anxiety and my eating disorder

Again I scrutinize the mirror, willing it to answer.

My reflection stares back, frustrated and expectant.

Do I even know the question anymore?

I don’t like talking about my eating disorder. Or perhaps, let’s personify “my eating disorder does not like being talked about.” I am not one of the teenagers who had a bout of anorexia, went to treatment and was able to move on. Atypical anorexia has burdened me for over half my life. I don’t think it is cured for all of us. Rather, in some, it becomes an illness like substance abuse that one must work at to avoid relapse.

This is where I find myself. The question used to be “am I fat?” or some variation of that, but aging and some measure of recovery and wisdom now points to the question being something more ambiguous like “am I good enough?” which will never be answered in a mirror nor will be changed by any measure of activity, body weight, or food intake.

I’ve never known good enough, but that’s beside the point. The point is my anxiety wants me to believe that if I just [insert eating disorder behavior here] I will be good enough [not fat]. When I successfully laugh at my eating disorder’s irrational process I am still left with tummy-swirling, chest stomping anxiety. 11 years of therapy, a few medications, various self help tricks, advice, and the single most helpful technique aside from exercise (which can bring with it potential problems particularly if you’re in recovery from an eating disorder.. moderation) is distress tolerance.

Sitting with the distress. Tolerating the feelings and knowing they will in fact pass. It’s terrible, I know. I wish I had a cooler answer. There are lots of techniques to tolerate the distress and YMMV on which one(s) work the best for you, so try many, but yep, good job Marsha Linehan.

September is but one month

As I looked upon her in her final hours, something began nagging at me. This same, strong woman, this same month 11 years ago suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. The same week of that year my then 3 y/o daughter was hospitalized. And not for the first time, I began losing my mind.

Looking back, it’s really not surprising I developed post traumatic grief when my dad killed himself 3 months later. I was already well entrenched in complex post traumatic stress from years of various forms of abuse and his death – no how he left – zapped my rather tenuous remaining grip on reality.

I didn’t actually lose my mind though certain people in my life at the time would say otherwise in attempts to cover up their own antisocial behavior. It is but an act of God I was an assistant in my university’s counseling department at the time of his death. Days after that New Year’s Eve 2009 I made a call to see a counselor. The journey out of abuse and untreated Bipolar Disorder would commence.

As I sit at her bedside, I begin to realize why September has been a source of somatic cues insisting dissociation and depersonalization is required for survival. My body has been trying to protect me from feeling the magnitude of fall 2009. I hold the recognized traumaversary trifecta in the present. I am able for the first time to be fully embodied in the present year of September, no longer held hostage by the past. Over a decade of therapy later, my cognitive self and my physical being are in sync. I am safe. The monster is no longer under the bed.

That, my friends, is the power of psychotherapy within the confines of a well established, structured therapeutic relationship.