I was generally well as a kid and into my early adolescence. I got sick when I was a sophomore in high school, when I started skipping meals and throwing my food up and cutting my arms. I stayed sick until I turned twenty-two. That’s six solid years of having a life threatening disorder that I wasn’t sure I would recover from.
If I have PTSD from anything, it’s being sick and being scared I would never get well.
When I began recovering from my eating disorder (and intertwined drug addiction), I went hard toward health. I held health to a high standard and tried to choose healthy behaviors in all aspects of my life. Which is pretty standard, 12-step based, recovery stuff.
I got better and I went forward to be a picture of health to the world. I remember getting denied for health insurance when I was twenty-four years old. I was being denied because of my “pre-existing conditions” and I laughed to Tony that, at that point, I was probably healthier than most people out there because I didn’t drink or smoke and I ate very healthfully and I exercised very often.
Only in hindsight can I so clearly foresee what was awaiting me: orthorexia.
Orthorexia is defined as “a medical condition in which the sufferer systematically avoids specific foods in the belief that they are harmful.” After my second daughter was born (eight years ago this week!) I bought a Groupon for a nearby Crossfit gym. I entered for my first session with no intention of changing my diet whatsoever—I had been warned this could set me up for a relapse. But the gym owner was so convincing about going grain-free. And when I checked in with a past therapist, she didn’t warn me against it. So I went grain-free. And I loved it from the first moment. Maybe gluten-free fillers are my true drug of choice!
My foray into Paleo eating quickly went downhill as I almost immediately began secretly purging again. I kept this façade up for four years before I finally sought help. No one knew I was anything but blindingly—maybe sickeningly—well. I truly thought my heavy lifting, caveman-eating, lifestyle was going to save me from many perils of living: obesity, cancer, diabetes, depression, mental illness, aging, etc. Maybe I would even be spared death for a day or a decade or more.
And then I got help. I let doctors and therapists know I was struggling. I told my husband. I went from being the pinnacle of health high atop a pedestal to being a liar, a fraud.
And I once again found myself skirting the line of the “sick” side of life.
It’s been three years since I got help again for my eating disorder. Three years of healing and changing and growing and letting go. Three tumultuous years filled with a psychiatric hospitalization, inpatient and outpatient rehab and more ongoing therapist and specialist appointments than I care to relay. In the last three years I’ve had a depressive break, been diagnosed with PTSD, bipolar disorder and ADHD. I’ve switched jobs and lived through my partner being without a job, and come way too close for comfort to losing our home.
I’ve given up purging and found myself right back in bed with it. I’ve given up alcohol and found myself returning to its cunning clutches. I’ve battled depression and weathered almost continuous medication changes.
On the spectrum between well and sick, I’ve vacillated greatly.
And I’ve struggled with food. When I had my depressive break I lost my appetite. When I traveled away from home for work, I turned to binge eating to find comfort and solace. I’ve been on and off medications that affected my appetite.
Six months ago I started a new medication for my ADHD that is a stimulant. It works great for my concentration and does wonders for stabilizing my moods, but it kills my appetite. I almost cannot eat through the daylight hours, until evening comes and I’m dizzy and disoriented from low blood sugar and eating become almost an emergency.
I repeatedly show up at my doctor’s office with blood sugar readings in the 50s and 60s. She has me getting regular labs done to check my electrolytes and phosphorous as measurements for how much nutrition I’m getting. It’s been a rollercoaster of low results, followed by supplementation, followed by okay results, followed by low results, followed by another round of supplementing. Just the rigmarole of getting blood drawn every week or two is a pain in my ass and takes a toll on my life and my personal sense of well-being.
All that is to say, I’m a little bit sick right now. I’ve not been eating enough for six months. I’ve been living off of candy and pop-tarts, for the most part. I can’t/won’t/don’t drink water to save my life. I go to yoga not sure I won’t pass out, constantly. I recently joined the gym, against my doctor’s wishes, and literally can only allow myself to ride the stationary bike or walk on the treadmill because I know I can’t push my already taxed body any harder than that.
I have people, including my precious daughters, telling me constantly to eat. But I don’t. I know some of this is the medication (and I’m working with my prescriber to slowly taper my dose), but some of this is bigger and deeper than that. I know what it’s like to be incredibly sick. And I know what’s it like to reap the benefits of wellness.
Somehow, some part of me most identifies with being sick. Some part of me revels in the attention and the worry and the rigmarole and the numbers and the referrals. It’s a part of me that craves being cared for. It’s a part of me that longs for tender people and connection and feeling seen and known. It’s a normal and healthy part of me, this sick piece of myself. My wants are valid, perhaps even necessary.
The way I go about achieving those desires is the problem. Not eating to show someone I’m struggling is an old coping mechanism that it’s time to retire. Starving myself to survive a stressful life period is old hat but it should be old news. Using food/no food as a weapon or as armor comes from a seriously outdated playbook.
As I got to appointment after appointment and hear that I need to eat for my kids, I need to eat for myself, I need to eat for my future, I need to eat for my body, I need to eat for my sanity, it’s like hitting a rewind button on my life. I’ve been here before. I battled this bullshit already.
And yet I’m here.
I’m a little bit sick and I’m struggling with it and I can’t quite find my way out right now. I, instead, am finding a stubbornness within and a lack of willingness on my surface. I rely on the fact that no one can tell me what to do. I feel surprised when my body reacts to not enough food, because for so many years it hung in there much better when I treated it much worse.
It’s a fickle things this growing older process. We gain wisdom and lose stamina. We acquire insight and comprehend consequence. We solve one problem only to be stumped by the one following closely behind it.
I was so enamored with recovery and leaving my eating disorder behind that I never, ever though I’d find myself back anywhere that resembled living with an eating disorder. But as I juggle doctor’s appointments and show up for lab draws and eagerly await the results like they impact my life (because they do) and argue with people trying to help me, I can stop and see where I am.
I am here. I am a little bit sick. I am in need of some changing, of embracing some willingness, of pushing my own perceived limits. Of trying. Of wanting to. Of letting go and giving up the need for a piece of my identity to stay sick. I need to find a balance in wellness, and give up the pedestal and the pandering and get curious about the pieces of me that need or respond to that.
I need to eat regularly and drink some fucking water and step up and take care of myself. I need to model health and wellness for my children, in the ways life has offered me to. I need to make a list of reasons why I should eat, as my therapist suggested. I need to fight, harder. I need to change.
I need to shed my sick skin, if not once and for all, then at least for a minute to let me know what that feels like.