Monthly Archives: May 2011
I have been suffering from eating binges since the age of 22 and am now 53 years old. I have gone through long periods that I have not binged, but it keeps coming back. These eating binges can be massive. I do not throw up. I am not able to throw up. I would throw up if I could. My therapist attributes my inability to vomit to the fact that I was force-fed as a child. She, and many people, tell me that I am very, very fortunate that I never learned to regurgitate. To me, it is a curse to have to hold food in, as I had to hold my food in as a toddler, against my will.
I do not choose to binge. It is rare that I say, “I am going to binge today,” and go binge. It is generally something that comes over me, something Other, some Force. I cannot control it. My therapist says I can, but she is not in my shoes.
I’m not going to talk about my first binge. I’m not in the mood. I’m going to talk about last night’s binge:
It was late. I had already taken my meds. I was getting ready for bed. I decided to have some skim milk and a hard boiled egg before bed. I didn’t need skim milk and a hard boiled egg. I don’t know what I was thinking, but that was what set me off.
It was automatic. I grabbed a sac of potatoes and cut up half of them and put them in my steamer. I knew these would take a while to cook, so I cooked some potatoes in the meanwhile in the microwave. I cooked one and then ran cold water over it to cool it.
I held the potato in my hand and ate it whole. It wasn’t cool enough. It burned my mouth. My mouth was already ripped up from a binge Friday night on raw vegetables. Despite the fact that I was burning my mouth I kept on eating the potato.
There was a time in my life that I did cutting. I didn’t know why I was doing the cutting. Some say that cutting is a way to relieve bad feelings. I say that it was to see just how much I could take. Sometimes, I think that’s why I stayed in abusive relationships, rather than getting out of them when I had the chance–to see how much more abuse I could tolerate before I snapped. And you know, I never snapped. Not unless you count having developed an eating disorder.
I ate the cut-up potatoes, too. There were a lot. These, too, burned my mouth. They didn’t fill me up all that much, not really. I didn’t want to eat all the carefully prepared food that I had set aside for myself in the refrigerator, so I decided to go out.
On Friday when I went out, I risked exacerbating my injury by walking to the convenience store and back, which was a bit too far at the time, to get binge food. That was how desperate I was. Tonight, I would again take a risk. My injury has improved and I could go further, a lot further, and even carry stuff on my back, without using my cane. This would enable me to free up two hands, so that I could eat while walking home.
Yes, I take risks. Yes, I am that desperate. I am on a mission.
I grabbed a knapsack and my wallet. I made sure I had enough cash. Quickly, I changed into baggy clothing, and put on a jacket to hide my thinness. Surely, appearing thin would be a dead giveaway. What extremely thin woman eats goodies, unless she’s on a binge? Let’s not be obvious here. I put on a baseball cap, too. My MP3 player so that I could hide from the world. My keys.
I decided to divide up my trip. I haven’t done this lately, but I didn’t want to get “caught.” I have been “caught” at Tedeschi’s too many times lately. I decided to buy a loaf of raisin bread there. Innocent enough. They would never suspect, and the guy didn’t. I am positive. My plan was to get something to put on the bread at CVS, sour cream most likely. At CVS, where I can be anonymous at 1:30am, I purchased a large tub of chocolate ice cream, sour cream, and a huge bag of milk chocolate M&M’s to eat on the way home. Over 12 dollars. The raisin bread was maybe $3. This was an expensive binge.
I asked for a bag at CVS. I was in such a hurry that I left without the sales slip, but the guy said, “Don’t you want the coupon?” I said, “Oh,” and grabbed the sales slip and left. Once safely at a hideaway, I separated everything. I took the bread out of my knapsack and put the ice cream and sour cream on the bottom, then put the bread on top. Then I had the M&M’s in a bag to eat. I quickly ripped open the bag, put a bunch in my hand, and tossed them into my mouth.
I had thought M&M’s would be soft enough for my already damaged gums. I was wrong. With every bite, I could feel my gums get more and more ripped apart. I tried chewing with my front teeth. The candy practically fell out of my mouth, so I went back to molar-chewing.
