RheasOfHope

one girl's thoughts on life, mental illness, eating disorder recovery, and hope.

When you have a security blanket January 29, 2017

 

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The Eager Beavers: I’m in the first row, fourth from the left in all pink and saddle shoes

I’m twenty-nine years old, and I still sleep with my baby blanket. My mother bought it for me when I was four–for my first day of the Eager Beavers preschool class at West Chester Church of the Nazarene. I had high anxiety about being away from my in-home daycare, and moving to a “big girl school.” My mother thought that having this blanket would remind me of home while I was at school, but I mainly think she purchased it so she wouldn’t have to deal with my pre-K anxiety. She then emblazoned my name on the back with puffy paint, and I’ve held on to it ever since. It’s not like I took it to college with me or take it on work trips, but I take comfort I knowing that it is in my bed. Having that object from my past grounds me in some way, and it’s reassuring that no matter where my life goes, the blanket will remain the same. Perhaps my eating disorder has functioned in the same way?

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Who wouldn’t love a blanket with a teddy bear being carried away by balloons?

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faded, but my puffy paint name is still there 

My eating disorder developed around the end of second grade. After relentless bullying all day at school, I would come home seeking refuge in copious amounts of food—sneaking food out of pantries (hiding the evidence of my consumption by shoving wrappers in the couch, under my bed, or slipping them between the cracks in our wooden deck), eating dinner leftovers all night long, and even eating out of the trash if I couldn’t find anything. I always knew that no matter how bad things had gotten at school that day, I could console myself that evening with food. Binging was my security blanket when the other kids teased me, when they passed notes of cows labeled “Rachel,” when they drew on my clothes on the bus, when they prank called my house during slumber parties…binging was always there to comfort me. This binging continued for the next ten years—searching for security, safety, and reassurance in food.

In college, repulsed by my appearance and in an effort to reinvent myself in a new setting, I sought security in food…or rather a lack of food. I quickly spiraled into restriction, and have never binged again. However, after about a year and a half of restriction, it no longer provided that soothing sensation I felt I needed. My malnourished brain—remembering the feelings of refuge

I received from my blanket, binging, and restricting—decided the only logical answer was to continue to manipulate food through further restriction in addition to compulsive exercise. I temporarily found the comfort and safety I sought. Restriction and over-exercise felt like my teddy bear blanket wrapped around my shoulders—protecting me from the world and comforting me through life. Yet the feeling never lasted. I would engage in behaviors, feel safe for awhile, and then sense the need to engage again to regain the feeling of safety—it was an endless cycle of fear, behaviors, safety, fear, behaviors, safety.

Though I don’t remember the exact date, I do remember that in September of 2009, I thought I could find comfort via continued food manipulation in the form of purging; in addition to my already severe restriction and over-exercise. I could never find, however, the feeling I was seeking—my behaviors were never enough for my eating disorder to be satisfied. Yet I continued to manipulate food in search of this comfort that had eluded me since early elementary school.  No matter what happened in my life, my eating disorder’s siren lure reminded me that I could turn to restricting or purging to get me closer towards the peace I desired within me.

My eating disorder has been with me for the last twenty-ish years–making false claims of serenity and security—and unlike my baby blanket, the safety is promised came at a cost to me. In early recovery, my eating disorder convinced me that if recovery felt too risky, I could restrict or purge to remind myself that the security provided by the eating disorder was still nearby. Restricting and purging felt like my security blanket—if the job of a security blanket is to slowly kill you. Know that eating disorders are not security blankets, they’re not Band-Aids, and they don’t “fix” the parts of life that are not pleasing to you. True security comes from recovery—being able to handle life’s unpleasant moments healthfully and effectively in order to produce a more desired outcome. This is not an easy task, however. Retreating back to the perceived safety of the eating disorder often seems like the only thing I knew how to do. The more practice I had with recovery, and the more skills I gained made this process easier. Know that you do not need an eating disorder to feel secure and loved for who you are. My one year of recovery has provided me with more security, serenity, comfort, and reassurance than either 20 years of an eating disorder or a crummy blanket could ever offer.

