Beneath the Fat

Are you sure you aren’t diabetic?

You don’t look like you’re starving.

You shouldn’t be eating that.

Not hungry? I find that hard to believe.

You should lose some weight, then you won’t be so sick.

These are just some of the things that people have said to me over the years — most of them said more than once.

I get the diabetes assumption quite a bit. When I had surgery to repair my Lisfranc, I had a nurse ask me SIX times if I was sure I wasn’t diabetic. Six. Times. I understand asking is standard procedure, but asking six times because you just can’t get over your assumption that my weight must mean I’m diabetic is not standard procedure. That bothered me. 

And then there’s the people who see you eating a cookie and tell you that you should be watching your sugar. Why? I’m not diabetic. Never was. But thank you, because now I feel horrible for eating.

You don’t look like you’re starving. This goes right along with not believing I’m not hungry. I’ve had people I considered friends say this to me when I told them I didn’t really eat much. It’s not funny. It’s frustrating. Starvation isn’t always skin and bones. Starvation doesn’t always have an obvious “look”. Trust me, I’ve experienced it. Sometimes forced upon me, and sometimes self-induced. But no one sees the lanugo growing on my body or the rampant malnutrition running through the blood in my veins. They just see my weight and assume I must sit at home all day and eat.

You shouldn’t be eating that. This comes from so many people, friends and strangers. I once had a coworker scold me for eating a Poptart; it was the first thing I had eaten in days. Needless to say, that was the last thing I ate for a while, because what he said made me feel ashamed for thinking I should eat. 

I’m on a high-sodium, high-protein diet for health reasons, and people have felt the need to comment about me adding salt to my food or eating meat. It’s not good for you! Your blood pressure. Well, actually, it is good for me, because my blood pressure is low. I know, it’s hard to believe. Because all you see is my weight.

I am not in the best of health. There’s no denying that. But when you hear about it, don’t jump to the conclusion that I am suffering because I’m fat. I don’t have high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol. I didn’t get lung disease from being overweight. My autonomic nervous system didn’t turn to shit because I’m fat. I can’t fix my health with diet, because it’s not fixable.

People look at me and see the fat. They see I’m overweight. They see me struggling. So they make assumptions. Dangerous assumptions. Hurtful assumptions.

They don’t know that I am literally half the size I was just a few years ago. They don’t know I spent time in the hospital because I was severely malnourished from not eating. They weren’t there when I tediously calculated every calorie I took in, making sure I would not go above 500 in one day. They don’t see the concern in my doctor’s eyes whenever I get weighed and have lost too much weight too rapidly.

They don’t know how much I struggle some days just to eat. They don’t see me weigh myself every morning obsessively, trying to determine if I deserve to eat that day. They don’t hear the inner battle I have to go through before I sit down to eat a meal. They’re not there when people who care tell me I need to eat because they know it’s been too long.

They just see the fat.

They don’t see the eating disorder ravaging beneath.

It’s been so easy for me to deny I have a problem, because it’s been so easy for me to hide the truth beneath the surface. Other people’s beliefs became my words. Whenever I’d get feedback or suggestions that I had an eating disorder, I’d just tell them I don’t have an eating disorder; I’m fat. I’m not starving; I’m fat. I’m fine; I’m fat.

I got so angry months ago when the PHP I was in diagnosed me with ED-NOS, atypical anorexia nervosa. I don’t have a problem. I don’t look like I’m starving, so just leave me alone. Why couldn’t they just be like everyone else and only see what I was on the outside? Why did they have to dig deeper? Why did they have to be worried when no one else was?

It took me some time to realize my anger was displaced. As much as I wanted to be angry at the program for giving me the diagnosis, I was really angry at everyone who refused to see my struggle, everyone who made it harder for me to cope with my ED because they couldn’t see past my outward appearance, everyone who purposefully and not-so-purposefully contributed to my guilt about eating.

I’m not your typical person with anorexia. There’s a lot of things about me that just don’t fit the norm. And that’s fine, because nothing in my life has ever been typical. It’s hard for people to understand that. I only understand because I’ve had to.

