the mirror now that I faced this morning when I photographed myself.  I am beyond that image of the skinny lady.  You can’t see me in that photograph because I am no longer there.

I wrote up some papers today and took care of some stuff.  I went out and bought some milk.  Last night’s walk with Puzzle and this morning’s walk were just okay, but tonight’s walk was awesome.