I likely won't have time to write on my 16 month “anniversary” of my arrival in Portugal but today is the day, 16 months ago, that I was discharged from my community hospital for the last time so, it works. There are a couple of directions I am going to go with this post. The first is the recollection of a different day, 3 years ago.
On October 28, 2009, I tried to leave the hospital against medical advice for the first time. I packed my things and called my mom, signed the papers and waited. My mom came but refused to take me home. She said she wanted me to talk with my doctor. The nurses had called him to let him know but I stood by the car with my arms crossed demanding that my mom take me to my apartment. My doctor came after he was told of my decision. Close to, if not after 9pm, in the snow and rain, my mom walked away and left him in the parking lot with me. I yelled at him like I hadn't yelled at anyone in a very long time. I told him that I hated him, that he was torturing me by keeping me in hospital, and why wouldn't he just let me go home and die? For 45 minutes he stood there with me as I screamed and cried. He came at me with kindness, calm, and genuine caring and belief that I/we could do “this”. I calmed down or exhausted myself eventually, and he just came over in silence, put his arm around my boney shoulders, and led me back into the hospital - right past my mom -and back up to my room. I stuck out that admission for a few weeks more though not likely completely without incident.
I think that was the day I realized just how much he cared about me and when I really gave myself over to him. In our discussion, he remembers that day as a day where he really saw me. He understood how desperate I was to be helped and yet how resistant I was to allowing myself that help. Three years later and many, many battles behind us – perhaps less dramatic – I am leaving the program that I was kept alive to come to.
I trusted him from the beginning. I have to say, the scarier part of me, then, tried to find ways to manipulate him into enabling my illness. It didn't often work despite what people on the outside might think. When you know someone with this, there is usually a significant difference between their true voice and the voice of the ED and that is an important nuance to figure out. He saw that, that night. I was no longer the compliant patient who tried to appear to do what she was supposed to, to get out of hospital. I was a furious and terrified girl who didn't know how to fight her thoughts anymore. I was refed enough to realize I didn't have the strength to combat my mind on my own. My mom didn't know what to do with me and she'd known me for 25/26 years at that point. It took someone on the outside to be able to see the many faces I presented and objectify what I was saying or how I was acting. That was, for me, the biggest role of my professional care team. To see me as a person and know that what was inside of my head was not really part of the true me. To see beyond my presentation, however hurtful. Families and friends can't always do that, understandably.
If there are practitioners reading this, this recollection is indication of the tenacity that is needed to tackle the maze that is a person with an eating disorder with persistence, compassion, and belief. Socially, how I acted is not acceptable behaviour – to yell at a physician and ask to be sent home to die. Usually that would result in a pink slip which, in my case, would have caused much more resistance and lack of trust. It was disrespectful and hurtful but he was able to see past the eating disorder that was yelling at him to the scared person inside that needed him and needed to be taken care of regardless of the words hurled at him. Don't let the sick person's fear of becoming well make you fight for her/him any less. They have no reference for the beauty that life holds once well, but if really brought to it, won't ever look back.
To the moms out there that don't know what to do with their own kid, it's okay to not know. If an eating disorder has taken over one's mind, there is so little of the person you might have known years ago left. No parent can be expected to recognize the consumed being that is in front of them.
Moving on to the Now! I am beginning a big transition and I can finally say that I am so excited. I've gone through various stages in the past 7 weeks that I've been back since my last trip home and have looked at them all to see if they were indications that I was “ready” to leave and step into life.
The most powerful were not pleasant. I got very angry with the people here and felt everything from lied to to betrayed to belittled to uncared for. I felt especially frustrated with small things and was easily hurt by other aspects in my interactions with the therapists and workers. I felt so alone with this step and scared. I thought that these feelings and annoyances were signs that I was ready to leave and that idea made sense. Of course, a well person would be annoyed with being in a program of any sort – so I must be better now! I thought that these things meant that I was ready. But I chose the cautious route and really asked myself, “Are you ready? Are you sure? Could you benefit from a little more time here? Are you willing to spend some more time if needed that, in the grand scheme of life, will seem very short?” And then I changed my ticket home for a later date.
In retrospect, I knew that it still didn't feel right. I wasn't scared that I would become dependent on this place and people, though. I wasn't scared that I would never feel ready, I just knew that it made sense to stay a little longer, learn some more and refocus on the aspects of me that I needed to prior to transitioning. Staying just a few more weeks has been one of the better decisions I've made all along.
At some point, during these weeks, something shifted. I had to let go of the anger and express it so that I could see what it was really about. I realized that I had shut down the more vulnerable side of me as I was prepared to put on my soldier suit again and face the world as a one woman army. I had to open up again and have it be okay. I had to look at the people I was interacting with as the imperfect beings they are that, despite their humanness, have a lot of valuable input for my life, right now. That had to be okay too. And it was!
Going through those simple emotional steps wasn't easy but they were essential. Really, it seemed like overnight when a real peace about going home came into my mind. The anxiety and obsession with “what ifs” faded dramatically; I was suddenly seeing the overwhelming opportunity that my life and the world have to offer as blessings and not stresses; I looked forward to the unknown because it is just so wonderfully “normal”; I realized that absolutely nothing has to be decided right now and thus, gave myself the space in my head that I need to adjust over the next while. All these allowances have contributed to a growing excitement about going home.
I also gave myself permission to be sad about leaving the people that I've worked so intimately with for the last 16 months. I realized that I will miss them more than I can say but that missing people is part of a life of caring. Part of loving and being loved. Once again, I had to let myself be vulnerable and human. This was another weight lifted off my shoulders.
To release myself from the expectations I held was like taking off a metal jacket. I've felt this before but only as it pertained more simply. I allowed myself at various times to feel different and unpleasant emotions and to express need. I entertained extremes as far as lifestyle and careers went just because I could; and I let myself consider if I could be happy doing x, y, or z even if it went against what I thought I was “supposed” to do. Even giving myself the courtesy of feeling happy was, at one point, another metal jacket taken off. So, I don't suppose this one is any more significant but it is extremely freeing and I figured it out much more quickly than previous weighty matters (what a poor reference! Sorry, better words escape me right now!).
Now, it is time to put a few last things in my bags (with fingers crossed that I will be within the airline's weight allowances!) and double and triple check my drawers and cupboards. I thought the other day, “Wow. In 16 months I have friends that have gotten married, or divorced, had kids or become pregnant; known families that have adopted international children; PhDs started, finished, or put on hold; university degrees completed; jobs lost and found; diseases diagnosed, cured, or life lost because of; milestones of all sorts for so many people.” Then I cocked my head and thought, “And what have I done in the past 16 months? I've regained my life, myself, my happiness. I've connected with people in ways I've never been allowed. I've worked through the murkiest and strangest emotions and stages. I've reclaimed gratitude, joy, and life itself. That's awesome.” This was the first time I realized, clearly and immediately, that I had put myself and my journey on par with that of everyone else. No one was greater or better - more like: I was not less or my journey less important. That was one of the best feelings ever, to understand my worth and respect what I had tackled and conquered without ego or negative pride. I feared for many years that by respecting myself, my head would suddenly inflate and I would have an exaggerated sense of importance. Thankfully, that is not the case. I'm just on the same wonderful plain as anyone else and to have value in my own eyes is an amazing blessing and an essential part of the peace I have about leaving.
With that, I am off to take care of my last minute business and simply relax.
As always, a big thanks to everyone who has walked beside me and celebrates with me as I embark on the next part of this which is, quite simply, just life!