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eating disorder

My Disease is Always with Me

My disease is a bitch. Even in recovery, there isn’t a day that I’m not aware that I have an eating disorder.

The best way I can describe my disease is it’s the Fast-Eddie-used-car-salesman-older-cousin of The Oatmeal’s The Blerch. It feels like it’s floating next to me, everywhere I go, and I can’t shut him up. For St. Patrick’s Day, I had a constant barrage of thoughts about binging and purging. I felt like my Blerch was hovering next to me saying:

Back to My Old Life: Alone by Rachmanuddin Chair Yahya from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

“Check out all the St. Patrick’s Day goodies. You can have an entire tray of cupcakes with green sugary buttercream frosting. Oh – and a Shamrock shake. You’ve never had one of those. You can eat all the things, and don’t worry about the calories – because you won’t keep it down. It’s win-win. It’ll be great.”

Reality check: When I was in my active disease, forcing myself to binge and purge was not great. It hurt – a lot. Eating that much hurt my stomach, and then forcing it to contract to vomit really hurt. It’s violent, and when it’s over, my head throbbed, I had no energy, and I felt like shit.

Ugh. I wanted to growl, “Shut up shut up shut up. Shut the fuck up!” My disease tried to convince me that it’s not dangerous, that all the literature that binging and purging is hard on your heart and rips your esophagus apart was written by neurotic doctors. My disease said those are rare instances. It wouldn’t happen to me. Reality check: Eating disorders have the highest morbidity rate of any mental illness.

I dragged my fingers through my hair in frustration, then grabbed my phone and sent a single request to two of my confidants: “Tell me again why it’s bad to eat all the things and puke my guts out. My disease is messing with my head.” They both reminded me of the myriad of ways this disease can destroy my health. One of my confidants is also in recovery from an eating disorder. He reminded me of the powerlessness that comes with this disease. Giving in once makes it that much harder not to give in next time (and the next time, and the next).

I asked my therapist if my Blerch will ever go away. He said it might not, but it can get quieter. I likened that idea to Russell Crowe as John Nash in A Beautiful Mind making the decision to ignore his hallucinations, though they seem to always be lurking in the shadows. As he said, “I’ve gotten used to ignoring them and I think, as a result, they’ve kind of given up on me. I think that’s what it’s like with all our dreams and our nightmares . . . we’ve got to keep feeding them for them to stay alive.”

I’m not fond of the idea of living with my Blerch for the rest of my life, but that may not be something I can control. The disease of addiction never goes away. My default setting may always be to self-medicate and self-destruct, but choosing recovery means I don’t have the luxury of indulging these thoughts. Perhaps if I ignore it long enough, my Blerch will finally shut up.

Thank Goodness I was Sober in Law School

My friend Brian Cuban recently wrote a post about his experience of being in law school while being deep in his alcohol addiction and eating disorder. It’s hard to fathom what that must have been like – going to class after waking up with a hangover, getting smashed when he was supposed to be studying, and puking his guts out as he staggered home. Law school is hard enough without struggling with addiction. I’m so grateful I got sober before I went to law school.

I carry two chips in my wallet - my most recent birthday chip and my 24 hour "desire" chip. They remind me how far I've come but also that I have to take it one day at  time.

I carry two chips in my wallet – my most recent birthday chip and my 24 hour “desire” chip. They remind me how far I’ve come but also that I have to take it one day at time.

Actually, it’s because I got sober that I was able to go to law school. I never would have had the courage to apply when I was deep in my addiction. Before I got sober, my self-esteem was fragile at best and I was too afraid of failure to try anything that put my desire to maintain the illusion of perfection at risk.

I had plenty of classmates who drank to blow off steam (and who sometimes drank over lunch and came back for afternoon class tipsy or drunk) and/or used prescription stimulants to help them study. I remember one of my classmates brought of bottle of booze and little plastic shot glasses so he and his friends could drink right after they got out of our Con Law final. (That was a bitch of a final. I understand why he did that. That was the only class where I had doubts about passing.) Being sober, I didn’t have the luxury of numbing my feelings with alcohol and drugs or using anything stronger than coffee to study.

Don’t think for a second that I am/was as pure as driven snow. For full disclosure, I struggled with my eating disorder throughout law school. At the height of my disorder, I binged and purged about once a week, but this was mostly an infrequent occurrence during my law school years.

Throughout my law school career, I was fortunate to have strong connections within the recovery community. I was lucky to have a classmate who was also in recovery from addiction. We would talk during our study breaks to vent about the stress of law school and life in general, and be there to support each other. We experienced the discomfort of law school without the option to mollify our stress with recreational substances. It was pretty brutal at times, but it was comforting to know I wasn’t going through it alone.