Suddenly, the bag ripped. M&M’s went everywhere! All over the sidewalk! All I could think of was that I wanted to bend down and pick up every single one of them, and claim it as mine. I even thought about how many I’d wasted. But I didn’t pick them up. I quickly snatched up the bag and allowed the candies to flow into my pocket, all of them, so I had a pocket full of M&M’s, a huge pocket full of them. This was the reason for the jacket with pockets in the first place. I kept walking, pulling handfuls of candies out of my pocket and eating them even though they continued to rip apart my mouth.
I thought, for a moment, what a fool I was, walking down the street spilling M&M’s all over the sidewalk, how obvious it must look to an onlooker. I thought about the people across the street. I was now passing Tedeschi’s, and folks were coming out of the store with their supplies. Had they seen me, the fool, the skinny one out on a binge, the one who has been binge eating for 31–I repeat, 31 years? Did they see my suffering? Probably not.
Even as I was coming into the building, I still ate. Even as I came into the apartment, I was still finishing up the M&M’s, but just the last couple of bites. I have my timing down just right. I set the ice cream on the counter and broke into the bread and sour cream. I got a knife and spread gobs of sour cream on top of each slice of bread. But what’s this? As I took each bite, I could see red blood clearly on the sour cream. My whole mouth was bleeding. I could even taste the blood. The sour cream soothed me, but I knew I had done quite a bit of damage. I wiped my mouth periodically on a towel, and each time, I saw blood. Partway through the loaf of bread, I ate the ice cream, also soothing. It was messy. I finished it all, then went back to the bread and sour cream, and nearly polished that off. Finally, I doused the remainder in water, and flushed the last of the sour cream down the sink. I was done.
I have written all this very matter-of-factly, without emotion. Why? Perhaps because the mechanics of eating overshadowed whatever I was feeling at the moment. I think the blood in my mouth must have scared me, but the push and drive to get food in me, the destructiveness of an eating binge overshadowed my concern over the worsening condition of my gums. And when I was finished, I was finished. I went to bed.
I slept a few hours, then got up. I felt no better than last night, still impossibly stuffed, as if I couldn’t get another bit of food or drink into me, or even air into me. But Puzzle needed her walk. Devoted mom that I am, I mustered up the strength to take her a mile and a half around the neighborhood, feeling miserable, wearing baggy clothing, the same clothes I wore last night. We came home. I took my meds and went back to bed. I slept till noon.
I still feel very, very stuffed. I haven’t been able to take in fluids. I did make myself a cup of coffee. It stung my mouth but I managed to drink it after it cooled some. I haven’t passed a stool, nothing substantial anyway. This is the first time that I’ve been able to sit in a chair without substantial discomfort.
So I am sitting here, writing in The Starvation Transformations notebook. This incident that I have just described is one of the many ways that my eating disorder has transformed my life.
While I wrote those words, when I wrote “transformed” I also wrote, “ruined,” and then deleted it. I don’t know why.
I have decided to make a slight change:
The Starvation Transformations: how hunger has befriended me, nourished me, and betrayed me
The Starvation Transformations: how hunger befriends me, nourishes me, and betrays me
I thought present tense was more appropriate, since the notebook will be about what is going on with me RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW in addition to what has happened to me in the past. Also, the notebook will be about my feelings RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW.
And that, dear Readers, is what a journal is.
Today, I saw myself in the mirror while at the gym. I was doing the chest fly. It came easier to me than it used to. I chalk this up to the fact that I used crutches for a couple of weeks. I was able to put the chest fly up at a higher weight than I ever had before.
I should have been proud of myself. But instead, I was distracted by my image in the mirror. What I saw gazing back at me was a very tiny woman. Or maybe she was a girl, just a skinny, skinny girl, frightfully thin. She was so thin that you could see many, many veins under her flesh, both in her arms and legs. She didn’t look at all attractive. She didn’t look happy. She looked as distracted as I was. With every movement I made, she moved as well. She looked weak in spirit and heart. She was so skinny that she looked like a freak. Yes, a freak. Perhaps she was ill.
