A month ago, in Flagstaff, SB had a Subway sandwich for dinner Friday night and at lunch on Saturday she had a few of the sweet potato fries I'd ordered for the table. Yesterday, when it was suggested she needed to drink Gatorade to combat the recent dehydration that led to her fainting twice and being rehydrated in the E.R. this past Sunday, she cried. And said no.
As a mother, my stomach drops for the blogger. As a recovered anorexic, my stomach drops with muscle memory.
I'm reading THE MATHEMATICIAN'S SHIVA by Stuart Rojstaczer. In a book within a book, the protagonist's mother writes about going with only a tiny bit of food a day in war-torn Russia. Her description of hunger is spot-on:
I want you to follow my instructions. Take your eyes off this page when I tell you to do. Look at the room around you. Wherever you are, simply open your eyes adn look, listen, smell and think whatever thoughts come your way ... Then imagine all of your awareness disappearing. Your eyes work, yes, but they don't see anything. Your brain won't let you process such information. The smells, they are gone, too. Your ears, they work simply to warn you of danger. Your thoughts, all of them are so uncomplicated and pure ... All is about the numbness inside you ... You are truly in hibernation. Everything has slowed, because any processing, physical or mental, requires energy, and that, if you are truly nutrient-deprived, is precisely what you don't possess.
When I read that, I remembered crying from hunger. And I also remembered crying from fear of what would happen if I ate, because the hunger was easier to tolerate than the fear. The space between those places is anorexia. I wrote about that motivation and that place in my young adult novel, THE OBVIOUS GAME. Writing about it forced me to go back and experience those feelings again, and it was no fun. However, it's important for those of us who are recovered and feeling brave to talk about life after an eating disorder, because when you're in it, you can't imagine life on the other side of it. I keep writing. I'm here. I'm on the other side. It blows my mind that I still get 2-3 emails a week from people who love someone with anorexia. They are desperate. They have no idea what to do with this thing they don't understand at all. They want me to tell them what to do. I can't totally do that. I'm not a psychologist or doctor. All I can do is try to explain how their loved one feels so they can support that person in the best way possible.
My new friend Jenn told me about the March Against ED next week (September 30) in Washington, DC. I wish I would've known about it earlier, because I think I would've tried to go. If it happens again next year, I will be there. There is so much misinformation about mental health in general, and anorexia is one of the few mental disorders you can see on a person, which I think contributes to even further misunderstanding, because you form opinions without knowing the person at all just by looking at them.
I have a list of ED resources in my Young Adult category up in the masthead. I will be updating that list with some more from Jenn. I was never inpatient anywhere (I threatened to run away and I was 18) and I ended up recovering physically in college and mentally in my thirties.
They were deep ruts in my brain. Deep, self-loathing ruts. Filling them in was the hardest thing I've ever done, and it's what I want for every disordered eater out there. It can be done.
I'm relieved to hear Jenn's daughter is in recovery. There are many other people whose sons and daughters aren't. I know. They email me. It's best if you catch it early. It's often comorbid with other mental illness and therefore hard to separate or identify. (Is she not eating because she's anxious? Is she counting her calories because she's OCD?) If you think there's a problem, it's better to err on the side of caution, just like you would if your kid suddenly sprouted an unexplained lump in her breast or a persistent ache in her teeth. Please don't assume what you see on television is real. It's not dramatic or romantic or disgusting. It's someone who is hurting really, really bad. Someone hungry in every sense of the word.