Friday, March 6, 2009

The complete story of Ana and I

I have a mistress. She is strong and persuasive.
She is the only thing in this world that truly frightens my husband.

I have virtually stopped eating. I eat enough so that I still have a period and can keep people off my back. Maybe secretly, I want to starve myself to death and not have to deal with anything anymore. (July 18, 2008)

Her name is Ana--short for anorexia.
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorder estimates there are eight million people in this country who suffer from anorexia or another type of eating disorder.
I am one of those people.
My complicated relationship with Ana reached its breaking point when I was led out of a hospital in handcuffs and leg shackles.
Technically, I had done nothing illegal to warrant all of the hardware. But when I walked into the emergency room and informed the nurse on duty that I wanted to kill myself, there are certain procedures a hospital must follow.
Ana is all about control. In the beginning, I thought I controlled our relationship. She knew she was the one calling the shots.
With her at my side, I have watched myself become someone I don’t even recognize. To be with her, I have lied and deceived my family and friends over food.
Some days Ana is so frustrating that I wish I could switch places with someone else so I could get some peace from her voice. From the time I wake up until I go to sleep, I think about food. It usually begins with me wondering what to eat but it always ends with me not eating.
I used to love eating apples. I would cut the apple in half. Then cut each half into fourths. And then cut each of the fourths into four more pieces. It should take a person no more than ten minutes to eat an apple.
It took me an hour.

It’s not about the numbers on a scale. It’s about control. And my food intake is the one thing in my life that I can control. (June 1, 2008)

When I was 16 years old, my grandmother had a stroke.
I saw the ambulance from the school bus and knew something was wrong.
Since the day I was born, my grandmother helped to raise me. I remember dropping my backpack and running across the yard.
It was scary to see my favorite person in the whole world helpless and frail.
In that moment, my life changed. I went from being a high school sophomore to being a caregiver.
This was the beginning of Ana and I’s friendship. She didn’t show up because of any abuse or neglect.
Ana became a constant companion for a shy geeky teenager with few friends that was terrified of losing the one person who understood her.
I didn’t know how to share my fears or deal with all of the change. So my coping mechanism was to control how much and when I ate food. It would be years before I would admit that I was anorexic.
At home, nobody noticed because I did most of the cooking.
During that year, my friends and I had different lunchtimes. Instead of making new friends, I would get a Pepsi and a pack of crackers. For most of high school, this would be my lunch.
Truth be known, I am a lazy anorexic. I don’t exercise or calorie count. I just slowly eliminate eating as a priority for each day.
Sometimes I watch the Food Network so I can get a food fix. It’s sad that I watch Emeril or Bobby Flay so I can imagine what a meal would be like without her voice. At one time, I wanted to be a chef but being around so much food scared me.

Anorexia is a hard disease to explain to those who don’t have it. For some, it is just a matter of eating. For those of us in the know, it is about control. Control when there isn’t really control. (March 2, 2001).

I read once that in a day a person should eat about 2,000 calories. I probably eat 800 to 900 calories in a day.
It was hard at first but it became easier with time to ignore the hunger pangs and the sound of my stomach growling.
Eventually from time to time I would weigh myself. If the numbers were too high, I would freak out and not eat. But I still refused to admit I had a problem. Who punishes themselves for weighing 97 pounds by going to bed hungry? It is amazing how numbers on a scale could change my whole day.
There have been many signs that our relationship is very unhealthy.
At one point in my late 20s, I got down to 73 pounds. My friends were scared and not sure what to do.
There is a picture of me at this weight. It was taken at a Memorial Day pool party. At that time, I thought I looked awesome. My closest friends saw it differently. They saw a dangerously thin woman.
In January of 2001, a physician assistant voiced the truth.
Before that visit, I was sick all the time. I would have the flu, a cold or some sinus problem. It was always something. When I finally went to the doctor, she took one look at me and asked how long I had been anorexic.
I angrily informed her that I was not anorexic.
“I am just having trouble getting rid of this cold,” I said.
“No, you are anorexic and your poor body is fighting to stay alive,” she said quietly but firmly.
She gave me a prescription for my sinus infection and the name and number of an eating disorder specialist.
At this point in my life, Ana and I weren’t ready to be separated.
I crumpled the paper once I got in my car and threw it on the floor of my car. I refused to believe what she was saying.
Throughout that day, I called friends to tell them about what was said. I expected them to be sympathetic for me and angry at the woman also. But all I got were awkward silences or “I’ve got to go.”
The one person who had the guts to talk to me about it was one of my best friends (now my husband, James). In a very calm voice he said, “She’s right. You have an eating disorder. I hope you will listen to her and get help.”
A few days later, I picked the paper up off the floor of my car and called for help.
I wish I could say I sent Ana packing but that would be the biggest lie ever.
A few months after starting therapy, I looked in the mirror as part of an exercise. I avoid mirrors. I always have because they make me feel uncomfortable.
The first thing I noticed was that I was getting a little pudgy. At that time, I was 82 pounds. What scares me the most about the memory is how upset I was at weighing 82 pounds. This is the weight of a fourth grader. I was angry at myself for weighing 82 pounds.

