Highs and Lows

Overall, things are good. Really, really good.

I saw my psychiatrist today, as I do every Monday, and he said it seems like I’ve improved quite a bit since our last visit. My depression has lifted, though my anxiety is still pretty high. The best thing, though, is that my psychosis has abated. I feel firmly planted in reality, no more invisible creatures threatening me, no more delusions, no more snake inside my body. I do not take these things for granted.

I spent the weekend traipsing around local parks and the beach with my grandpa’s old 35 mm camera, barefoot of course. I captured some images that I hope will be interesting and beautiful. I dropped them off at the only place in town that still develops film today, and the should be ready by tomorrow afternoon.

Still, things aren’t perfect. During the week I spent laid up on my parents’ couch with a fever, I lost eight pounds. I subsisted on soup and scrambled eggs, and slept through a lot of meals.

Both my therapist and my psychiatrist don’t seem to know much about eating disorders. They encourage me to lose weight and lecture me on “healthy eating.” My therapist advised me to “make an eating plan and stick to it,” as if it’s that simple and I’d be cured. My psychiatrist has mentioned putting me on appetite suppressants, and always tells me to keep it up when my weight goes down.

This is actually how my eating disorder started. When I was thirteen, I started cutting down on how much I ate. I hated my body and was desperate to be skinny. My family had a video game system called a Wii Fit, which was a little pad that tests the player’s balance, weight, and agility by having the player stand on it. After a few months of reduced portions, I was home alone and got on the Wii Fit. I hadn’t been on it in a while, and it reported that I’d lost ten pounds. I ran upstairs to look at myself in the mirror, and I suddenly loved the body I’d hated just hours before. I was thinner. I had had become smaller. And for the next several years, this became my sole purpose–shrinking.

There used to be a weight criteria in the DSM, which basically said that if a person wasn’t at a certain weight, they weren’t anorexic. They could be diagnosed with EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) or bulimia, but anorexia was reserved for the skeletal. In recent years, the weight criteria has been removed from the DSM, but a lot of psychiatric practitioners ignore this fact.

When I was at River Oaks over the summer, there was not a lot of supervision around meals. I was reliving a lot of old traumas as I progressed through therapy, and I turned to food to cope with the pain. I could often be found munching my way through an entire bag of buttery popcorn and then throwing it up in my bathroom.

The psychiatrist there was universally hated by the patients. She was cold and inexperienced, and frequently accused patients of faking our symptoms. She told me I didn’t have psychosis because my hallucinations didn’t sound like they came from outside of me. She switched up my medications nearly every day, and I felt like a zombie.

When I was discharged, I asked her what my diagnoses were. She rattled off several disorders, among them “restrictive bulimia.” I was angry. I’d always had an odd sense of superiority about having the “better” eating disorder because I was originally diagnosed with anorexia. I felt that I had a strong will, and I was “cleaner” than bulimics because of my diagnosis.

Regardless of diagnosis, eating disorders suck. They take the joy out of life. My eating disorder turns me into an obsessive, melancholy control freak, someone I don’t want to be. I can pull myself out of a slip or a relapse, but it takes every fiber of my being and all my effort.

I invited myself over to see my dad tonight, knowing that if I didn’t eat dinner with him, I wouldn’t eat at all. We enjoyed Thai takeout together and had a nice chat. I told him that I’ve been having a hard time with food again, and that I don’t want my eating disorder to rule my life anymore.

The frustrating thing is I have all the knowledge and all the tools I need. There’s just some kind of mental block preventing me from putting them into practice.

In Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Wintergirls, Lia, the narrator is severely anorexic. She limits herself to about 800 calories a day, is addicted to exercise, and thinks of nothing but weight and calories. She lives a miserable existence. There is a passage in the novel in which Lia weighs herself and sees that she’s lost some weight. She already knows that she’s quite underweight, but still strives to be smaller. I don’t remember exactly how it goes, but she says something like, “I know I’ll never be happy until I can suck the marrow out of my bones, remove the organs from this wretched body. I’ll never be satisfied until the scale reads 0.00.”

It is this obsession that drives me as well. I have been sickly, severely skinny. And I still thought I was fat. I tell myself, “If I could get back to my fourteen-year-old body, when I was ‘perfect,’ I’d be able to appreciate it this time.” But I know that’s a damn lie too. I am an adult woman. I don’t need to look like an adolescent.

Part of my obsession with thinness has to do with how men perceive me. After my first round of treatment, I had a body that was often called “curvy,” a term I grew to hate and have come to love.

Nearly the moment I turned eighteen, men ten years older than I was (and beyond) jockeyed for my attention. At first, I basked in it. This was before I’d solidified my identity as a lesbian; I was somewhere in the grey area of bisexuality, and didn’t know what I wanted.

I’d been beaten down by high school bullies and a physically abusive “boyfriend” (if you can even call him that), and I had a very strange relationship with my body. I felt that it was all I had to offer in a relationship, and that I should give it away as quickly as possible. This led me into more than a few men’s beds, and some very dark places. I sought validation through others, thinking that if they deemed me “good enough,” I’d come to believe it myself.

It seemed logical enough to me, but all I was doing was using men as self-harm. Every time I befriended or went home with some man, I became closer and closer to realizing I was gay. I tried to force heterosexuality, or at least bisexuality, but I couldn’t quash who I really am.

I thought these pseudo-relationships would lift me up, but they were incredibly degrading and damaging to me. It took a lot of soul-searching to realize that obvious fact.

I don’t mind being called “curvy” these days. It’s the reality of my body. I’m not bony and angular, I’m soft and round. I’m trying to be okay with that. My eating disorder is a dirty liar, telling me that I can only love myself if I’m emaciated, that I’ll never be good enough until then.

Somewhere deep down, I do know the truth. The truth is: my body is just a body. I don’t have to be pretty or sexy or appealing to anyone else. I do not owe it to anyone to meet societal standards, or my eating disorder’s standards of beauty. I cling to this truth like a life preserver.

There is so much more to me than an eating disorder or my physical appearance. I don’t know why I would want to reduce myself to a number on a scale when I contain multitudes.

There are myriad good things on the horizon. I have three photography gigs coming up, two maternity shoots and one wedding. I’m going back to school next month, and I’ll start working again soon. I can’t do these things if I don’t fuel my body.

Sometimes it feels like my body is just a corpse I drag around, a memory of the person I once was. Every time I look in the mirror, I’m reminded of the incidents of sexual abuse I’ve survived. But that’s the thing–I survived. My body should be a glorious temple, a monument to the fact that I did make it through everything I thought I’d never get over.

My body is mine, and it’s been through enough. Today I choose to treat my body and myself with the respect and love it deserves.

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