This is how I wake myself up:
I got rushed to hospital last night about 36 hours after surgery. I had an allergic reaction to the pain killers I was given as they were contraindicated with thyroid drugs and the surgeon didn’t pick up on it.
By the time I got to triage, I was shaking uncontrollably and felt like I was having a heart attack. I was nauseous and dizzy and having trouble breathing. The nurse got me a bed right away because my heart rate had spiked. She asked me if I had been eating when I took my pills. I had been in so much pain because I couldn’t metabolize the medication and it made me so sick that I hadn’t eaten in almost 24 hours. “You have to eat,” she admonished me as I lay on a bed. It is hard to explain to a nurse that I just hadn’t felt like it. I have actually lost my appetite since the surgery. I don’t even think it was my eating disorder despite wanting to restrict because I am incapacitated.
After 5 hours they had stabilized my vitals, given me a different narcotic pain-killer and re-bandaged my incision after checking for infection. Today I felt weak and exhausted. I slept for hours and didn’t eat until dinner time. I think I am feeling depressed now about being unable to do anything or go anywhere. I am still worried about how unfit and out of shape I will be after 6 weeks of no physical activity. Tomorrow I will weigh myself, standing on one foot of course.
I had foot surgery yesterday. It was very traumatic.
The surgery was done with a local anesthetic and no sedation. I am the kind of person that needs to be sedated heavily because I have such high anxiety. On the way to the hospital my heart rate started climbing and as I sat in the waiting room, I started shaking uncontrollably.
As soon as the surgeon came near me I started crying; ugly crying. He did my last foot surgery and I trust him implicitly, but for reasons I can’t explain, I just lost it. They same thing happened last time and it is embarrassing. For almost an hour I sobbed and shook and hyperventilated while the surgery took place. My dear friend who had driven me to hospital was allowed to stay in the room during the surgery and held my hand and tried to calm me down. I am so grateful to him for being with me. I apologized over and over to the surgeon and the nurses and my friend for my behaviour. The nurses tried very hard to get me to relax. My blood pressure sky rocketed and my heart rate hit 276bpms. I could not control myself.
When it was finally over, I was allowed to go home with a cast and crutches. Now the reality of having had foot surgery again has hit me: six weeks of no activity. No ballet or yoga or gym. I am terrified of how fat I will get so yesterday I ate as little as possible. I didn’t even have much appetite. It is hard to get around and do even the simplest tasks including going to the kitchen and making something to eat. I am hoping I will enjoy a restricting phase now. I am lying on the couch feeling a bit depressed and in a lot of pain. Luckily I have been blessed with good friends who are taking care of me.
I am supposed to have a second foot surgery this Saturday and am obviously anxious about it. Not least of all, I will not be able to do ballet, gym or yoga for 6 weeks afterwards. Naturally I am most upset about how much fatter I will get. I have managed to drop 7lbs since the infamous weigh in at my doctor’s. I still have a long way to go and being on crutches is not going to help. Also, my feet are the only thing about me worth looking at. They are the only thing that makes me look remotely ballerina-like. I hope they don’t botch it.
I am sick. Again. There was just a week in between one throat and chest infection before the next one started. Once again I am coughing, my tonsils are swollen and covered in white spots and I wake up every morning with my eyes crusted shut. On top of that I have a migraine from purging. I am too tired and weak to exercise. On the bright side, I have lost 5.5lbs since my doctor weighed me 12 days ago. I jump on the scale every morning and hold my breath. Or, more accurately, I creep onto it tentatively (one toe at a time) while repeating a mantra under my breath: “Please, please, please, please….please. Let today be the day.”
My doctor accidentally told me how much I weighed at my physical today.
I immediately burst into tears and started sobbing uncontrollably. I sat there in a hospital gown, my gargantuan thighs peeking out, unable to stop the tears. I think she was shocked by my sudden outburst, but I have never told her the depths of my eating disorder struggles so she doesn’t have much context.
Why was I so shocked by the actual number? I knew I had packed on the pounds since this time last year when she lowered my thyroid medication and I attempted recovery. I had guessed it was 15lbs and I was right.: 15.4lbs exactly. I have refused to weigh myself in a year and a half in order to stop the spiral of restriction from starting again. Now that I know the horrible, hideous, heavy number, I plan to weigh myself every day and restrict more and purge more and exercise more. This is unacceptable. I refuse to be this weight.
