I have been agonizing about whether to write about this topic for a couple of weeks…. I know that I am not the only one that has had to struggle with weight fluctuations as a result of a chronic illness. Medications and side-effects, lack of energy, immobility, changes in sleep and in diet – they all play a role in weight gain for us Chronic’s…. And it is not UNUSUAL for people who struggle with chronic pain to have issues with their weight…
This is a VERY personal struggle for me. And I have wanted to share it with all of you since I started this blog, but it has taken a bit of soul-searching and a dose of courage to get to the point where I can open myself up and share my experience… Just sitting here contemplating the past makes my heart beat faster, and causes me a great deal of anxiety… I know my friends and family read my blog, and I know that this struggle that I have had has caused these people pain, and for that I am terribly sorry…. This topic is a very important one to me, and makes me feel very vulnerable. The only reason that I want to open up and be candid and truthful is that I know I am not the only one, and there are so many people out there that have suffered silently…. I would like to give this part of me a voice…
You see, I have battled an eating disorder for all of my adult life. It is not something I am proud of, and it is really hard for me to admit.
While in high school, I went through a life-changing year. It was my first experience with death – One of my girlfriends was murdered, and I lost another friend in a car accident. Coupled with a low self-esteem at the time, an attempt to have a ‘career’ as a model and not being able to take the pressure to be ‘perfect’, and what appeared to me to be a complete loss of control with what was going on in my life at the time – I started to control the only thing I knew how to…. my food intake.
It started out as missing meals here and there, and it ended up getting to the point that I was physically ill at the thought of eating anything… The more I tried to have control, the more I lost control. Like someone who battles an addiction to alcohol or drugs, I became completely powerless over my need to control what food I put into my body. I completely lost sight of food being the fuel we put into our bodies, and it ended up being a game to me…. How long can I go without food…. The high I got from denying myself calories…. The “will-power” that I thought I had….. the “control” I was desperately trying to find in my life, that I just couldn’t find anywhere else. What started out as something that I thought I could turn off and on at will, ended up being something that I just couldn’t stop on my own.
After months of missing meals at home, throwing out lunches at school, taking over-the-counter diet pills and laxatives, I got busted…. What I denied to everyone for a long time was no longer deniable… I fainted at school one day, and my Mom was called at work to come and get me, and that day started my road to getting help. I was taken to my doctor, and subsequently received therapy, and admitted to myself that what I was doing was not just unhealthy, it was something that was controlling me… It was a long journey to wellness, and not something that has ever fully gone away – but it is something that I dealt with….and for years I did really well, being aware that it was a choice I made every day to make healthy choices…. If I gained a few pounds I would panic, If I got on the scale once, I would get on the scale 10 times a day, If I set out to “diet” I could never “diet” like a healthy person, I would become obsessive about it. It was always a constant reminder that this problem never fully goes away, akin to being an alcoholic – so I stayed vigilant, accepted that I would always have to deal with the old-patterns I seemed to fall back on, and stayed away from what triggers me, and remained healthy.
When I lost my brother in 1999, my eating disorder reared its ugly head again…. I again lost all control in my life. It was the single most life-changing experience I have ever gone through. My brother was everything to me. Losing him shook my family to its very core, and changed everything I thought I knew. There was overwhelming pain, and the only thing I knew how to control was my weight… It sounds so silly to me know, and so irrational to try to deal with pain my not eating… but that is the unhealthy coping mechanism that I KNEW….It was short-lived – I got into therapy very shortly after my brother died, and instead of controlling the pain away, I embraced the pain, and let myself grieve…. My family became amazingly close, and we helped each other through the despair. I gave my grief a voice and shared it instead of bottling it up inside and letting it destroy me. I decided that my brother was worth every tear I will ever shed for him, and in a lot of ways those tears healed not only my grief, but the things that I had been holding onto for a very long time…. just thinking back has me shedding tears all over my keyboard in this moment.