It’s difficult in general when you struggle with an ED. It’s even more difficult when you add people and ignorance into the mix. All of those comments about my weight and what I should or shouldn’t eat only made it harder for me to recover. They made me believe that I still wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t thin enough. I wasn’t worthy enough. I’m not enough. Every time I managed to take three steps in the right direction, someone would make a comment and push me back six steps in the wrong direction. It’s a vicious cycle that continues to hinder my healing.

I’m still struggling. I think I may always struggle a bit. There are days when I manage to eat like a “normal” person. But there are still days when I conveniently forget to eat. There’s still days when I self-sabotage. It’s been difficult for me since I got sick. I’m not able to move around like I used to. The medication I have to take causes water retention and weight gain. I think of ways I can counteract it all, ways that really aren’t healthy, ways that will only end up hurting me even more.

It was much easier for me to sit there and self-destruct when I had no one who cared enough to stop it. It’s not so easy now.

And I know that’s a good thing, but it doesn’t make the struggle any easier, and it doesn’t erase the shame. I’m still scared of myself. I’m still afraid of the thoughts that go through my head, the fear of gaining weight that eats me up from the inside. I’ve been taught to attribute my worth as a human being to my weight and my actions, and I’m not sure how to remedy that when it seems to be ingrained in a part of my brain I can’t seem to access.

This was all so much easier when no one saw what I hid beneath the fat.

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Disaster

I envy my mother.

She hid who she really was so perfectly. She was (and still is) a brilliant actress. No one suspected she was abusing her own children. They only saw what she presented to the world.

She was a true Catholic woman who went to Church every weekend.

She was a devoted mother who was involved in all of her children’s activities.

She was a kind, good-hearted, charitable person who never hesitated to give what she could to others.

The truth was that my mother only went to Church because membership was requires in order to get discounted tuition for the Catholic schools she sent her children to. Her stoic Catholicism  disappeared once her children finished school. The schools she sent her children to, not to give them a better education or strong faith, but because it made her look good. Bad parents don’t send their children to private school, right?

The truth was that my mother was involved in every activity not because she was devoted, but because she needed to be in control at all times. She was a Girl Scout troop leader not because she believed in what the organization stood for, but because it put her in an easily obtained power position.

The truth was that my mother brought gifts and donated to charities because it made her look good. She would buy lavish gifts for friends and extended family with money she didn’t have to spend. We’d often sit at home with no power because she spent all of the money she had buying things, and had no money left to pay the bills. But that didn’t bother her, because no one saw that our power was off, but they did see the nice things she bought for them (and for herself).

As an adult, I envied my mother’s ability to present whatever she wanted to the world, even when it was a lie. I could never do that. I wore the truth on my face without even trying.

But I’ve come to realize, I am pretending just like she did. I am hiding behind a false presentation I give to the world.

People see that I have it together. I go to work, I go to school, I write. I’m functioning so well. People read my articles, they see what I’ve done and they look up to me.

The truth is I am fucked up. I can barely get out of bed most mornings, and even though I manage to make it to work, it sucks up the little energy I have. I don’t even know how I’m making it through school because I have no fucking clue what’s going on. I know I’m reading English, but it might as well be Chinese because I just can’t understand it. I write articles that give people with DID hope, showing them that they can live a normal life, when I am spending so many of my days in a black hole of hopelessness, questioning if my life could get any more fucked up than it already is. I tell people to accept their diagnosis, while I wake up and tell myself I don’t have DID. I’m a fucking hypocrite.

And in the moments that someone sees that I am not together, I pretend like I am. I don’t want them seeing the mess that I am. So I tell them I am okay. I put on a smile. I do my work. They think I’m okay. There’s nothing to see here. Please go, and care about someone who matters.

People see that I look better. I’ve lost so much weight, but they assume it’s okay because I’m overweight. They give me compliments about my appearance, and tell me how great and healthy I look. I smile and thank them.