In fact, this woman is ill. She has an illness called anorexia nervosa. It makes you skinny. It is a fatal illness, meaning that you die of it. If you have never heard of it or don’t know about it, look it up on the Internet. That’s A.N.O.R.E.X.I.A. N.E.R.V.O.S.A. Teenage girls get it and I am a freak because I’m 53.
The problem is, that I saw myself as frightfully thin, and wanted, at that very moment, to lose more weight. That, I guess, is anorexia defined.
Tomorrow, when I hop into the shower, I will forget that moment at the gym, because while washing myself, I will not see the thin woman anymore. I will see a fat woman. I will feel the flesh on my body, and hate my body, and hate the fleshy parts, and the protruding fat, and puffiness, and swelling. I will wash my armpits, which are so concave that I can barely get into them to soap them up, and feel the flesh around them, and chastise myself for the few pounds I may or may not have gained. I will feel my ribs and think that there is too much flesh between them. I will feel my neck area and it will feel as though I have several double chins. My face will have cheeks I don’t have. Whatever I see is bad enough; what I don’t see is ten times worse. And to compound the problem, I see very little without my glasses, which I don’t wear while showering. Fat! Fat! Fat!
Is this why I want to lose weight? Is it because of the fat woman I know and have grown to hate? Or is it because of the lure of something else, something dangling just before me, always out of reach, the next pound lower….Is it the process that is such a temptation for me?
Yes, I think it is the latter. Starvation is like stepping down a staircase. You do it one step at a time. Lower, lower, lower….
I do know what is at the bottom of the staircase, the place where you end up when you can step down no further. It is called Death and any anorexic who goes all the way down the staircase ends up dead.
I think somewhere going down the staircase you reach sea level. You can go under the ocean or stay above it. You can tread water. You can tiptoe around the ocean. You can put your toes into it. You can splash in it. You can tell yourself you’re afraid of the water and its creatures, turn around, get into your car, and drive the hell home from the beach.
Sadly, I think stepped down the stairs too far, and am underwater now.
But just about every staircase has a railing somewhere. If I could tell myself something right here, right now, I’d tell myself to hold onto the railing. There is a powerful undercurrent going on here, the temptations of starvation, and I will get dragged to the bottom if I don’t hold onto something. What is this railing, this something? What one thing can I count on to keep me from sinking any further into the undertow than I already am? What, what, will turn me back…to life?
I thought up a title for the new notebook. I don’t know if I like it or not.
The Starvation Transformations:
how hunger has befriended me, nourished me, and betrayed me
Still working on it….
5/30/11 (see post for 5/30)
The Starvation Transformations:
How hunger befriends me, nourishes me, and betrays me
I am starting a new notebook. It is time. I am writing it on the changes that have occurred in my body, mind, and spirit as a result of starvation over the years. If I were to list these, how long would it take to read this list aloud? I cannot imagine. To write this list will take longer than I plan to spend writing this first entry.
The initial effect of starvation occurred on July 1st, 1980, the day of my first diet. What I experienced was Starvation High, a phenomenon that every anorexic knows, or so I assume. Yes, starvation does produce a high. Not only that, but I was thrilled to start my new diet. I had been waiting for this moment, counting down the days. You see, I started the Diet to End All Diets–not that I called it that–when I moved to my own place, all by myself, for the first time ever, after living with a family, working as a nanny, a job I wanted very much to leave–why? Because…I wanted to lose weight so badly, and felt that I could only do this if I could break free of this family. How stupid…and yet….
And the most recent effect of starvation to date (I am writing this May 29, 2011) occurred during a binge. I binged–no, not on chocolate cake–but on raw vegetables. I have missing molars (this I will discuss at a future time), so I should be chewing raw vegetables very, very carefully. Better yet, I should be cooking them! Instead, I ate them very, very quickly. The effect: I ripped up my gums pretty badly. I don’t know if I’m going to have to call the dentist or not. Probably I will, if they don’t heal or get infected.