Years have passed since then, and my eating disorder became something I thought I had completely conquered. It wasn’t anything that ever crossed my mind… When I saw stories in the news about this actress or that singer battling anorexia or bulimia, my heart went out to them, but I always said to myself silently “Whew! I am glad that isn’t me anymore!”. I thought it was something that was a part of my past, and I would never ever deal with it again.
4 years ago when I set out on this leg of my journey through Chronic Pain, it destroyed me. When I fell, I fell hard – and kept falling. I went from being a bubbly, active, social creature that prided myself on being super mom -to- being in bed for 18 months, in and out of the hospital, on an amazing amount of medication, and feeling like my purpose on this earth was gone. My marriage was falling apart, and I had absolutely no control of that… I tried to hyper-control every word, every action, every.. everything, and failed miserably. Everywhere I turned there was pain… my physical body was in agony, I had gained 30 pounds from being bed-ridden and being on several medications… my emotional health was destroyed, my life as an active mother was taken away… It was the worst time in my entire life… and then my Dad was diagnosed with cancer….
I spiraled quickly, and found myself in the darkest place I have ever been in my life.
And I stopped eating.
I didn’t know what else to do.
I went from a size 10-12 to a size 1-2 in a period of 3 months.
I couldn’t hide the fact that I had lost that kind of weight in such a short period of time… EVERYONE in my life voiced their concern… Comments went from “Wow, you look really good” to “Oh my god, what has happened to you?”
One of my dearest friends took me out for lunch on day, and the look of horror on her face when she saw me really scared me…
My Mom and Dad were picking me up weekly and taking me to their home, so I could hang out in a safe and loving environment… They both became increasingly worried. I didn’t want to tell them that I was out of control, because they were already going through so much fighting cancer and a grim prognosis (My Dad is doing great now by the way). I was embarrassed and humiliated that I let this back into my life and couldn’t stop.
I got scared.
I got really scared, and I reached out.
“Mom, my eating disorder has reared its ugly head, and I can’t control it”
“I need help, I can’t stop this”
That is all it took – I just needed to admit that I was powerless, and reach out for help…. And all of the people who love me suddenly became my safety net, and I stopped falling… They all caught my fall.
That was 2 years ago now.
I ended up falling in love with the most amazing man ever. I was completely honest with him about my struggles on one of our very first dates…. and he promised me endless support forever as long as I was honest with him, and shared all of my feelings… hiding my feelings would be a deal-breaker.. and I have never reneged on my end of the bargain. I love you honey.
One of my dearest friends on this planet (and you know WHO you are because you are reading this) cried with me, and shared with me how watching my destruction impacted her. She gave me the gift of perspective, and I realized in that moment that what I do to ME affects everyone I love.
My Mom and Dad supplied the ferocious support that they always have. I am so THANKFUL for both of them… I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. Their love has pulled me out of the wreckage repeatedly in my life… they just loved me anyway… they never judged me, and they fought WITH me and FOR me. They are reading this also. I wouldn’t be me with you both.. Thank you for never giving up on me. I love you doesn’t explain it.
I am healthier than I have ever been at this stage in my life (go figure). I am not talking about the physical specimen that is ME 😉 . I am speaking about WHO I am. I have gained back a healthy amount of weight, and for the first time in a very long time I have made my body a friend, not a foe.
I still deal with the thoughts everyday… Like most of you my meds wreak havoc on my body… my weight fluctuates… I eat the things that I shouldn’t sometimes (HELLO CHOCOLATE!!)… I still look in the mirror and pinch here, or suck in there… I STILL have clothes in my closet that I should have gotten rid of a long time ago, but I hold on to in case I lose “those last few pounds”…. but I do those things just as any one does… I am human.
But THE difference is
I love myself now.
I never did before.
I respect my body,
bumps, bruises, saggy skin, pain and all…
If you have an issue with your weight as a result of your journey through illness and pain – don’t bottle it up, SHARE IT!! You aren’t alone.
If you need help, please ask for it. Your Doctor can help.
When I fully surrendered to it, I GAINED back everything I lost… and then some.