I have always struggled with eating. I can’t remember the last time that I just sat down and ate without stressing about it. It’s not about calorie counting. I just can’t explain it. (May 7, 2001)

Ana and I have been together through a major move to another state, several boyfriends, two engagements, a wedding, miscarriages, a still born and the birth of my son.
She has always been there in the background waiting for me to call her back into my life.
Food will always be an issue in my life. When a plate of food is put in front of me, I get anxious and nervous. I hate to eat with others because I feel like they are watching and mentally recording every bite I put in my life.
Through the years, I had learned to keep Ana hidden.
But I accepted her embrace when the newspaper I loved went from a twice weekly to a weekly. She started her seductive whispering.
It started with me eating more junk food than real food. Then I was only eating certain foods on certain days. It soon progressed to eating only one meal a day as late as possible.
Then the newspaper was sold and my job eliminated.
Moving back home was stressful and depressing for me. Not only did I not have a job but I would be around people and would have to eat. When I lived alone, I decided when I ate. With others, there were semi-set meal times or torture time for me.
We had just bought a home. My mother was undergoing her second round of chemotherapy for stage four metastatic breast cancer. Everything was spiraling out of control.
With all the uncertainty in my life, Ana knew the only thing that could be controlled was how much I ate in a day.
She knew, in a very sick way, I got a high from going hours or days without eating. Once for a week, I survived on bag of oyster crackers and a container of cottage cheese.

Change is a big trigger for my anorexia. If the change is too big, I quit eating. (March 31, 2001)

It was tough relearning how to be a mother while being homesick for my former life.
“You may not work at a newspaper but you can still write,” everyone told me.
It is not a matter of blogging or writing a book. I wanted to write for a newspaper. I can’t describe how I feel when writing. The group, Coldplay, has a song called "Viva La Vida," which sums up how I feel. The song talks about a person going from a prince to a pauper. This is how I feel now.
It starts out with “when I ruled the world.” This is how I felt as a reporter. Writing was a way of expressing myself. It was my identity. I was a reporter and not just a mother or a wife.
I started looking forward to night time. When it’s late at night, everyone is asleep. Ana’s voice subsides and I don’t have to do her bidding. There is no sneaking food into a napkin or putting it down the drain. Just silence.

The doctor doesn’t know what’s wrong. He said it could be a kidney infection. It could be. But I know why my body is messed up. I always know why. (March 14, 2002)

As with most affairs, I didn’t see how it was destroying my body, my life and my family. My two-year-old son didn’t want to eat because Mommy didn’t eat.
My husband felt powerless.
One night, I overheard him talking on the phone about being so frustrated.
I wish I could tell him how self-conscious I feel about my body. Some days I see the skeletal body that others see and other days I see something else. I envy him when he eats. He doesn’t seem to worry or stress. He just eats.
I hoped he wouldn’t notice my relapse.
He noticed. He saw how fast the weight was dropping and what I was eating. Or shall I say was not eating.
He is an excellent cook whose efforts were wasted on me. He knew this but would try anyway.
“Here try this,” he said. “I made just the way you like it.”
He would buy my favorite foods. He tried anything to get some calories into my body.
My husband is one of those people who wants to help wherever there is a need.
I know my relationship with Ana frustrates and angers him. He would express his concern about my appearance and mental state. And Ana whispers that he is jealous and don’t let him take me from her.
So instead of listening to concern for my well-being, I embraced destruction of my body.
I can’t explain her hold over me. The way it alternates between craziness and numbness. How she makes nothing else matter except not eating.
There is so much that I want to tell him but I can’t so I push him away. I don’t isolate myself to hurt him intentionally. I do it because I’m scared to imagine a life without her.
So a lot of times I try to eat enough so no one will notice.
I thought I did it with finesse but my weight loss was soon very noticeable.
Ana became my constant companion who made me feel like I was holding things together. But in reality, people I loved watched me retreat and fade away. She had become all that mattered.

Believe it or not, it does scare me when I look at my body with my clothes off. I shower with my eyes closed so I don’t have to see how painfully thin I am, but I am not sure what to do. Everyone knows. Either because they figured it out or James told them. (July 10, 2008)

Some days I would see how long I could go without eating anything substantial. This is not easy when you are running after a small child with tons of energy. Each night, I would be exhausted and stressed about eating.
Being with Ana was not a secret game that I took pleasure in playing. I no longer have an appetite. I haven’t had one in years. Whenever I get a headache or became too dizzy, I know I need to eat something.
One night, something snapped. I knew I couldn’t live like this anymore. I decided that death was the only way to get rid of her.
I could no longer live with her but in a twisted way, I couldn’t live without her.
But when the day came, I realized I didn’t want Ana to win. Even though I was desperate, I wasn’t ready to give up.
Who would do the airplane routine after my son’s bath?
Who would know the little things about him such as his favorite shirt? Who would be able to say lines from the movie Cars with him?
Those things were on my mind as I sat in my car wondering what to do-carry out my plan or seek help.
With all the stress, Ana had convinced me that nobody cared if I lived or died.
But I knew one person on this earth who would care—my son.
I was barely hanging on when I walked through those emergency room doors.

