Food Gave Me An Anxiety Attack (or, Sh!t I Thought I’d Outgrow)

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(I’ve had quite a few of these said to me, which is why I’ve kept my struggles a secret for so long…perhaps even I was guilty of accusing myself of a few of these.)

I’m going to start this off by saying that NONE of this is healthy by any means.  Please please PLEASE don’t take it as such! This is my blog, and my place to be honest and open (in the hopes that it helps someone else out there perhaps not feel so alone, if they are experiencing anything similar…which I hope not, but I do receive private messages here and there, so… :/ )

So, I had an anxiety attack over my breakfast this morning (tea, egg whites, a slice of reduced-fat whole wheat toast, and a little portion of beans).  This isn’t anything new to me, but the severity of it was something I hadn’t experienced in quite a long time. I weighed myself and looked into a full-length mirror beforehand, and it all went to hell after that. I ended up tossing everything in the bin except for my cup of tea, and then I felt guilty because there are starving families out there who would have given anything for that meal that I so ungratefully discarded.

Food is the Enemy

I’ve had anxiety wrapped around food for the longest time, since I was a child. ( I was diagnosed as a child with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, which (loosely put) is a disorder in which I perceive myself as though I were looking into a funhouse mirror.  I look distorted and deformed to myself, always heavier than I am (even if my clothes are becoming looser on me), and presently I only look at my reflection to apply makeup because I appear unrecognisable to myself. Something changed after my mom passed, and I no longer see ‘me’ when I look at myself.  I don’t know how to explain it…it’s as if there is a stranger in my reflection, or the ghost of my former self…a near echo of who I used to be…but it’s unnerving and terrifying and enraging. )  I was in therapy for a number of years from childhood to my teenage years, but never really made progress.  I also knew that my issues with food were not right, and I was afraid that I would be deemed “bad” for having them. So I never mentioned them. I had severe digestive issues growing up, and I think my anxiety played a part. I always felt better when I was “empty.”

When I entered high school (and had quit therapy), I began purging. I’d feel anxious and would break down into tears after eating (not even binge-eating,  just regular meals), and realised that forcing myself to throw up would ease the anxiety attacks.  When I had the strength, I would restrict for as long as possible and just not eat.  I would go for a day or two with nothing more than a carrot or two, water, maybe a piece of fruit.  But sometimes that gnawing anxiety would kick in, even with just that.  If I couldn’t purge, I would resort to self-harm to ease the anxiety. ( I’ve quite a few nasty scars on my thigh that I really want to cover up with a Day of the Dead tattoo, or something along that theme, but I just haven’t brought myself to do it yet. I don’t want to explain what the lines along my thigh are to the artist. )  I was an active member on a few pro-ED online community boards, which are no longer running (I actually looked them up a short while ago, just to see how the people I used to chat with are getting on…sadly, a couple of them have taken their own lives, I’ve come to learn). A good majority have recovered from their eating disorders. I’m beyond happy for them!

I purged and restricted on-and-off for nearly twenty years, and I absolutely feel the effects of my actions on my health now. Again, this is NOT healthy behaviour…do not do this!

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Every Body

I’m the first person to say to someone that there are no set standards for health or beauty, and there is no one perfect body weight, but I’m the last person to actually listen to myself.

I have hypothyroidism (”hippo-thyroidism” as I call it). This makes losing weight extremely difficult for me, causes me to have a lack of energy (but also not eating properly is not helping matters), slow metabolism, insomnia, poor attention span, etc. I’ve been on medication for over ten years now, but the medication has not regulated my weight. In fact, I swear the pills have slowly and gradually put weight on me.  I stopped taking them abruptly a year ago, and lost nearly 20lbs! (Again, DO NOT DO THIS….not healthy!)  My TSH levels in my most recent blood test were horrendous, and I began to feel as though I were having hot flashes, so I had to go back on the pills, but I don’t take them the way that I’m supposed to. I’m terrified. I’ve already gained a couple of pounds back that I’d lost by going off of them.

I do work out at the gym, but I can only do so much before I start to feel light-headed or before a migraine begins to set in (again, from poor diet…will discuss in next portion).  I tone up from the cardio and weights that I do, but I can never seem to get below a certain weight. I hover. It’s not a horrible weight, but I could be 10-15lbs lighter. I will always hold that over my head as a failure, even if it’s medically beyond my control. Realistically, though, if I were to get myself down to 100lbs, I could see myself still feeling the same way.  I will never feel content.

Strange Relationship

My current relationship with food is a complicated one.  There is still that anxiety of having lost control of myself at times (even if I’ve only eaten a salad, after two days of not eating or two days of consuming no more than 600-700 calories).  I try to not use calorie counting apps because I tend to use them for negative reasons…instead of aiming to eat at least 1000 calories per day, I’d feel like a failure if I went over 800.  The app warning me that this behaviour is unhealthy and that I might have an eating disorder became a fucked up form of comfort.

But then I have some days where I pay my intake no mind and just enjoy myself.  A slice of pizza with no guilt, or some pasta, or a nice bowl of veggies with brown rice.

