Isolation and the Disordered Eater

When Connection is Your Cure, but Your Community is Quarantined


 

I understand my absolute privilege as a person with a comfortable home, enough savings to handle clients who suddenly can’t pay, an already remote and self-regulated job, and three kids I actually enjoy spending time with. I haven’t for a moment taken for granted that a lot of people are stuck in terrible situations and facing a month of really hard decisions. That’s why whenever anyone asks me with a solemn tone… “so, how are you guys holding up?” I use my perkiest customer service voice to assure them that everything is wonderful and we are just fine.

We get out every day to some green space, have more than enough toilet paper, do you need a roll? And when I put my kids to bed, we lament over just how fast this day slipped by us. We would just love a few more minutes, and so I climb into bed with them and we read one more story (probably three) and I watch them drift off to sleep before I do the dishes and write.

My life is everything I ever wanted, and I cannot complain.

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But the assignment I was handed this week was to be a lot more honest than that. Not that the above isn’t true, it absolutely is. But while everyone talks about what “the new normal” means to them, some of us have been isolating with psychological disorders for years, and this was just one more door that closed for us.
And being stuck in a home with three weeks’ supply of food can be, while I shudder at the word, triggering for someone recovering from decades of eating disorders.

Eating with the Enemy

For six years I’ve had the honor of using these pages to talk about how much I love food. I love food like the drunk girl in the bar bathroom loves EVERYONE. I gas it up, tell it how lucky everyone is to have it, ask it where it got its gorgeous sauces.
It can be difficult to reconcile my appreciation for the art of flavor balancing with the fact of my decades of a sub-450 calorie a day diet. But most psychological disorders come with a side of WTF.

By seven years old, I was well aware that I had an eating disorder. Facial scars I acquired at the ripe old age of 2 meant I had already made my peace with the fact that “pretty” was never going to be my contribution to this world. To the chagrin of early therapists, nutritionists, and personal trainers, restrictive eating and excessive exercise was never about how I looked. There was no finish line. I had just found that counting, cutting, and burning calories was the only thing I had any real control over in a life I was in so many ways powerless to change.

A Little Help

There was no magic day in therapy that “fixed” me, but rather the thought of my future children feeling the way I felt that helped me to make some kind of peace. It was my perfect daughter, Lily. Years before she was born, she saved her mother’s life.

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When I see myself staring back from my daughter’s sweet hazel eyes today, I wish I could hold tiny me and tell her I am so sorry. I wish I could be the mother she needed. But I can honor her now by taking better care of myself, and being that woman for her, for Lily, and for me. I’m grateful that in spite of the adrenal fatigue, hair loss, and joint problems I inflicted upon myself, my beautiful daughter will not inherit my adversarial relationship with food.

But the problem with OCD, PTSD, and eating disorders is that you don’t get fixed. You find yourself in a (hopefully) permanent state of recovery. You know your triggers and avoid them, maintain your support system, and take your steps… every day.

Control What You Can

Today, control looks like meal planning. I celebrate cooking with my children, serving them generous and balanced meals on colorful plates. We play with plating techniques and flavor combinations. And I eat. Right beside them, I serve my plate and we sit together and I swallow each mouthful with gratitude, and a little pain.

I find myself meditating when I am alone, when their sweet smiles aren’t here to convince me that I, too, deserve to eat today.  I hear myself saying out loud “Don’t throw the food away. You can’t go back to the store this week, don’t throw it away.” Pushing past the OCD that can tell you 26 ways I caused this pandemic, I remind myself that I am not powerful enough to convince my landlord not to raise our rent for the fourth year in a row, there is no way I am powerful enough to shut the entire world down. And neither are you.

Make the Call

My only advice is this; reach out. Phone a friend. Reframe things as often as you need to. Today, do it for your kids. Tomorrow, do it so that you’re strong enough to workout when the gyms reopen. The next day, cut your bangs. It’s ok. Do it because you have control over those bangs and whether or not they look ugly right now. And today, find an experienced telehealth specialist. BetterHealth has options within your budget.
I will never escape my demons, but I have cultivated an uneasy friendship with them. We’ve been through a lot together, and we regularly make peace over a really excellent meal.
And if you ask the only people I care about, they’ll tell you that I’m a really great mom. If you need one, I’m here. I think you’re doing an amazing job, and I promise we’re going to be ok.


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