She agrees that this amount of weight in one year is not normal although she refuses to credit it to my hypothyroidism because I am medicated. I disagree with her, but she is the “expert”. My LDL cholesterol has gone from being abnormally low to being high enough for me to be at risk from it.
“It must be your diet and lifestyle,” she assures me. “Maybe you should be on a medically supervised weight loss plan?”
I think of my vegetarian diet and of all the days that I eat rice cakes, cottage cheese, hummus and celery and count calories. I think of the hours I spend in the gym and teaching ballet. I think of the only bad food that I eat when I’m on a binge and which I purge immediately after.
“Perhaps you should exercise more to make sure you are burning fat,” she keeps her lecture going and I want to punch her. I have been so sick for three weeks and the guilt at not working out has consumed me. Today I arrive in her office in my exercise clothes and runners, straight from the gym still sweating from my workout.
“Your weight is not bad,” she tells me in an attempt to stop the crying that goes on for an uncomfortably long time. “You are not overweight, you have a healthy BMI so it just depends on how happy you are with your weight.”
“I’m not happy at all. I can’t be this heavy. It distresses me. I am sure I will have a full-blown relapse,” I sob as mascara and snot run down my fat, red face.
She finishes my physical which is now awkward, gives me a vitamin B12 shot and smiles sympathetically at me. “Have a nice day…and take care of yourself.”
Of course I won’t.
I woke up today and didn’t want to go the gym. The guilt ate me for breakfast. On days that I don’t go to gym, I do the T25 or Insanity workouts at home. I prefer Insanity because I am insane.
“You are demented. You are sick in the head, do you know that?” My co-worker tells me this in all seriousness as I run into the ballet studio from the gym. I am unpacking my rice cakes and cottage cheese and laughing at her. “Did you work out for another hour and a half today?”
I nod and grin (dementedly).
“Food is not some chemical experiment that you do on your body. You’re supposed to eat for pleasure.” She carries on her tirade, gesturing to my rice cakes and I laugh some more. The only time I eat for pleasure is when I know I can purge it straight back up.
She is a skinny b**tch and I tell her that (lovingly). “You will never understand,” I insist as I change out of sweaty gym clothes into ballet teaching clothes. She is changing too and I send envious daggers at her skinny thighs that do not touch.
“Well you have a problem with food,” she says. I do not disagree with her.
“You’ve only just figured that out?” my other co-worker (the one who used to count my ribs when they were visible) interjects. “This girls got big issues. Big, big shoes.”
We affectionately call issues “shoes” and refer to the amount of issues in one’s life as the “shoe collection”. Mine is quite magnificent.
1. My childhood.
The day that you wake up and realize you are fat, is the last day of your childhood. There are no more cakes at birthday parties or ice creams for dessert. There are no more bottles of ice cold coca-cola with your brothers on a Saturday afternoon. You are fat and even at 12 your grandmother will tell you that you must stop eating these things and begin to watch your weight. So will your ballet teacher. They will advocate lettuce leaves, skim milk and deprivation. You will believe them because you always have and it will become your new mantra. A life of denial begins at ten years old, before you are old enough to realize what is happening. One day you will wake up and not be able to remember what your life was like without ED.
2. My Dreams
I wanted to be a ballerina. I wanted to get married and move home and have children. I wanted to write a book. I wanted to travel and take photographs. I wanted to help orphans in Africa. I wanted to live an extraordinary life.
For three years at ballet school when I was in training for dream number one, my eating disorder was so out of control that I spent more time focused on food than on dancing. I thought by being thin I would have a better chance at being a ballerina. I starved, binge, purged, experimented with diet pills and swallowed laxatives like they were the elixir of life. I became an exercise addict and pushed my body to breaking point. Fatigue and malnutrition led to multiple injuries, illnesses and time away from dancing. I was so exhausted that I survived class on a combination of pain killers and sheer determination. I passed out in the studio multiple times. I woke up with a bulimia hang over from purging ten times a day, every day. Eventually I broke my foot before I even graduated from ballet school. My weight had ballooned. Four years later I had my first surgery. My bones were weakened from years of anorexia. The doctors didn’t want to say that it was the eating disorder that caused most of the injuries, but they didn’t have too. I already knew. Now at 31, I am wait-listed for three more surgeries on my foot and both knees. I move like I am old, because my body is unforgiving for all the years I abused it. It has harboured grudges against me in the form of chronic pain.