 

Psalm 46:1-3

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

 

 

When you think about ED-NOS September 10, 2013

 

            “FAT” the letters are scarred into the skin above my knee and into my brain. FAT. How can such a small word have such a lasting impact on my life? It is this word that keeps bouncing around in my head, keeping me from recovery…but why? Given my weight (medically obese by BMI measurements and my 5’2” frame) and my ED behaviors (which do not fit neatly into the concise box of anorexia or bulimia), I had, and have, a deep-rooted feeling of fraudulence as an eating disordered person as a result of my ED-NOS diagnosis. I have always felt as if I were not “sick enough” to deserve treatment, that I did not fit into the neat little diagnosable boxes so I could not possibly have an eating disorder, that I was fat, and, as we all know, fat people cannot possibly have an eating disorder *sarcasm is intended in that last statement*.  I have even had a prior therapist who agreed with all those thoughts, rejected the possibility of me having an eating disorder and refused to treat me for a “disease I did not have”. The genesis of these thoughts, however, IS, in fact, Ed. The one who keeps these invalidating, self-disparaging thoughts in my head is, again, Ed.

 

            To me, ED-NOS has always felt like a patronizing pat on the head; a diagnosis so that I quit bothering the nice doctor and go home. What I realize now is that ED-NOS is a very real, very serious, yet very treatable eating disorder…thus the ED part of the ED-NOS diagnosis. As Dr. Jennifer Thomas, author of Almost Anorexic, states, “Don’t let some words in a book or some numbers on a scale prevent you from getting the help that you need.” In fact, in a longitudinal study on the mortality rates of patients with EDs, Dr. Thomas found that patients with ED-NOS had a mortality rate of 5.2%; compared to a 4% mortality rate for those with anorexia and a 3.9% rate for those with bulimia. Additionally, in her meta-analysis of the physical and mental effects of EDs on the body, Dr. Thomas found ED-NOS just as, if not more, medically critical as anorexia and bulimia. Thus further proving the fact that ED-NOS warrants being taken seriously and is deserving of treatment. The diagnosis does not matter, your health does.  

 

            My diagnosis of ED-NOS reminds me a lot of my little sister, Morgan’s, journey in school. For as long as she has been in school–she has recently begun her senior year– Morgan has had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to accommodate her unique needs. Morgan has difficulty reading, takes longer than her peers to complete assignments, and has issues with spelling and writing. Yet, seventeen years after her birth, there is no diagnosis as to why her brain processes words the way it does. She has been tested for dyslexia, ADD, apraxia and just about every other disease/disorder at which you can shake a medical textbook. Despite a lack of diagnosis, does that mean her problem does not exist? NO! Her brain processes slightly different that a typically functioning brain—despite not having a diagnosis–and she just needs a bit of assistance in the form of IEP accommodations. Did my parents give up on getting Morgan the help that she needs when she was labeled “Undiagnosed Learning Disability”? No, they worked with the school to create a plan that would make the curriculum more accessible to her. Together, with the school, they helped write an IEP that allowed her additional reading practice throughout the day, extended time on tests and assignments, and the use of a reader if necessary. In short, not having a diagnosis was no excuse for my sister not getting the help that she needed; she received the help she needed, tailored to fit her unique needs, without having a neatly boxed up, diagnosed label.  

 

            When it comes to seeking and receiving treatment, it pays to work like my sister. A lack of diagnosis (or a diagnosis of ED-NOS) does not mean you lack the right to necessary and life-saving treatment, resources and other essential services. It does not matter your specific diagnosis; the point is, if you believe you may need help…go get it. Do not let the words of others, Ed or some overly specific medical categorizations keep you from living a life free of disordered eating. You are worthy of a happy, healthy Ed-free life no matter what your diagnosis. Go after that life, it is amazing!

Me, on the left, and Morgan
*photo credit, Mandy McDonough photography

Isaiah 46:4

Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am He, I am He who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you