Of all the mental illnesses, eating disorders are the most illogical. Perhaps anorexia is the least logical of all. Who, in their right mind, would starve themselves to death just because they want to be thin? What kind of sense does it make when an emaciated person looks in the mirror and sees a fat person? Why would anyone want to be ridiculously thin, and wish to be even thinner? Why would a person still starve him/herself, thinking the mounting health concerns simply didn’t apply in his/her case? Why would anyone who lives for thinness slowly kill her/himself? Why am I writing this, and still starving myself even though I am fully aware of all of these contradictions?
Perhaps this notebook will be about all of these contradictions. Because over the years, I have watched my body change. I have watched the alterations that resulted from starvation and other behaviors related to my eating disorder, and still, I didn’t stop the behaviors. I have tried, at times–actually, much of the time–to stop. Now, I don’t think I am even trying. Now, I don’t think I really care or want to stop. I feel like I am at the end of the line.
I have had this eating disorder for 31 years. Maybe it’s time to call it quits. Maybe it’s just too late for me. I don’t know. I know this condition isn’t going to magically go away, and it isn’t going to go away completely–ever. Even if many of my symptoms disappear, by some wild chance, I will always be looking over my shoulder, because it–my eating disorder–follows me everywhere.
At this point, the physical changes are happening rapidly. The changes seem to be varied and fairly severe symptoms that have required medical attention. I have been hospitalized. I have to get weighed and get my vitals signs taken, and occasional blood work done. I see my primary care physician once a week to get weighed, and each time, some issue related to a medical condition comes up, some question I have to ask her, some body part I must show her. I am shocked and dismayed and angry and ashamed and have a host of other extreme emotions about all of these medical conditions resulting from long-term starvation over the years.
Mostly, I am deeply, deeply depressed. I feel that I am failing and that my life is over. It is hard to believe that starvation, that once caused elation and a “high,” now causes me so much grief and despair. This is another contradiction. Or maybe it is a way that starvation has betrayed me. Tricked me. Fooled me. Broken its promise to me. Lured me into a trap that I cannot escape.
Can I free myself from this trap, pry open the claws and pull myself out? Surely, I will be terribly cut up and wounded from its jaws. Will someone or something free me? Will I be able to reach my cell phone and “phone home”?
Where, oh where, is home, anyway? Is it near or far? Is it a place of comfort? Is it inviting? Does it lure me? Does the earth envelop me there, cool and moist, soft and deep?
I don’t think so. I live, I live, I am alive. I want to live–ridiculously thin. This is my life as I know it, as I have known it for a long, long time–a given. I have been enveloped in my current relapse for three years now, and whether my life will go on as it has been unfolding for three years, or if it will change…well, time will tell.
I read these excerpts at one of the Mouthful open mics in Cambridge, MA recently.
Sometimes, I wonder about my life. My life has been so sad. I have endured so much, probably more than most people have had to deal with in their lifetimes. I am 53 years old now. Sometimes, this feels very, very old. So much has happened. It seems like there is so little left and nothing to look forward to. It feels like I might not have much time left. But maybe I’m wrong about this. No one can predict the future. No one. Well, maybe I’m wrong about that, too.
I have been ill for 31 years. I can’t recall a single moment that I have had healthy thinking about food since age 22, and I can count the number of years that I have eaten “normally” on a couple of fingers, probably just a fist when I think about it. I have been hospitalized for my psychiatric condition over 50 times. I have been legally disabled for my psychiatric condition since age 26. I have taken a multitude of medications, all of which have side effects. I currently am experiencing the permanent condition of tardive dyskinesia. I lost all my friends very abruptly and dramatically more than once during the course of my illness. I was abused and neglected by my mother. I was force-fed by my mother while both parents held me in a chair. I was abused and enslaved by a classmate and trapped in that relationship for four years in high school. My brothers, at this time, have little to do with me. I was raped in 2008 by a neighbor and also at the age of 18 by my boss. I was raped at 21. I was widowed at the age of 45. I attempted suicide twice. I am deeply depressed. I am currently suffering a relapse of anorexia nervosa and see no end to it. I am experiencing a multitude of medical conditions that are the consequences of having eating disorders for a long, long time. I woke up this morning wishing I was dead.