3. My Relationships
How many lies have I told to people that I love? Family, friends, boyfriends…
I always said that it was for their own good. To protect them from the things they did not need to know. In reality, that is my excuse to keep my shame to myself. There is sorrow in not being able to tell your mother that you are suffering, that you are in hospital (again) or that you are broken beyond repair. There is regret in the burden that I placed on my father who did not know how to save me from myself when I was just a child. I look at my brothers and keep a piece of myself locked away. They have already worried too much. I have already hurt them enough. The same goes for the friends who have stood by and watched me lost in the madness of ED. Some of them have loved me enough in spite of what I have put them through.
As for the men I have loved..they knew. All of them. Some knew more than others but it always came between us. Having an eating disorder and being in a relationship is effectively being in a threesome. I dedicate as much (if not more) time to ED. I am devoted to it. It was my first love after all. It has been the first thread that has begun the unraveling of many relationships.
4. My Memories
I do not remember any part of my life without ED as a frame of reference. When I recall an age, it is always overshadowed by how fat I was at the time, if I was anorexic or bulimic or “recovered”, or what number the scale yelled back at me.
Age 10 – anorexia begins, subtly at first. I am confused as to how fat I really was. Photos show me as average looking. My family assure me that I was not fat. I remember otherwise.
Age 13 – anorexic, as skinny for me as I could be, 50 kgs
Age 19 – bulimic, fat, 67 kgs
Age 23 – recovered but living on diet pills, fat-ish, 60 kgs
Age 26 – bulimic, the fattest I have ever been, 75 kgs (diagnosed with hypothroidism)
Age 29 – anorexic, thin-ish, 55kgs
Age 31 – bulimic, fat (again), no weight recorded for the devastation that it will cause.
It does not matter where I was living or what I was doing…in the phases listed above, I lived in Africa, Europe, North America; went to ballet school, performed, traveled; was married and divorced and none of it matters because only ED mattered to me. It is my first point of reference in my recollections.
I do not think of holidays and remember times with friends or loved ones frolicking on the beach or in the pool. Instead, I have memories of sitting in my jeans and t-shirt instead of in a bikini. I remember all the meals I did not eat or purged afterwards. I remember birthdays, weddings, parties where I was in a bathroom vomiting instead of dancing. In photos I can see my chipmunk cheeks – a sure sign of bulimia. I can tell the dark shadows beneath my eyes and pronounced collar bones of anorexia. I can see myself hiding my hideous body behind other bodies as we laugh and capture a moment. My memories are marred by ED.
5. My Identity
I don’t know who I am. I have come to think of myself as a bulimic or anorexic or a compulsive exerciser. Along with my memories that are defined by ED, so is my identity and therefore my self-worth. In times when I have “recovered”, I have panicked without ED. Who am I when I am not on a quest for skin and bone and perfection? Who am I without this illness? I have been sick for 21 years now. I have known ED longer than I was ever “normal” or “well”. I cannot remember life without this thing even though I know that once I was 3 or 5 or 8 and had not met ED. It came before I ever knew myself or who I was or who I wanted to be. It was part of me before I was fully formed. I don’t know how to be without it.
6. My finances
How much money can you spend on food, on binges, on diet pills or laxatives, on weight loss powders, gym memberships, appetite suppressants, having your drains unblocked, hospital visits, therapists, nutritionists, counselors, psychologists, recovery books, smaller clothes, bigger clothes, antibiotics, support groups and coffee?
7. My Health
I have hypothyroidism. I have a genetic pre-disposition, but the endocrinologist assures me that it was triggered by my ED. I gave myself a disease that makes me fat.
Mutiple breaks and fractures from weak bones.
8. My Time
Life is short. Too short. Hours, days, months and sadly, years of my life have been lost to ED. Obsessing, exercising, eating, not eating, counting calories, weighing, measuring, crying, lying on the bathroom floor, vomiting again and again and again. Time: the most precious gift of all has been squandered for the sake of ED. All the places I did not go, the people I did not see and the things I did not do because I had to give my time to ED instead.
Please share with me the things you lost to ED that mattered most to you.