Eating Disorders, Adoption, and Why I’m a Semi-Happy Size 6

My binge eating disorder is this weird, omnipresent thing. It’s always lurking about in the shadows, but that doesn’t mean I’m binge eating every opportunity I get, but THAT doesn’t mean I don’t have it during the off-season. I mean, it’s like other mental illnesses in that way — I have clinical depression, but I’m not plagued with the sads and the “I-don’t-want-to-exist”s 24/7 (thank goodness).

So I guess that’s my way of explaining why I don’t discuss it all that much. I’m not ashamed of it so much as I’m either blissfully unaware that I’m in the throes of major binge eating till one night I’m laying in bed with the worst stomachache of life because I ate when I should have stopped five meals ago OR I’m eating just fine. Until I’m not.

Binge eating disorder is the one no one talks about and the majority of people don’t believe is a real issue (“You’re just eating because you’re bored,” “Everyone snacks before bed,” “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder”). Do we all binge from time to time? Totally. We have seratonin in our stomachs that reacts more strongly than the seratonin in our brains, and when carbs hit, we’re euphoric, and that feels awesome, so we have more. It’s not complicated. But the whole disorder — eating alone so others don’t see you, lying about what you’ve eaten, feeling such an incredible sense of shame nearly all of the time that you start to wonder if purging is actually as bad as it sounds. (I’ve never tried. I’m not one for throwing up.) It has nothing to do with the food — nothing at all.

Mine can be supposedly traced back to my days in the womb, little Fetus Mary just chilling in some amniotic fluid in the belly of a woman who starved herself to hide her pregnancy (which she successfully did all the way to the day of my birth, where I emerged feet first at 5 1/2 lbs.). As it was explained to me by both a Dietetics major and my psychologist, when I did get food — any food at all, which we can assume was infrequent and lacking in basic nutrition — I gobbled it up. I yearned for food, and when it arrived, I snatched up as much as I could because I knew it might be awhile before I got more. And my brain developed with the fear that perhaps the food wouldn’t come, that I had to eat what I could when opportunity arose, because it may be the last chance.

So here I am, 32 years old, with the occasional penchant to eating and eating and eating and eating and eating bread followed by chips followed by fruit followed by cheese followed by popcorn followed by a salad followed by a sandwich because deep down in my heart, I am afraid I won’t get another opportunity.

It’s perfectly illogical, so you’re preaching to the choir if you want to tell me all about that. I wish I didn’t have it. But when it is late at night, and there is a cookie in my pantry (or six or twelve or an entire package), there is nothing anyone can do or say that will fully convince me that it will still actually be there tomorrow. And then, because I am so stressed by my stress that I wanna up and vomit, I’ll eat some more to self-comfort. That I am not morbidly obese by now can only be chalked up to my Korean genetics, a strand of DNA that ensures I will never be fatter than around 140 lbs., even while binge eating, even while living a sedentary lifestyle. But please, whatever you do, don’t tell me I’m lucky because I’d take being fat over being mentally ill any day.

Lately I’ve been counting my calories in a non-obsessive, curiosity piqued sort of way through my Fitbit and exercising almost daily in hopes that at the end of the day, I will be able to have a small ice cream sundae or some McDonald’s fries or a glass of lemonade or some small treat — a reward, really — that tells me I’ve successfully achieved my daily goal of not overeating. Thus far, I’ve been able to indulge a little bit every night for the past week without going over a 500 calorie deficit except for this one night where I did, but I still ate less than I expended (and I’m very proud to inform you that I ordered a Medium fry at McDonald’s tonight, and I didn’t even finish it all). It’s been kind of liberating, taking charge of my eating habits rather than letting them take complete and utter control over me. I’ve been trying to make peace with the fact that I am no longer a rail-thin size 2/XS who can tuck her blouse into her pants and not look like sausage, that I am allowed to have new clothes, that I am allowed to look cute, and that it is perfectly acceptable for me to go up a size or two as needed because the clothes just look better (have you ever seen a woman who simultaneously muffin-topped and camel-toed? It’s tragic.). I am working on being happy. I mean, isn’t that all anyone wants? Just a general sense of happiness with his/her own physical, mental, and spiritual well-being?

But I know this may not last forever. We’re going on a cruise this Saturday, where an all-you-can-eat buffet and free room service will be my nemeses, where we won’t have internet service and I won’t want to log my calories anyhow because what a mood killer, and I’m a little worried that I’ll snap mid-way through and wake up one morning to make the unfortunate decision to have fifteen strips of bacon for breakfast, followed by hashbrowns, eggs, pancakes, toast, and fruit (I’ve done something similar, I really have, and yes I felt awful afterward). And I know, I know, I can start all over again and I shouldn’t consider it a failure as much as a lesson learned, but ideally I’ll just be a normal person who doesn’t lose her mind when presented with unlimited food. (Having my husband shooting me warning glances will probably help, and before you think, “Oh my gosh he’s a tyrant!”, know that he’s just doing what I need him to in order to survive through this life.) Ideally, there will be no self-loathing on this trip.