As a member of a 12-step program, I have a sponsor, and it was fortuitous that he was getting his degree (different field) from Arizona State University while I was in law school. Both being students in difficult programs, he understood my level of stress because he faced it himself, although he seemed to handle it much more gracefully. There were many times I met with him between classes, to touch base about how I was feeling and to make sure I was perceiving and responding to situations appropriately. Just having him nearby was reassuring.

One of the things I’ve learned in recovery is how important it is to stay connected to others. I’m grateful I had strong connections to others in recovery on my campus. They kept me grounded and gave me a place to vent when I needed it.

I also want to give a massive hat tip to my undergrad alma mater Oregon State University. They established a collegiate recovery community with sober housing for students in recovery from addiction. I didn’t even know I had a problem when I was an undergrad, but I’m glad this is available for people who need/want it.

Day 53/90 – No Cavities!

Day 53 of the 90 Days of Awesome is in the bank! What made today awesome? No cavities at the dentist!

This cheesy smile is here to stay! Photo with Heather Lynn Herr at Ignite Phoenix by Devon Christopher Adams (Used with permission).

This cheesy smile is here to stay! Photo with Heather Lynn Herr at Ignite Phoenix by Devon Christopher Adams (Used with permission).

Let me start by saying that, even though I’m a self-proclaimed masochist, going to the dentist is not fun for me. But my hygienist is as good as they come and she makes the process as fast and painless as possible. She gave me a good report on my teeth but she also suggested I get a Waterpik to keep my gums healthy and prevent bone loss as I get older.

My dentist has no idea that I have an eating disorder. Dentists are often the first ones to notice a problem in people who purge because they notice enamel loss. It’s always nerve wracking to go to the dentist because I always wonder if they’re going to figure it out. Part of having this illness is managing the side effects, so I’m really diligent about taking good care of my teeth. I breathed a small sigh of relief when the dentist popped over to look at my mouth and x-rays and said, “Everything looks good.”

My hygienist did some deep cleaning which was a little painful, but I remembered one of the calming techniques I learned when I was in my piercing phase. One time when I was getting three piercings, I didn’t have any friends with me to hold my hand. (I was as the piercing parlor on a whim.) I gripped the edge of the table instead and the piercer looked at me and said something like, “That’s not going to work. Just breathe and accept the pain.” It’s a simple thought and it absolutely worked. Since then, that phrase has gotten me through all of my piercings, tattoos, and now dental work.

While I was being worked on I noted the serendipity of the timing of my dental appointment. I will be modeling this weekend and now I’ll have extra white teeth for the occasion!

In case you missed it: Day 52 of the 90 Days of Awesome – Lunch with Marc!

 

Still Don’t Officially Know What’s Wrong with Me – and I Don’t Care Anymore

I love my running shoes.

I love my running shoes.

I am officially over my medical mystery. I don’t even want to think how much time I’ve spent in doctor’s offices and hospitals or how much money I’ve spent on medical tests related to my chest pains, dizziness, fatigue, and night sweats. And we still have no idea what’s wrong with me.

My cardiologists (all three of them) determined I have a hole in my heart but it’s a congenital defect that shouldn’t be causing my symptoms. My primary care doctor drew nine vials of blood and ran every test he could think of – CBC, thyroid, hormones, Epstein-Barr, other random illnesses – and everything came out negative or normal.

I’m annoyed that trying to do the right thing and take care of myself yielded no actionable results. It disrupted my marathon training and left me unprepared so I couldn’t finish the race. I feel like I wasted my time and I am frustrated that I don’t have any answers except what’s not wrong with me. I’m done doing this process of elimination. I’m ready to call it and apply Occam’s Razor. I say I have reoccurring costochondritis, fatigue from the fact that I work myself into the ground on a regular basis and have depression, dizziness from low blood sugar from my eating disorder, and night sweats caused by anxiety. I changed my linens and took the blanket off my bed so I’m cold when I tuck myself into bed at night, but it seems to be decreasing my night sweats so that’s good enough for me.

My Race Shirt for Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon 2015

My Race Shirt for Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon 2015

I’m ready to say “fuck it” and get back into cycling and running. When I go on The Undeniable Tour for two weeks, I plan to go running in every city I stay in. I am a much more balanced person when I work out on a regular basis.

Just in case some things really wrong with me and they just haven’t found it yet, I still don’t leave the house without my Road ID strapped to my left wrist. That way, if I collapse or something, my bracelet will contain the information the emergency medical team should know about my medical history.

Will I try to train for another marathon? I’m not sure. I workout more consistently when I have a race on my calendar and a training program to follow, so I’m looking for a race to train for – either a 10K or a half marathon. I’m contemplating doing a half marathon trail run in June. That could be really fun. We’ll see what happens.