Then I have my moments like this morning, where I have a panic attack before I’ve even eaten and just looking at a plate of food brings on a gag reflex.  (I didn’t eat dinner last night, had a small plate of salad for lunch, and indulged in a Pot Noodle for breakfast…the Pot Noodle warranted my not needing to eat dinner).

Which brings me to the pic that I started this entry with…if anyone were to just look at me, they would never guess that this is going on! I (to me) am overweight, and could definitely stand to lose 20-30lbs. I’d go 50lbs, but I’d be dead. I range from a size 8-12 in pants (UK & USA sizes…USA sizes are tricky, depending on where you shop). When I stand next to a dear friend of mine, whom I view as stunningly beautiful, I swear that we are the same body size and shape.  She is 54lbs heavier than I am (she weighed herself with me to prove a point to me).  She looks at me as though I am utterly insane and tries to understand, but I’m ecstatic that she doesn’t.

This is Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

**A note on the USA Mental Healthcare System**

I have acknowledged that I should attempt therapy for this again, since the anxiety attacks and distorted/unrecognisable reflection seem to have amplified 20x since my mother’s death.

After calling around to seven centers…five are not accepting new patients, and the other two have wait lists of up to 3-5 months for the intake and enrollment process. Not to mention the cost…my copayments, not including medication, if they wanted to start me on any, would be upwards of $300 per month.

As I’ve said, this country treats mental healthcare as if it were a luxury item. And that is disgusting.

So here is my online confessional.  I might be damned to my own personal hell, but perhaps my words will help someone else? You are not alone, there is nothing fucked up or wrong or ugly about you. Please get help, if it is available to you!

Don’t end up like me.  Don’t cry over a plate of egg whites & beans because you gained a pound.

I’m a Fraud, Trust Me!

I receive pretty regular messages from people on all platforms of social media that I can be found on (and some that I’ve either forgotten about or swear I signed up for in an Ambien Walrus-stupor), asking me how I can still find humor in everything with losing both parents, how do I cope with the grief, how do I cope with body dysmorphic disorder, have I beaten it? Etc.

I’ve nothing to hide, and I don’t mind answering and sharing. I reach out randomly to others as well if I respect and admire the stuff that they’re saying. Sometimes they answer, sometimes they don’t and I’m convinced they think I’m a psychopath and I want to curl up in a corner and hide from the embarrassment that is Sam (when in reality they probably just didn’t know how to answer, didn’t have the time, perhaps just felt a bit put off by speaking with someone they don’t know personally…virtually anything but what’s running through my head most likely!).

So, first off…when I receive these messages, I feel the need to stress that I’ve not figured anything out! I feel like a fraud, giving out advice, because I don’t know whether I’m coming or going half of the time.  I know enough to know that I know NOTHING.

On Having Lost Both Parents

I’m still not healed from this, and I don’t know if there is such a thing as “healing” from it.  I walk around feeling quite lost and displaced, and feel like my life has lost its place for me.  I often feel this sense of homesickness that I can’t describe; that I want to go home, but I’ve no home to go to anymore.  I have no idea what direction I’m supposed to take in my life.  I still go to call my mother, at times, and she’s been gone for a year now.  I lost my father when I was a teenager, and never really had the chance to know him. I feel that parts of my personality now may have come from him, so that might be a way of knowing him in a sense.

I question everything that I do, every decision I make, and it absolutely sucks to not have anyone to check in with when I really need to talk about something. I have amazing friends that I’m thankful for and do not take for granted, but it’s just not the same.  I miss talking about my day. I miss being someone’s daughter.

I haven’t been able to sleep since my mother’s death, and have horribly vivid nightmares when I do sleep.  I’ve started randomly flashing back to small snippets of memories in the hospital via smells, items, sounds that I’d forgotten…really bizarre things that have no significance.  A few friends have suggested that I may have PTSD.  They’re probably right.

Something that no one prepared me for…when people offered to be there for me when I needed them, they didn’t know that they didn’t really mean it. They didn’t know that they were not capable of holding up to that promise.  This is not to say that their offer did not come from the heart, but I now understand how completely frightening my reality can be for someone who hasn’t gone through this yet.  Seeing my pain and what I’m experiencing is a horrifying reminder that it can happen to them, and they’d start to cry at the thought of losing their loved ones.  They hadn’t even lost their loved ones, but I, who HAD lost my parents, ended up comforting THEM, who were able to go home and hug their loved ones and have dinner with them, etc.  So I learned to just say “I’m fine,” whenever asked if I need to talk.  I could be having THE worst day ever…”Sure, I’m fine.”

On Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Where do I even begin? Sigh….

I don’t know how this even came to be.  I just remember always having it.  There was always something not right about what I saw in the mirror and in photos. I looked deformed.  My body was a strange shape. I was overweight (I wasn’t at that time).  My eyes and nose looked like they were not formed correctly. My reflection looked like I was gazing into a fun house mirror.  I often self-harmed to try and cut the ugliness out of myself, or to achieve the feeling of having a good cry when I was too numb to actually produce tears.