The truth is I am not healthy. I’ve lost so much weight because I starve myself. No one thinks anything of it, because they only think eating disorders happen to skinny people. It’s just like childhood. You don’t look like you’re starving. Oh, but I was. And I still am. The only difference is now I am the one in control, not my mother. I learned to shut off my hunger like a switch. If I don’t feel it, then it’s not a problem. I am in control now.

And in the moments that someone shows concern about my eating, I eat for them. I take their offers of food. I act like I enjoy it. Then I go in the bathroom and throw it all up. But they don’t see that. They see me eat and they think I’m okay. There’s nothing to see here. Please go, and care about someone who matters.

People see that I am planning a future. I’m working hard. I’m continuing my education. I’m going to therapy in order to heal. I must be working towards a better life.

The truth is that I’m just going through the motions. I am not planning my future any more than I am planning my death. I’m working because I have to. I’m going to school because I need the money. Therapy isn’t going to heal me. You can’t heal a person that’s been broken so many times, just like you can’t repair a shattered mug. I’m not working towards anything. I’m just waiting for the end.

And in the moments when someone sees my hopelessness, my depression, I tell them I’m fine. I tell them they’re wrong. If I were so hopeless and so lost, I wouldn’t be working,  going to school, or going to therapy. If I were so hopeless, I would have killed myself already. I make valid points. They think I must be okay. Please go, and care about someone who matters.

I am just like my mother. I’ve become so good at acting normal, that no one can see who I really am.

A fucking disaster.

“I think we need to ban the scale.”

My eating disorder has been out of control.

And my life factors have made it so much easier to go along with it. No money this week? Perfect. We don’t need food anyway. We can stretch out this last cup of rice and make it last a week.

But it’s so much more than that. There are times when I am in such horrible denial that I have a problem. People ask me if I’m okay because I don’t look well. Well, I ate the other day. Isn’t that enough? In those moments, I can’t process that no, going days without eating isn’t normal. I can’t process that, in that moment, I look like hell because I haven’t eaten.

And then I sit in therapy and battle with my therapist. Did I eat today? Well, I had coffee. Coffee is food. Just stop. What is the big deal? I am FAT. I don’t need food. I ate the other day. I am still alive and doing just fine. What is the big deal? No, I’m not about to pass out. It’s the lighting.

I was so angry at myself during our session on Monday because I had gained three pounds over the weekend. THREE POUNDS. I had lost 23 pounds in the last 17 days, but now that I gained 3 back, I only really lost 20. And I was pissed. I told my therapist I couldn’t eat this week until I made up for the gain.

“I think we need to ban the scale,” she said to me. “It’s becoming a problem.”

I weigh myself every morning. Obsessively. And I know that. It is a sick obsession, but I need it. I need to know how much I weigh because I need to know if I deserve to eat that day. Am I too fat today? Someone will notice that extra pound and judge me for eating that bowl of rice. I just can’t do it. We’ll try again tomorrow. It’s a sick and twisted cycle that I keep getting caught in.

I go through periods where I can manage quite well. And then there are times, like now, where my eating disorder becomes full-fledged and affects my everyday life. I sit in therapy sometimes, half out of it, unable to think, because I’m tired and haven’t eaten. And I can sense the frustration in my therapist as she tells me we can’t work through much if I come to therapy starved. I can’t work through my issues if I’m not fulfilling my most basic needs. And I know she’s right, but I keep fighting it. I’m fat. I don’t need food. Why doesn’t anyone understand this?

Why can’t I just have a normal relationship with food? Why did my mother have to point out how fat and disgusting I looked all of the time? “Pull your skirt down, no one wants to see your disgusting legs!”

Why did she have to complain about how much our food cost her? To make us feel guilty for having basic needs. How dare we have basic needs and take away from her. Why did she have to take it away so much? Why did she send me to school with nothing and then yell at me when school would call that I didn’t eat? Why was it my fault? She set me up for failure every time. Food could never be a simple, fulfilling experience.

Why did I only get food if I deserved it? Why did food always have to belong to her or my brother? Why did she turn food into a tool of manipulation?

