First of all I have to share a realization I just had. I had always thought that eating disorder behavior is what gave me that feeling of control that I want in order to feel safe but that isn’t my truth any longer. Getting back on track, back to my regular routine has given me a greater sense of control than any behavior ever has. When did it change?
My nutrition appt was delayed a day due to snow which turned out to be an ideal situation. I was surprised how difficult it would was to eat normal portions again till I tried on Tuesday. I figured I couldn’t do a full portion so I put together a half portion and gave it a go. It was very, very uncomfortable. It was difficult to tolerate but I was determined and managed by setting a timer every 30″ to re-evaluate how I felt, and didn’t have anything else the rest of the night. Wednesday, when I was supposed to see him, I tried again. I made the portions smaller but added some nuts to each meal. By the evening I felt like I would explode but again, tolerated it. Obviously I had some concerns. So I cut down risking a spiral downward or do I do the other obvious behavior choice? However, I gave it a try and tried to make an effort to get back on track before seeing him. I felt it was important to make a start because it would be my choice, my decision, rather than waiting for him to tell me what I already knew I needed to do. Today I put together my meals as best as I could. I leave early for iOP so have to pack 3 meals. When I saw him we had a good, rational, conversation. He looked at what I had started with and heard my concern of eating more than I could handle at this point and asked what I could add tomorrow. I said I’d add a lipid at breakfast. I then panicked trying to figure out how to add “everything else.” He brought me back and said not to think beyond each day which emotionally makes it manageable. I asked if he could help me find something I could give myself a kudos for in all this. I feel it’s important to honor even small steps of progress. We agreed that my taking the initiative on my own was well worth acknowledgement so I decided to feel good about that. At this pint I can’t “just” feel good about myself but I definitely can make a decision to feel good about myself.
My therapist, who I saw yesterday, helped me sort what it is I need from my nutritionist. Without a plan I usually go in and just cry…. “oh poor me, this is intolerable, I will never get better,” and so forth. This time I walked in and told him straight out that I’m struggling and need his expertise and experience in helping me get on track. Another thing I’m working on is removing my tendency toward exceptionalism. I told him that I’m keeping in mind that this slip, these past couple of weeks, isn’t anything unique. This is what many people with eating disorders experience; I’m simply one more person. It’s not awful or unbearable or even a relapse. Rather, it’s uncomfortable, distressing, not dangerous; manageable. It’s not the beginning of a slide that ends in a treatment program. I also said that I don’t want to be in a position of having to be told what to do; I’d rather us be collaborators with the same goal of getting me well, healthy.
I’m beginning to recognize that one of the symptoms or traps of an eating disorder is exceptionalism. Examples of my (unconscious) exceptionalism: I’ve had an ED the longest, or the worst; destroyed my body, will never truly recover, will always have to face ED thoughts and temptations; I’m different, no one can possibly understand, mine is more. Complicated because I have chronic pain, fibromyalgia, am older, have bipolar, an exercise addict… on and on and on. Here’s the truth: everyone’s life is complicated in their own way, many people have more than one diagnosis, most people with EDs do some kind of damage. Another truth: I still have a good heart and kidneys, my teeth, hair and skin are healthy again, I’m still upright and walking. I’m able to read again and much of my concentration has returned. Yes, I have other permanent damage that creates difficulties but they are manageable and when I eat, I manage.
If you’ve read my blog for awhile you may have noticed I quit being specific about having anorexia and started saying eating disorder. I stopped using specific words like “restriction” and now say “behavior” where possible. I was invested in the anorexic identity. In my mind it gave me status, empowerment and yes, a sense of being exceptional. “Look at how I can control my life through food, exercise, weight.” (Other thoughts I had I am too ashamed to admit here.) Every time I downsized my clothes I got a power surge. Even when I was laying on the couch utterly exhausted and unable to attend to things, when I could no longer focus to read or have a normal conversation, I felt exceptional in my control. I had to let that go. I had to quit segmenting myself from the rest of the ED community.
I can’t tell you how many (non-anorexic) eating disorder blogs I’ve read and related to. There are so many versions of eating disorders, not just the media promoted anorexia. Why was I excluding myself? What was the point? Was I really any different? No… I’m not different neither am I exceptional. I related to many people because my thoughts are not, in fact, unique. My feelings, thoughts and reactions are pretty average. Is that a bad thing? No! It allows me to feel understood by many people, it allows me to empathize with many people. It widens my world. It’s helped to remove the sense of being utterly alone in my struggle.
In therapy my therapist said that I’ve connected my tolerance to compliance. When my tolerance is reduced due to stress, pain, life blowing up, whatever, my compliance is reduced, i.e., behavioral slip. I need to disconnect it so that no matter what happens in my life, compliance is a given. I do have lots of issues, all those I listed above, so my stress tolerance will drop regularly. I want to be able to deal with that with the help of my support team, in a healthy way, rather then going straight to using behavior as an anxiety reliever and mood regulation.
I spent some time thinking about my reaction versus a non-ED person’s reaction.
- Me: week 1 was terrible gastric issues, week 2 was surgery then holiday party that I canceled due to not fitting in clothes.
- Exceptionalistic Reaction: Awful, horrible, neeeeeeeeed behavior to deal with low tolerance and “overwhelming” anxiety. Put all energy into behavior and into justifications of said behavior.
- Reflection/response: intolerance of making mistakes, I’m a horrible person, I’ll never recover, there’s no hope.
- Conclusion: I’m relapsing so why bother trying.
- Average realistic reaction: Difficult, uncomfortable, increased anxiety (not overwhelming), continue normal eating and activities of daily living. Maybe rest more, drink more fluids, ask for some emotional support.
- Reflection/response: Made several mistakes (listening to GI doc instead of nutritionist), ignored intuition about not going to the party, forgot that many people have difficulty with general anesthetic so could have been more forgiving of self.
- Conclusion: I’ve slipped up. That happens, I’m human and make mistakes like everyone else. Sort the situation and move forward having learned a valuable lesson.
Perhaps by reflecting as I’ve done here I can slowly develop the courage to make mistakes, to allow myself to be an average person, to have ups and downs just like everyone else.