Here we are at the end of April. I just passed the 10 month mark in my treatment. My sister has been here for the past while and we have had a largely wonderful time. We visited Spain and Gibraltar. We learned how to play squash and improved on our new skill immensely. We had days where our cheeks hurt from smiling; got caught in a tropical rain storm; and warmed my new house with friends. It’s been rough at times but together we got through it. I love my sister and feel the love in return. She leaves tomorrow morning to return to Canada and although I will miss her immensely, I am ready to refocus on the work I have left to do.
I’ve wanted to write an update for a couple of weeks now and I’ve been waiting for a “better time”. It doesn’t seem that that time is coming with length enough to enable me to engage in my normal activities and have time to sit down and sort out my thoughts through writing. So here I am, in a rather neutral moment, seizing the opportunity…
As one might gather, this has not been a smooth while for me. Each phase of this process has posed unexpected hardships. Recently, the challenges have been less philosophical and much more concrete in many ways. As I had been warned over the months, sometimes the mind recovers faster than the body. I didn’t believe this as I have an extremely resilient body and over the years, I experienced very few physical complications (in unfortunate comparison with those other eating disorder suffers who walked beside me in many treatments). This was largely due to my family doctor’s readiness to admit me to hospital before any extreme physical deterioration occurred. The organs obviously impacted in the past recovered quickly and completely. At this time, I have manifested a variety of symptoms that I didn’t even think to complain much about, that I thought were perhaps hiccups associated with normal life and aging (that is not claiming that I’m “old” but I’m sure not 21 anymore!). Things came to a bit of a head and manifested through my mood as my tolerance for continuous physical symptoms was blown. I have to commend my treatment team for such fast action. I am enduring numerous investigations into what might be causing my symptoms and hope to start treatment soon. It is somewhat comforting to have a potential answer to my situation and finally feel that I’m not just going crazy.
I am so lucky to be where I am where I am not only surrounded by people who care but who will also advocate for me. I don’t tend to complain and when I do express distress, one can safely assume that it is not a new thing. I continue to learn the importance of letting people help me earlier on in my struggles although I still struggle with being aware of when I need help, asking for it, and letting people help me. This is a balance that I look forward to fine tuning.
A bit of hope I really can put out there, now validated by my own experience, is regarding body image. Yes, it gets better! I’ve had months of discomfort in my own skin as I’ve worked towards and attained adequate weight restoration. There was no one who could answer my pressing question of exactly how much I need to weigh for me to be healthy in all ways. Who could predict from my history that extends from mildly overweight, extremely underweight, clinically obese, to emaciated? There was rarely a middle ground that I maintained for any length of time. I was told to be patient - the bane of my journey!
I haven’t heard many accounts of what I experienced with weight restoration: I gained a bit, very slowly over a number of months. The process was extremely gentle and never forced. Around Christmas, I gained a bit more which I decided was just delightfully normal for the holiday season. The following 1.5-two months I gained the same amount as I had in the previous 6 months with absolutely no explanation. I hadn’t changed my intake much, if at all, and my activity levels had increased dramatically. I knew I was retaining a bit of fluid especially from my travelling and climate changes. Some days, the edema was extreme and I had to laugh a bit as I drove my fingers into my calves, leaving pits that weren’t eager to refill. I couldn’t wear my regular runners, my clothes would seem 3 sizes too small overnight, and my jewelry left dents in my wrists – rings impossible. I held onto this fluid for a while and believed it to be weight and it scared me. I honestly thought that I would scare people away from recovery because of how “big” I had let myself get. Weeks and weeks of me believing I had become my own and every anorexic’s worst nightmare went on. I was told that I was very puffy by person after person but I thought it was the currently PC way of telling me, “Yes, you’re a little on the larger side.” This week, I experienced a Great Diuresis and I have my own body back!! “They” were right! I was swollen. Within a week, my clothes have started hanging properly, if not too loosely. My eyes can fully open, my bracelets dangling comfortably and I have my choice of shoes every day! And when existing in a body that is not fluid loaded, I am comfortable.
This has given me a bit insight. Firstly, my view of myself has improved in its accuracy. I knew I was looking puffy but I thought that’s just how, at 28 now, I would look as a heavier person. When the fluid started coming off, I saw the difference almost immediately in the mirror and had it verified by many sets of objective eyes. I know now that the physical journey is not yet over. My body has been abused for half its life! I can’t expect it to trust me and to have recovered from such extreme practices in a mere 10 months. Now, I am left with what is almost completely just me. There are moments (which I’m sure will be days at some point, but this experience of myself without kilos of fluid on me has only been days long thus far) where I’m a little uncomfortable or desire to change aspects of my body but I’m accepting my imperfections a lot more easily now. I also realize that this might not last, I may puff up again, and until we discover what exactly is going on with my body I may experience these extreme shifts for a while yet but there will again be this day where the fluid comes off and I see and experience myself just for me. Have you seen the commercial for the Make a Wish Foundation with Darcy? He says in it, “My face is chubby…again.” Oh, sweet Darcy. I don’t have lymphedema but I sure do understand your experience. He makes the best of it and he’s 6! What an example…
On another topic, the current goals of treatment for me are fairly vague at this point. This is a time for me to practice my skills and exercise my mind in a more positive fashion. I am being encouraged to take time for me in a better state physically and mentally. To do things I like, as I like. This is a big challenge for me as I don’t feel the need to spend too much time on myself (just having fun) and I feel ready to give back. I have the desire to serve, to pay it forward. I realize that I am important and I need to take care of me but I also know that in order to take care of me, I need to honour how important it is to me to make my world, that of those around me, and that for those that will follow me, a better place. This is a balance here I have never achieved. I had extremes of helping others at the expense of myself and often collapsed under the pressure. I assume responsibility for my part in creating that pressure; and with that knowledge, I understand the importance of finding balance. So far this has been trial and error. I lean towards helping others and find myself recoiling slightly when I realize I’m not ready to commit; or to push that hard; or I am yet unable to organize myself well enough to bring my ideas for others to fruition. Momentarily I may feel that I have failed but that passes. I might experience a flash of thoughts like, “I’ll never have it together enough to do x, y, or z”, but that fear dissipates quickly, too. I do not worry that I will never be able to do anything! I understand that at this time, I may not be able to take on everything I want to or that I will be able to in the future. Why? Because I’m not there yet!
Right there is my greatest focus. To finish what I started when I came to Portugal 10 months ago, completely. I will not leave 2/3’s of the way through this. I believe that I really would be okay if I left now and jumped back into life but I also know that it would be much more of a struggle than it needs to be. I have this opportunity to attain the goals I set out for myself when I left Canada: to eradicate my eating disorder in all its manifestations – emotionally, physically, and behaviourally; to leave that life behind me once and for all without fear or risk of relapse. Those goals can only be achieved time and much patience. I am learning a whole new way of thinking and being. I cannot rush any of this. My growth and healing will happen only as my mind is ready and as my body allows. I have, can, and will continue to work hard. I recognize the opportunity I have here. I am grateful every day. I feel fortunate. And I know that I will give back eventually. In the meantime, I live by a quote regarding perseverance I recently stumbled across:
"On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow."
Thank you again and always to my support people out there: my friends, my family, my teams. We’re getting there!