Then I started gaining weight, and it didn’t make sense. I exercised, dieted, took diet pills, starved myself, made myself throw up after eating. I look back at photos of myself now and see there was absolutely nothing wrong with me! But the weight gain was due to a dysfunctional thyroid (hypothyroidism, which I call hippo-thyroidism because :/ ), which I still deal with. The medication I take for it, which brings my TSH levels down to where they’re supposed to be, ironically contributes to the weight gain, so I don’t take it regularly as I’m supposed to.  It’s kind of a cruel joke, actually.  If you look at me, you’d never think that I haven’t eaten in two days :/ I still struggle with my weight, and will always look like I could stand to lose 10-15lbs, no matter how I work out or how unforgivably mean I can be to myself when it comes to food/eating/restriction/purging.

I was diagnosed with BDD in my very early teens, but gave up on psychology after three therapists didn’t make a dent. I toy with the idea of trying again, but I’m skeptical.  Plus, my copayments per session are not cheap.  And I’m not down with psyche meds for myself, personally.  I saw them destroy my mother’s body and I just feel they’re not worth it (again, for myself…I’ve seen them change lives for others, and I think that’s amazing!)

Here’s where it gets weird, though.  I spent my entire life up to last year battling the grotesque monster I saw in my reflection, trying to get a handle on myself and my anxiety over eating and gaining weight.  I actually was doing really well. I was going to the gym regularly, eating pretty healthy, not drinking, doing well with not eating junk food, and I could actually stand looking at myself in the mirror and having my photo taken.  I lost my mother, and with her unexpected death I felt like I’d unexpectedly died as well.  Nothing was recognizable anymore. I couldn’t process thoughts or emotions and just binged on booze for a month. I couldn’t eat food. I felt like I had lost all fight for my life. The only thing that was familiar was the monster in the mirror. Suddenly, it wasn’t the enemy anymore. I sort of felt like I just let it become me, like the two became one, and let it live for me until I was ready to slip back into my life once more…and I’ve been living that way since (which I realise is by no means healthy).

As of right now, I cannot look in the mirror.  The reflection frightens me. I don’t recognise her. I hate her sometimes because I feel like she is a lie. And this isn’t even focusing on the flaws!  I REFUSE to be in photos.  I see myself as 50+lbs heavier than I actually am.  I have anxiety attacks when it comes to eating and go up to three days without food sometimes.  I’ll eat when I feel shooting pains in my gut (but then I’ll have ‘fuck it!’ days and enjoy two healthy meals, which is huge for me).  I make a point of not looking into full-length mirrors. They’re not worth the anxiety attacks.

The best part? Next to no one knows that I suffer from this. I only bring it up if someone repeatedly offers me food and it becomes obvious that I keep declining. I’d rather be someone with food baggage than a dick to someone I care about!

On Dealing with This Clusterfuckerry

1. I do make a point of trying to laugh at myself/my circumstances as often as I can manage.  If I can find the humour in my circumstances and myself, I feel like I’m taking the power back. That perhaps it’s not so big and bad and  horrific, after all (bullsh!t…yes it is, but this little mind game that I play with myself works from time to time).  Also, I make jokes at myself before anyone else gets the chance to.  I’m taking that opportunity away from others, and showing that they have nothing on me/no power over me (a self-deprecating defense mechanism, of sorts).  As Carrie Fisher said, “If my life wasn’t funny, then it would just be true. And that is unacceptable!”

2. Friends (the people, not the TV show…although the TV show is pretty cool, too!)  With the exception of making them cry and having to comfort them when I talk about coping with being lost and not having parents, I have some pretty bomb-@ss people in my life. They’ve kept me rooted in reality, let me be an annoying emo wreck when I need to and love me anyway, indulged me in beautifully soulful conversations (sometimes at ungodly hours, without murdering me…thanks guys! :),  and reciprocate my snark in impressive fashion. I was dreading my birthday this week, but they went above and beyond to make sure I smiled and even nailed it with gifts that I said I didn’t want (a Sad Ghost Club ‘Still Sad’ hat (excellent website with cute stuff, by the way!), cologne and perfume for each of my moods/sides, and enough drinking chocolate for the year).   If I didn’t have them checking in on me regularly, I might not be here typing this right now. Seriously, they help me more than they’ll ever know!

3. I think it’s natural to compare ourselves to others, but I’m making an active effort to do this less. I’ll never be a ‘typical’ woman (see Gender post, if you haven’t reached “STFU, Sam!” level yet), I’ll never be the tall skinny-minnie type that I wish I could be.  And I think I’d be bored, quite honestly, if I were.  Deep down, I think(?) I like myself.

I also make an active effort to compliment at least three random strangers daily.  People can be skeptical or sleazy, unfortunately (New York, what a town!), but for the most part the compliments are received well.  If I can make someone feel good about themselves, even for just a moment, I feel happy.  They feel happy.  We all win.

So there it is…way too much info about me, how I deal with this nonsense, etc.  Whenever I get a “how do you deal…” message, I’ll direct people to this post!