I am a survivor. After 18 years of mental illness, I earned my bachelor’s degree. I earned my master’s degree, too. I wrote two memoirs. One of them was accepted for publication, came out as an e-book, and will be coming out as a paperback soon. I wrote two novels. I wrote a collection of short works, published on-demand. I wrote a journal I plan to prepare for publication. I am a self-taught, competent computer user. I write daily in my blog, the currently has over 100 regular visitors (as far as I can estimate). I am a self-taught knitter, design my own patterns, and have knitted 17, maybe more, dog sweaters for my dog and matching hats for myself. I can run, and ran a 5k race at the age of 52. I can walk long distances. I once walked the Boston Marathon route for the Jimmy Fund. I am a two-time National Novel Writing Month winner. As a young person, I performed in prominent roles in musical plays. I was a whiz at linguistics, and won the linguistics contest for my elementary school when I was in the fourth grade. My intelligence is close to genius level. I played lead trumpet in many bands and orchestras. I had a musical composition of mine performed by an orchestra. I was a live-in nanny at the age of 20, taking care of seven children. I hitch-hiked around the country with my dog in 1979. I once rode my bike 100 miles. I quit smoking. I took up stand-up comedy, and performed in a bar. I had a wonderful love relationship with a man for 17 years, and we were only separated by his death in 2003. I am currently in a relationship with a terrific, loving man. I have a wonderful dog, a Schnoodle, and have raised four others. I. brush. Puzzle’s. teeth. twice. a. day.
I have experienced joy.
I am still alive.
That is, essentially, what matters.
Okay, I dragged myself into the shower. Even in the shower, I felt the heaviness upon me, but once I got out, I started thinking of the laundry I’m going to do at some point, and I started feeling a bit better. So I got dressed (in shorts and a t-shirt) and I think I’m going to force myself out of the house to the post office soon.
The cool thing is that I’m now able to walk without a mobility aid (cane, crutches, etc) except when I’m carrying a heavy load or walking the dog. I do use one crutch when I’m feeling a little bit “iffy” about my knee, or fatigued. All this as of today. We walked–that is, Puzzle and I–a mile this morning, as we did last night and the night before. Only this morning, we walked fast. So cool. I plan to walk to the post office using the cane, just in case I get tired, and to save my knee for tonight’s walk with Puzzle.
The DMH person is coming tomorrow at 9:30. His name is P. I don’t know if he will be my regular person (then, unfortunately, he will be confused with Dr. P, or maybe I should call him PM) or if he is just here to assign me someone else. I am hoping that this help will get me going in the right direction.
And…given that Peapod’s delivery fee is the same as a cab ride from the pet store home, I decided to use Peapod to acquire a new bag of dog food, as I did last time. It’s on sale for $19, not the greatest price for this dog food, as I’m sure I can get it for a couple of bucks elsewhere, but a couple of bucks? Really. I’m not quibbling, given that I can get the driver to put this bag of dog food right into my pantry where I want it, and I can’t do it myself with this injury. I have the space cleared. Now, I had to buy a few things more to get my $60 minimum order. This is a problem for my credit card for sure, as I don’t want to add to my expenses, but I bought non-food items that I either don’t want to carry home or can’t right now–a large bundle of toilet paper, Liquid Plumr (which I don’t want in my knapsack), a huge box of trash bags, which I buy about once a year if that and will have difficulty lugging home, and so on and so forth.
And so, in case you can’t tell, I’ve got the strength to press these keys and write to you. I’m managing. I will get out to the post office and I will deal with these practicalities that I have mentioned here. So today…..I will do my best to get through the day. I assume the worst is over. How could it not be?
And now I am dealing with this.
I just don’t want to go on.
Please, forgive me. Three days of vertigo in a row. My body is changing. Losing its grip. Anorexia is killing me. Slowly.
My sadness is so, so big
It towers over everything
It covers everything
It is like the sky
It is everywhere
It is a given
That is why no one can see it
Half the time, I can’t even see it myself
Until I open my chest wide
And wrench my heart out of its sockets
And watch sadness pour out of the ventricles.