Perhaps even if my birthmother had been the peak of physical health and nutrition while she was pregnant with me, I still would have been struck with an eating disorder. It’s not really off the table. But sometimes I wish things had gone differently, that she’d felt comfortable confiding in a family member or a friend before it was too late, that she had a maternal instinct kick in that told her she needed to give me the best she possibly could because I was trying to survive in there and I’d need to survive, even longer, out here.

Sometimes I wish.

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On Having Depression

If you’re interested in reading all about OCD, check out this post here. I was going to follow it up with Things You Don’t Know About Depression, but I’ve come to realize that there are still things I’m learning about it, so probably I shouldn’t be writing some blog post like I’m the boss of the depressed. And if you suffer from Post-Partum Depression (for which I am very sorry, and please know that there are a lot of people in your corner, even though right now it may not feel like it), check out this awesome post by my good friend, Julie.

In looking back over the annals of my life, there are specific events that catapulted me into the throes of depression, but we didn’t really know that’s what it was at the time. My best friend moving when we were five. Middle school. Watching one of our cats die because we knew it was coming and Mom and Dad had to go to work. Most of the time, it was reasonable to feel sad because what I was experiencing were sad things, but I realize now that what I was actually feeling was clinical depression, one of my many mental illnesses that started taking root and growing every time I felt blue.

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The reason I’m less knowledgeable about depression is chiefly because when you suffer from OCD, you don’t get much time to focus on anything else. My morning routine (aka compulsions) takes about an hour before I get out of bed (my anxiety piquing in such a way I never knew was possible because the entire time I’ve got to pee, but peeing isn’t in the equation. I’m working on including it to lower my anxiety, but we’re not really there yet). And with OCD comes additional anxiety (I also have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and a panic disorder, but both are difficult to navigate because of, you know, the OCD). The depression became quickly and easily backburnered because I’m just so anxious all. of. the. time.

It’s all getting better. It is. I’ve worked out for a solid 30 days now (I don’t work out on Sundays and I missed two days, one due to a back injury and one due to a medical procedure that knocked me out for an entire day), and aside from the anxiety that accompanies OCD, I haven’t felt like scratching all my skin off because I can’t handle life (that’s not really a thing with me. I don’t actually feel like scratching all my skin off, but that’s the best description I can give for general anxiety that goes with you everywhere), and my depression has left the building. For now at least. My mother and I were discussing this today after lunch (at Chuck-a-Rama), and we both agreed that even if I were to never lose any weight or inches or fit into my “skinny clothes” ever again, all this exercise would still be entirely worth it because of my mental well-being. I eat, exercise, study, work, and socialize all for my mental well-being these days, and it’s been pretty great.

But having mental illness means I can’t just be cured of it — that one day I’ll wake up and that will be the end of all the anxiety and depression. It means that, despite all my best efforts, one day, sooner or later, brought on by something or entirely out of left field, I will wake up and be physically unable to get out of bed. Prior to my regular exercise (and prescription meds and therapist and Vitamin D supplements), my depression would attack me at least once a week and would last anywhere from several hours to a couple of months (depending upon any chemical imbalances, the weather, how much my job was killing my will to live, etc.). Mental illness attacks your mind, your soul, and even your body (depression, I have found, is incredibly painful, so oftentimes I stay in bed because it hurts to get up and work around my home).

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When you say, “I have anxiety,” a lot of people respond with, “I feel you.” And perhaps they do because they also suffer from anxiety, or perhaps they’re exacerbating their actual life experiences and know what it’s like to be temporarily stressed out, but either way, you receive a lot more empathy than you do when you say, “I have depression.” I’m not quite sure why that is — perhaps it’s because depression feels more vulnerable than anxiety or maybe it’s because anxiety is far more common — but I think that’s what inherently makes depression even more difficult to withstand. You don’t just feel like no one gets you — in fact, no one gets you, and what is already an isolated medical problem becomes even more isolated.

I get it. Not wanting to exist isn’t a feeling many people have experienced to the degree of the depressed, and it’s not the same thing as being suicidal, so it’s just confusing and weird. It looks like laziness, it sounds like an excuse. And while I am on occasion quite lazy and have a bag full of excuses, ready to utilize at any given moment I don’t want to do something, depression doesn’t fall into either category, and it’s offensive to imply that it does.

Why am I writing about this now? Because I’m genuinely scared that tomorrow or the day after that or the day after that or the day after that, I’ll wake up from this blissful depression-free life and hurt from the inside of my brain to the soles of my feet. And when that day comes, I’m going to need some understanding because I fear it’s going to be even harder than it was the last time.