Do you know what it’s like to be told you can only eat certain food once it goes bad? Do you know what that does to your sense of worth? It destroys it. Whatever sense of worth I had left was no longer. It didn’t seem to bother my father that he and I were treated like shit. He looked forward to when some of his favorite foods were nearing expiration.”I see those doughnuts are just two days away from expiring!” and he was so  excited about it. I was horrified. I saw it as my mother’s way of telling us we were worth nothing. But hey, she can say she feeds us, and she wouldn’t be lying. Sick. It’s sick.

I’m not sure I have ever mentioned it here before, but I have a sixth sense for scoping out expired food and beverages. I can walk past something and just get this feeling that it is expired, and sure enough I check, and it is. It helped me a lot at my last job, as I cleaned out a lot of expired merchandise in their grocery department. I’ve also filled up baskets of expired foods while shopping at stores and dropped it at their customer service areas. I don’t know why it happens, it just does.

And I never made the connection before, until I was laying in bed last night and thought, have I trained myself to scope out expired food because that’s what I had to do at home? Have I done that without even realizing it? I don’t know how else to explain it. It makes me sad.

Deep inside, I still feel an immense sense of worthlessness, that I am in many ways unworthy of food, unworthy of the basic necessities of life. A piece of her is still inside of me, telling me I am worthless.

And now, thanks to all of this shit I’ve dealt with, I can’t even eat like a normal person. Every time I consider eating a piece of food, I have to go down an entire mental checklist. Do I deserve to eat today? Am I fat today? Is this going to make me fatter? Do I even want to eat this? Am I even hungry? Should I bother? I’m too fat to eat this. I can’t eat today. I’m bad. I didn’t earn this. I can’t. 

I ate today. But only because I weighed myself this morning and lost six pounds in two days. The cycle continues.

Fat and Starving

I got my blood test results back the end of last week.

I prepared myself in the week before I went to the doctor. I tried to eat like a normal person. I loaded up on vitamins.

It didn’t work very well. My vitamin D level is laughable (but in my defense, most people up north are vitamin D deficient). I foresee the megadose of 50,000 IU being re-prescribed on my next visit. Iron is low. A little surprised there, because I was taking my iron supplements in the week prior to the test. But I guess that wasn’t enough. I guess I took enough of my B vitamins because those were right on the border of being low.

I forgot about one thing that I couldn’t change in a blood test. Creatinine. I should have known better, because that’s what messed me up last time. My creatinine levels are consistently low. It’s a sign of malnutrition and in severe cases, starvation, because your body breaks down muscle mass to use for energy when you’re not consuming enough calories. You can’t take anything to cover that up on a test.

Why am I blaming the doctor? I am the one not eating right. I have horrible fucking eating patterns, and I know it. I am fully aware that my eating sucks.

A few weeks ago, my supervisor bought me lunch. I didn’t really want to eat, and denied it a few times, but eventually gave in because I people please. As I was eating in the back with my coworkers, supervisor, and manager, my manager said “I think this is the first time I’ve seen you eat.” Mind you, I’d been working there almost eight months by that time. But she was right. It was the first time she had seen me eat anything.

Another person told me I eat like a bear. I can eat a meal and then not eat for days, like I’m preparing for hibernation. And it doesn’t even affect me. I’m so used to not eating for long periods of time that it’s normal for me. I don’t feel hunger when I should feel hunger. I’m sure my body is desperately looking for sources of energy so I can function, but I don’t feel it. I’m going about my day just like normal. People offer me something to eat and I tell them no, I ate three days ago, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

And now this medication is not helping my already fucked up eating situation. I am constantly nauseated. The thought of putting anything in my mouth is sickening. Even water makes me want to throw up at times. I’ve eaten twice in the last week, and both ended with me getting terribly sick afterwards, which I know is because I hadn’t eaten, but I just use it as further fuel for rationalizing why I shouldn’t eat.

My eating issues are complex. I’ve talked about them before. I think that is what makes it so difficult to tackle. I think a lot of it stems from childhood, and not having food accessible at all times. Then being told I didn’t deserve food. I continue that tradition on myself today. Did I really work hard enough today? No? Then I really don’t think I deserve dinner. I’ll try harder tomorrow. God, it’s like my mother is living inside of my brain.

