Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Anorexia: Abby's Long Climb to the Mountaintop: Interview

In last week's post Abby generously shared her experiences and feelings about her ED. This week, Abby shares specific information about how her parents responded and how she was able to pull herself up from the depths of despair to begin her climb up the mountain.

Carole:  You have obviously analyzed many issues about the inner conflicts you are dealing with. What I am curious to know concerns your parents. When did they suspect that you had eating issues?

Abby:  When I came home from my week in Wyoming with my aunt, uncle and cousin, I had one week at home before leaving for camp. In that interim, I told my mom that I was worried because I hadn't had a period for two months. I was 14 at the time. I got my period when I was 12 and had pretty much been like clockwork ever since. Mom took one close look at me and dragged out the scale.

"Abby! You've lost nearly 20 pounds!" Until then, no one in my family ever paid any attention to the scale or discussed our own or anyone else's weight. I knew that I weighed about 125 lbs and I was 5'6". Just a few weeks prior, I remember a guy I had a crush on commenting, "How do you manage to eat so much and keep such a great body?" A mixed compliment, I guess:  I eat like a pig, but I look good?

Mom didn't have much time to do anything about it as I was on the bus to camp a few days later. While I was gone, she poured over every medical book she could find and asked questions. By the time I came home, she had formed a hypothesis. "Abby, I think you've lost too much weight. It's called Amenorrhea. Sometimes extreme athletes get it because they are exercising too much and they have too little body fat. A woman needs body fat to function hormonally."

The next thing I knew, I was whisked off to a doctor's office. I'm not ancient, but truth be told, "back then," doctors didn't know much about eating disorders.* The lady agreed with my mom and said, "Just eat at least 1800 calories a day." Suddenly, I realized I had my body figured out. Regardless of how little control I had over anything else, I could manipulate my body to do whatever my mind wanted. Eighteen-hundred calories was instantly incinerated by my active teenage body and ever increasing exercise regimen. Mom sat back and watched for only a little while. Continuing to read, she became suspicious that my problem was more than just a medical diagnosis and its intervention, "Eat more." That's when she came to me and suggested that I see a counselor specializing in eating disorders. My first outpatient therapist.

Carole:  Did you suspect that you had eating issues?

Abby:  I only knew that I had control. My eating was different from everyone else's but I only believed that I had more discipline than they did. What they wouldn't give to have the same measure of self-control that I did!

Carole:  When did they take you to a doctor? Clinic?

Abby: As I mentioned earlier, as soon as Mom became smarter than the doctor, I was taken to a counselor. Following a failed attempt at recovery working outpatient, I went to my first inpatient facility - Laureate. Laureate wasn't for me; a number of the patients used drugs, some may have had addictions as well as an ED and in group therapy, one patient confessed to behaving violently toward other patients. I knew I didn't belong. After that didn't work, we tried another outpatient counselor and then I ended up at Remuda Ranch which was inpatient.

Carole:  How did you feel about that? (I taught a student whose parents suspected was anorexic. They took her to a doctor; she was so unhappy about it.)

Abby:  I fought it kicking and screaming. I declared that my parents hate me and I hated them. I know it broke their hearts.


Carole:  You were in "control" before this, obviously. How much did you weigh after you came back from that trip to visit your aunt?

Abby: I weighed about 125 when I left and about 105 when I came back and I had lost my period.

Carole:  So by the time you returned, your ED became full blown and then you went to camp and it continued. How much weight did you lose at your most severe point? (This is like asking me how much weight I had gained; I was up to 240 pounds, on my way to morbid obesity, as I am 5'5 and 1/2".)

Abby:  It is fine with me if you publish numbers, but I avoid it in my own writing. I find it can be a trigger for women who are already on the edge or playing with an eating disorder. I was about 80 pounds at
my lowest.

Carole:  Is it a specific program, specific hospital you were in? Or did you go to sessions?

Abby: I went to Remuda Ranch. Since then, I have found that I slowly start to relapse when I don't
have a therapist that I visit at least once a month. I need someone to keep me sane, especially as I fight a battle against all societal norms. Right now, since we moved to VA, I haven't found a counselor.

Carole: How did the Lord help you: Do you come from a Christian family?

Abby: I do come from a strong Christian family. I can promise you, that if I did not know Jesus Christ when I was hit broadside by this selfish, idolatrous disease, I would have killed myself. I have about 12 journals from those years and they are almost one long prayer for God's intervention and healing. After treatment it was still so hard! I begged God to do it for me, make me gain weight, just to a normal weight so that I wouldn't have to fight all these terrible fears in the gaining process. Jesus was my only hope. In the darkest nights, I really believed that my family was going to go on without me, that I was a bigger burden than blessing. But I KNEW that Jesus loved me. I knew that no matter how powerless I felt, He was greater. And ultimately, the greatest comfort, both now and then was that I could let go of control and when I did, He would still have sovereign control. It was OK to let go. That doesn't mean that I relaxed and just let go, but it was comforting to know that when I did manage to let go, He was great enough, good enough, God enough to control my life. There's a quote from a poster that I had as a teenager; it was something like, "I won't be needing your help today. Enjoy the day off! Love, God."

Carole:  Have you read any books about anorexia? Are there any you can suggest for others?

Abby:  YES!!  Life Without Ed, Goodbye Ed...Hello Me by Jenni Shaefer,  Diary of an Exercise Addict by Peach Friedman, The Rules of Normal Eating by Karen Koenig, Intuitive Eating, Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, Hungry Hollow: An Unpolished Tale, Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Fight Anorexia. There are more but that's off the top of my head.

*Doctors not having the latest information about an ED like anorexia is unfortunately all too common. I had heard that the average medical school only gives one mandated course on nutrition. I thought that the Dark Ages in medicine had ended regarding the mind-body relationship, emotional eating, emotional starvation, nutrition and dis-ease. But big pharma, surgery and medical devices trump the unprofitable areas of medicine. That is to be expected.

Abby has written about her struggles with anorexia and has submitted her writing to various sources. Readers may check back with me for updates. You also may find Abby's writing at her blog Predatory Lies.


Margo Dill said...

Thank you for sharing how your family didn't realize what was going on with you until the scale came out AND you mentioned that about your period. I think all parents need to be watchful of behavior, but it is so easy to be in a routine and not notice things.

Thanks again,

Carole Di Tosti said...

Abby, after rethinking what you wrote, I realized that in a way you saved yourself, first by mentioning about your period and second to your mom who was on it like white on rice. It may not have been something conscious, but there was a part of yourself that wanted to be healthy and you involved your mom because somewhere, in the last analysis, she loved you and wanted the best for you. Maybe that sounds like psycho babel, but the healthy you was on alert. And now, that healthy you is strong, regardless of whatever lie may rear its ugly head; it will be defeated.

Thanks for sharing, Abby.