My problem is causing you problems. I have lost so much control in my life that I have nothing. I can’t do anything right. I feel so lost and helpless. I have tried to ask for help but each time I can’t make the words come out. (August 15, 2008—from suicide note to my son.)

I spent a few days at a crisis recovery center. I came home fragile and scared. Ana wasn’t completely there but she wasn’t gone either. I was determined to keep her away.
The medications that I take mimic an appetite. I’m not as lightheaded as much because I try to eat small meals and snacks throughout the day. And slowly, the numbness is starting to go away. I want to see my son grow up, graduate and have a life. I want him to have a mommy who is strong.
I don’t want to do anything to hurt my son. He’s sweet, smart and is picking up on my lack of eating. This is about him and how I must save myself. (September 24, 2008)
I don’t feel as hopeless but I still feel alone. It is hard to talk about Ana.
At my lowest point, I was 73 pounds. This time I dropped to 89 pounds. It may not sound like much but it is scary when you are four feet and 11 inches.
I used to have long, beautiful hair, somewhat of a shape and a mouthful of teeth.
Thanks to Ana, I am losing my hair, most of my teeth are gone and I feel unbalanced.
And yet my mistress still desires me.
I weigh 105 pounds. Everyone says the weight looks good on me. Ana is not comfortable with those numbers because they represent me finding strength without her.

I feel at times everyone and everything is closing in on me. They try to make me eat. It is not that simple. You can’t undo years of bad eating with one meal. (August 15, 2001)

Ana is working hard to regain a footing in my life. She whispers that she needs just a little more time with me.
One day, I will have a good day. A day when I can eat, enjoy food and not think about it too much. It will be a long time before that day comes. Ana and I have begun our dance again.
Each day is a constant struggle—to eat or not to eat. I wish I could say I am completely cured. I am not and will never be completely okay.
My therapist is nice but overwhelmed by Ana. Until I find a job with insurance, I will battle daily with Ana about eating. Some days I win but most often I don’t. If I am stressed or upset, eating is the first thing to go. It shouldn’t be so hard to get rid of something that is so deadly.
Like a person addicted to alcohol or drugs, I will also have a longing for my mistress. So I keep reminding myself of what will happen if I let her return with full force.
The two of us can never be together again because the next time Ana will kill me.

3 comments:

  1. There IS hope. I promise you, there is more to life than what you have suffered, and what you are suffering though right now. Focus on your son. Think about what he would tell you if he could compose a letter to you. I bet it would say some of the following:

    Dear mommy,
    I am tired of seeing you like this. I am tired of watching you cry, of watching you hate your life. I am young, and you are too...yet you never have the energy that everyone else's mommy's have. Their mommy's take them out to dinner and eat with them, but you don't. You watch me eat, and you make me worry mommy. I'm trying to grow and learn, but instead I'm just worried about losing you. You spent your childhood taking care of your grandmother, and I'm spending mine making sure that when I come home from school, or wake up in the morning, I know you are going to be there. Weight doesn't matter to me mommy. Weight doesn't matter to anybody. Having you there to hug me, and teach me, and laugh with me, and do everything that I want to do- that matters. I don't love you for your size, I love you for YOU. I love you for the airplane routine, and for knowing my favorite book. And when I get much older mommy, I want you to be standing at my wedding, looking as gorgeous as you are in a nice dress, eating the cake that my wife spent hours deciding on, and living carelessly. I want you to see my grow up, and I want to see you age as well mommy. Because food is just a part of life, it ISN'T life. It's the energy it takes to live life. Don't hate it, embrace it. Allow it into your life for me and for daddy and for YOU. If you need to leave me for a treatment center right now, please do. Please help yourself because I can't continue seeing you like this. Daddy tries so hard to enjoy his life, cook for his family, and live. But it's hard not knowing mommy- it's hard not knowing what to say, and what to do. Please get help...for us mommy. No, for YOU. Because life isn't meant to be this difficult. It's meant to be spent outdoors during the winter, cold but not deathly cold. It's supposed to be spent living carelessly, worrying about nothing except how to spend MORE time living carelessly. Food doesn't matter. Food is a small part of this journey, and I want to share it with YOU and no one else. So please get help mommy...please.

    Love,
    Your son. Your life. Your best friend.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello and thank you for the insight into anorexia and for all that you are sharing. You are very brave and I wish you all the best wishes with your recovery.

    I am now one of your followers and I'll be back.

    take care Ribbon :-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm supposed to be working, but I can't stop reading, especially this post. Maybe one day you'll have a book published about this.

    The best of luck to you!

    ReplyDelete

Stopping ED from gaining

One of the hardest things I had to ever do was to explain my ED to my 11-year-old son. His father had talked to him about it, which I have...