Then there are the issues with my weight, which I don’t understand because I really don’t eat enough to weigh what I do. I have a lot of sensory issues and refuse to eat a lot of foods, and end up with a very limited diet even when I do eat. There’s just a lot of shit against me.

Finances are also another issue for me, especially now. Food is the easiest thing to cut back on when money is tight. I can survive without food just fine. I can’t survive without money. I’m scrambling to get my paperwork together so I can get into summer session at grad school because I need the financial aid to live on – if I don’t get that, I’ll need to be cutting back on more than just groceries. And unfortunately, I can’t get assistance with food because I am not a legal renter and have no proof of residence anywhere.

I self-sabotage when it comes to eating. I buy food I know I won’t eat because that will prevent me from buying more food. I bought pasta because it was 50 cents. I hate pasta. But I tell myself I can’t go grocery shopping because I still have pasta in the house, and I won’t eat the pasta until I am absolutely desperate.

I think I frustrate my therapist. It is a constant battle over food. She thinks I need to eat. I tell her I am fat and that I’m not withering away any time soon. Then she reminds me that means nothing, because even the blood tests show otherwise. Then I tell her that I’m not hungry. She tells me I still should try to eat. I tell her I ate last Friday.

Why can’t I be normal?

Migraines and malnutrition

These past couple of days have been rough on me. I’ve had no energy, alternating fever and chills, and a pounding headache that would not go away. At first, I thought I was coming down with the flu. I stopped in the drug store before therapy today and looked at the OTC flu medications, and realized I didn’t have most of the symptoms. I had no cough and no more congestion (I had some the day before, but it was probably allergies). Then I looked at the pain relievers. On a whim, I picked up some extra strength migraine medication. I took it, and within an hour, I felt substantially better. The pain in my head is still there, but the sensitivity is gone and I feel like I can actually do something more than lay in bed in the dark.

I completely overlooked the possibility that it could have been a migraine. I haven’t had a migraine in awhile. I used to get them often. Headaches were also a huge problem for me. I remember I had one a couple of years ago that lasted for a month. I was miserable, and nothing I took helped. Then one day I woke up and it was gone.

I’m sure my diet doesn’t help my situation, either. I was so scared I was going to pass out at work yesterday that I ate a half a banana. I don’t think I can adequately explain how hard that was for me. I’ve mentioned before that I have a lot of food aversions and issues with taste and texture. The texture of banana is so off-putting to me. It took me 10 minutes to eat it and I tried very hard not to gag. In that moment, I was desperate.

My therapist has been aware of my eating issues and my previous hospitalization for malnutrition. We’ve only talked about it briefly, but she seemed a little more concerned given our last couple of sessions. Last week, I couldn’t even focus in session because I hadn’t eaten. In today’s session, I told her what happened with the banana and while she was happy that I took that step and ate something “new”, she was worried about the path I was going down. She asked me if I thought there was a possibility I could be hospitalized again. I hesitated. I’ve been taking some vitamins, but I’m afraid it’s not enough. I’m losing my hair, my energy levels are shit, I have regular muscle cramps and I have the all-too-familiar beau’s lines on my fingernails.

I wish it were easier for me to eat consistently. Some days are good for me. I feel hunger; I eat. Other days, I don’t feel hungry; I find excuses not to eat. I try to rationalize it in my head by going over all of the reasons I don’t deserve to eat. It’s horrible. It’s twisted. I admit it. I feel like I am repeating bad childhood habits and experiences, but instead of my mother being the critical one, it’s me. I have a lot to work on. I know that. My therapist doesn’t want me to end up in the hospital; I don’t either. So we’re going to tackle my eating issues a little more in-depth. It’s my fault for brushing it off for this long and pretending like everything was okay.

I have a lot going on this week. I have a full work schedule.Therapy again on Thursday, and a meeting for PAFPAC on Friday. I also need to make sure I have everything I need for grad school next week. I just hope this migraine subsides so I can get everything done.