National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Come as You Are

It's time to get real about the long-term consequences of eating disorders.

Posted Feb 25, 2019

January was a busy month.  I spent the entire month packing up my apartment so brand new carpeting could be installed.  I’ve been in my apartment for over twenty-three years and I still had the original carpeting (gross, I know).  Who knows how much cat dander was embedded into that carpeting?   Packing was a tedious task and I’m glad it’s over. A good friend came to my home over several weekends to help me as well, and I couldn’t have finished on time without her. She took some of the boxes back to her house to store and my brother took a lot of the boxes back to his garage to store as well (two trips in his family-sized SUV) because the installers had to have room to move the furniture from the bedroom to the living room and back.

I threw out huge trash bags full of stuff, donated clothes and coats and found old letters and photographs I’d forgotten about.  I was sitting in front of a credenza I inherited from my mother and inside I found a card she gave me for no apparent reason, just because she loved me.  The writing on the card read “you’re loved so very much” and she added, “Always, Mom.” I was sitting in front of this beautiful piece of furniture at 6 a.m. in my PJ’s. I started bawling and could not stop.  I took a photo of the card and texted it to my brother.  He texted back, “We had it better than most.”  Which was true.  We had a great mom.

January, specifically Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was the first anniversary of when I had to put my sweet cat Zoe to sleep.  Next weekend I’m going to Brooklyn to meet a three-year-old rescue dog where he’s being fostered at a volunteer’s home.  If he and I decide we like hanging out together, we’re going to take a forever ride home together! Here’s a shot of him.  Isn’t he adorable?

©  gerriluce
Source: © gerriluce

On December 24, 2011, I posted "For The Love of A Dog."  It was my seventh post after I started this blog.  In it, I write about wanting a dog, but being worried about needing to have to go back to the hospital and who would take care of it if I did.  I even had a name picked out for her back then, Sascha.  That's incredible. Without going back and reading that post, that was the name I still wanted for this dog, more than seven years later.  But it's a name for a girl dog and this pooch is a guy.  Back to searching my brain.

Now that I’ve updated everyone on my exciting (LOL) life, it’s time to move to National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) Week, which begins today, Monday, February 25, and goes through Monday, March 3.  I’ve written before about the severe physical consequences that were the result of my eating disorder.  I developed osteoporosis, I lost an inch in height and I’m living with chronic back pain. For me, the hardest consequence to live with has been losing all my teeth due to extreme bone loss in my teeth and jaw.

The journey is far from over.  My original goal was to have the newest technology of snap-in dentures rather than using a plate and an adhesive.  When this all began around 2015, for the sake of appearance—and the ability to chew—my dentist and I agreed to use regular dentures for my upper teeth since those could be completed much faster and my teeth were falling out and crumbling one-by-one.

Eventually, I did receive the snap-in dentures for my lower jaw.  I needed to save up for them, since they are much more expensive. First, implants have to be screwed into the bone inside the jaw, then those have to heal for three to four months.  After that, the denture is created with tiny “locator” holes. The implants snap into the locators and the denture is securely fastened to the gum without using adhesive. It can easily be removed at night for cleaning.

©  gerri luce
Source: © gerri luce

Right before I had the stroke (read the post on this life-changing event), I went to the oral surgeon to have the implants in my upper jaw.  He took a panoramic (360 degree) x-ray and told me he had never seen so much bone loss in the span of a year, and the lower implants were failing as well.  The lower implants held up until just about a month ago when I started having pain with one of them.  I went to my regular dentist and the x-ray revealed, yes, bone loss. She said the reason I was in pain was that the implant was pressing on a nerve.  Back to the oral surgeon and both implants were removed.  Currently, I have no bottom teeth and I’m relegated to soft foods.  The oral surgeon is reviewing my images and considering the options.  He’s mentioned bone grafts, and as far as the upper teeth go, putting the implants in as far up as my sinuses.  That’s fairly invasive and while I trust him, I’m not sure it’s worth achieving my original goal of the snap-in dentures.  Everything is up in the air right now.

