What being diagnosed with an “old woman” disease taught me about my eating disorder
by a “Healthy” Young Woman (Anon)
You’re young, you’ll be fine.
Your lab work is perfectly normal.
You’re a healthy young woman.
You’re not underweight.
Are you sure it’s that bad? You don’t look “anorexic.”
I’m not sick enough for treatment, it’s not like I’m on a feeding tube.
Do these comments bring to mind something similar you’ve heard from others, or that even Ed (the Eating Disorder) has told you? I bet you have heard these things too. Whether from others or from your own internal landscape, misconceptions and ignorance about eating disorders continually push the message that we are “not that bad” or even worse “not sick enough” to need to enroll in a recovery program for it. Like many of you, I thought the same way for a long time. This week everything changed, and I am sharing my story with you so you can take my last warning as your first one.
Call me Anon. I’m a twenty-something-year-old sufferer of an eating disorder. My diagnosis may have changed over time, but the story was always the same – at around 13 years old I started turning to food for control, much like many of you have. We all have our own unique reasons for turning to or developing a relationship with Ed, but none of those reasons really matter now that we’ve been dedicated to him for so long. The problem is now our relationship with Ed, not what led us to it.
Never good enough – for what?
I’ve always been an over-achieving perfectionist, though not for the most healthy of reasons. I strove to be the best in order to prove myself to some unseen entity that told me I was never “good enough.” I was, in fact, perfectly good enough as I was. I mean, how could it deny me now that I’ve achieved X, Y, Z milestone or got A, B, C recognition? Clearly, I was good enough. Good enough for what? I never really found out – perhaps, good enough to simply exist. Only recently did I realize that I never had to prove my existence to anyone, I was already here. However, by the time I learned that lesson, Ed and I had been doing our dysfunctional dance for more than a decade.
Sure, I tried to recover before. Twice actually in a formal treatment basis, and both times Ed sweet-talked me into coming back to him. He always knew the right thing to say, and like the dupe I was – I obeyed him.
Worried about the bone scan
I’m not sure what changed this time, maybe I just couldn’t deny it anymore, or maybe it was because I have forged a family of my own that supports me, friends that love me, and finally began to feel I had value. Regardless of the driving force, I wanted to recover once and for all so I searched for a well-qualified treatment team – and found one I did. After about three sessions with the dietitian with specialty in treating eating disorders, I was sent for a medical work up. My lab work had always been fine so I figured it’d be okay, the only thing I was really worried about was the Bone Scan.
As an aside, let me say it’s not easy to get a bone scan ordered when you’re a woman under 60 years old, but it is so important that you must push for it if you have an eating disorder! Don’t let the doctor, who may not have any experience with eating disorders, tell you that you don’t need one – be your own medical advocate.
This reality sucks
Well, it looks like my over-achieving self had another achievement to add to its long list. Only this one, I wanted no part of. This week I got the results from my bone scan, something I expected and even hoped to only say “osteopenia.” Why had I hoped for it? Because the twisted sense of denial that Ed gives us all made me. I had hoped for just a mild bit of damage as justification for being in medical treatment for an eating disorder because somewhere deep down I felt like a fraud.
I wasn’t skeletal, why did I need to get treatment? Something inside me felt like I should’ve been able to think my way out of this illness, but if I did have damage show up then I could be allowed to say I was in treatment for an eating disorder. Naysayers would shut up in the face of my medical proof. (Truth is, I never needed others to believe me at all. Ed was putting doubt in my mind in order to lay the framework of trying to win me back.)
One thing I wasn’t expecting or ready for was reality sucker punching me in the face with little to no remorse for it. As I read down the results of my bone scan I saw things were worse than I ever could have expected.
Every test site showed a bone density score measuring at osteopenia, except one. My spine.
I couldn’t stop crying as I read the words:
None of my bones are healthy
That’s right, none of my bones are healthy, and in fact my spine is already in the osteoporosis stage. Now, I have a very short window of opportunity to turn this around, meaning that my recovery timeline has been forcibly accelerated in order to attempt to reverse this damage.
While I am lucky in that I am young and it should be reversible, I won’t know the extent of the reversibility until I see an osteo-specialist; something I’ve had to hound my doctor for a referral to (in fact I’m about to follow up with my doctor about this again today).
What about your bones?
Now let me make this very clear for those of you who may still be doubting if you’re sick enough, or if my story even applies to you:
- I never lost my period.
- I never went under 18.5 BMI.
- I was never considered as having Anorexia Nervosa because of the above (My classification was EDNOS or Atypical).
- I didn’t starve myself every day all the time year after year, it came in waves.
- My hair didn’t fall out.
- I didn’t have the classic “obvious” anorexia signs to the outside world.
I’m not even 30 years old, and I have an “old lady” disease due to my eating disorder.
If I can do this, so can you
It has been a rough week, to say the least, but it lit a fire under me to get to work. If I can do this, so can you. Get into treatment, and whenever you hear that voice telling you “you’re not sick enough” know that’s the voice of Ed, singing you a siren song towards your own grave. Ignore it. Get help.
About Anon (by Anon)
A 20-something sufferer of an eating disorder finally sick and tired of listening to Ed’s lies. Anon is undergoing her (hopefully) final battle against her eating disorder, and hopes that her story can spark that fighting spirit in others.