Since the theme of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week this year is “COME AS YOU ARE” I’ve decided to get as real as possible and post photos of my dentures.  Don’t get grossed out—the black spots are food stains, not bacteria or anything disgusting like that.  If you look closely at the lower denture, you can see the locator holes.

Take a moment, please, and stop and think about these consequences.  People are aware of osteoporosis and bone loss, but not specifically when it affects the jaw and the teeth.  Problems with tooth loss are typically associated with bulimia and purging.  I never vomited. I purged in other ways, using laxatives and diuretics, but never vomiting.  This is irreversible.  There’s no recourse when there is not enough bone for the implants.  All the newest technology is rendered useless.

I’ve also posted an excerpt from my back MRI, which my otherwise jaded physical therapist called “f@#k%d-up.” I don’t have a medical background, but even I could tell this report wasn’t great.  A couple of weeks ago, I experienced spasms in my back that sent fiery pains every time I moved.  Trying to sleep was torture.  I doubled up my physical therapy appointments and I asked my physical therapist, “Why are you digging in my back with your elbow?”  She replied, “That’s my thumb and I’m trying to get all the knots out.” Finally, after a couple of weeks, they’ve eased up.  But, I have to live with the damage and the pain which ranges on a continuum each day.

I apologize if the type is too small to read.  The report was over one page and this is just a five-paragraph excerpt.  Basically, I have damage at the L2-3, L3-4, L4-5 and L5-S1 levels.  Here is the radiologist's interpretation of the MRI of what's going on at that last level: 

"At L5-S1 there is a circumferential disc bulge, small central disc protrusion, extending caudally, and facet joint degenerative changes.  There is a left conjoined nerve root.  There is a disc protrusion centrally and to the left mildly and extending cranially indenting the cal sac in the region of the exiting left S1 nerve root and extending mildly into the left neural foramen.  There is a right lateral disc protrusion extending into the right foramen impinging the right L5 nerve root."

©  gerriluce
Source: © gerriluce

The emotional effects of anorexia have been devastating, but in a different way.  There’s no way to photograph those.  The perfectionism that drove the anorexia is still with me and haunts me in my career.  Everything has to be right.  The perfectionism is intertwined with a sense of superiority.  I’ve always used this example of when I was active in my eating disorder,  I’d sit in the food court in the mall and allow myself two teaspoons of plain yogurt while watching everyone around me stuff themselves.  I’d feel superior at my self-imposed sense of control.

These two feelings—that I have to be perfect and my sense of superiority—continue to wreak havoc when I sit down to work.  The combination works together as a potent form of self-destruction.  A knot of resentment forms in my gut at the same time I crave adulation from my boss.

My psychiatrist, Dr. Adena (not her real name) and I have been discussing this issue in every session.  Although she and I mutually terminated our work together at the end of 2016, I returned to work with her following my stroke last May. Post-stroke depression is common and my medication needed to be adjusted for a short time.  I’m continuing to see her as I adjust to returning to work, right now with limited hours.  I just reduced my sessions from once per week to one every other week.

Dr. Adena says the first win is that at least I’m aware of these feelings when they arise and I can point them out to myself.  It’s not easy to undo what started in childhood and continued to reinforce throughout my life by my parents.  

I’m more of a fan of body neutrality than body positivity. I may never love my body as the body positive movement urges us to achieve.  Body neutrality is not sucking in my stomach when I pass a store window, it’s about appreciating my body’s capabilities and its potential.  Just as food fuels my internal engine, my body is a vehicle with the strength to transport me from point A to point B.

That’s where I am.  For now.  But life is fluid and ever-changing.  Thank goodness.  For me, stagnation feels as though I'm being sucked into quicksand.

        “The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to     blossom.”

          —Anais Nin

If you or someone you love struggle with disordered eating, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (U.S.) helpline at (800) 931-2237 or National Eating Disorder Information Centre (Canada) at (866) 633-4220.