05 Aug “Check Your Pulse” by Kate
An amazing guest blog by Kate, a young women who shares her personal struggle with anorexia, BPD and her continuing recovery.
Check your pulse.
Hold your fingers against the inside of your wrist, or feel for it in your neck.
This is your life, and your life is in your hands. One decision can finish it. One bad moment is all it takes. Choosing to live is a decision you have to make every second of every day. How fragile it is, this matter of life. How empowering it is, to know that you control your fate.
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As I laid on a stretcher in the emergency department of the hospital, I watched my heart monitor. Beating a mere 38 times per minute, my heart was not in good shape. While most people would be disconcerted by such news, I found it oddly comforting. I had set a new personal record. As I was digesting this information and performing many calculations in my head, I became aware of a squeezing sensation around my upper arm- the blood pressure cuff. I waited in silent agony for the results, willing the reading to be dangerously low. Blood pressure: 80/45. Not bad, Kate, not bad. While I realized that this kind of thinking is very twisted and disturbing, it was very normal for me. I found such comfort in the numbers. They were real, they were reliable, they were the proof that I needed to fight my doubts and uncertainties.
As a young woman suffering from anorexia nervosa, my life was a series of medical and emotional emergencies. For as far back as I can remember, I was painfully aware of my shape and size. At age three I was having meltdowns because I would grow out of a pair of shoes, or a dress. As I grew older, these sensitivities heightened. Seemingly harmless comments from my parents or peers about growing up would send me into tears. It wasn’t until I was 8 years old that I realized that food was the key to solving my problems; I could remain child-like for the rest of my life. I began to control my intake to the best of my ability. I was still “healthy” in body, but definitely not in mind. So began my quest to self-destruct.
In 7th grade, the teachers at my school noticed that I wasn’t eating lunch. Then, as they paid closer attention to me, they realized that the breakfast that my mother packed for me to take on the bus ride to school was landing in the garbage, as well. The teachers phoned my mother to make her aware of the situation. My mother clearly didn’t think it was problematic, as she didn’t even confront me about it. She thought it was just a phase. In a way, my eating, or lack thereof, was a means of asking for help. When my mother didn’t even think I had a problem, I came up with the idea that I wasn’t sick enough yet. It was my fault that no one heard my voice screaming for help. I was the problem.
Things continued to escalate, and in grade 10 I became very ill. I was eating about 300 calories a day, and I was losing weight rapidly. It was then that my mother realized that I had a problem. She took me to my family doctor, where I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. I was referred to a psychiatrist, and an eating disorder program, and was to see my general practitioner weekly for vitals, blood work, and an ECG test. Apart from the medical crisis I was in, I was very unstable mentally and emotionally. I loathed myself, for everything I was, thought, and did. I didn’t think I was fat, but I was very unhappy with the appearance of my body. Too much flesh here and there, too feminine, too adult-like. It was a case of arrested development. My quest for the body of a child left me instead with emotional immaturity and primitive defence mechanisms. I began to self-harm and think about suicide.
One week I got the call from my doctor about my weight, blood work, and ECG. My weight was dangerously low, and the results of the tests were wacky. I was fainting, and my body couldn’t handle the stress that I was putting it through. She told me to go to my local emergency department, but I didn’t. That same week, I met with my psychiatrist for the first time. He diagnosed me with the traits of borderline personality disorder (BPD) and, big surprise, anorexia nervosa. I was so relieved that I could finally talk to someone, and tell them everything that was on my mind without being judged or invalidated. I was tired of not being taken seriously, but here was someone who took me at my word. He didn’t question the reality of my thoughts and feelings. I needed help, and he wanted to help me.
I started to eat again. Little bits at first, then gradually I adopted a more normal diet, reaching my target recovery weight. Many relapses and hospitalizations followed this attempt at recovery, but I’m here today, going strong. I am now at a healthy weight, and I eat as “normally” as I could have ever hoped. I am still really struggling with self mutilation and suicidal tendencies, as well as the impulsivity, emotional lability, emptiness, abandonment fears/rejection sensitivities, and identity disturbances that go along with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, but that’s another story for another time.
What I’m here to tell you is that there is hope and help out there for all those struggling with eating disorders and body image disturbances. What helped me overcome my struggles surrounding eating and body-negativity was finding someone that I could talk to so that I could express myself, my thoughts, and my feelings, and receive support and validation, something that all of us need. There is no shame in seeking help; all of us need it at some point in our lives. In hindsight, if I could have spoken up for myself and sought help earlier, it would have made a huge difference in the course my recovery took. I might not have starved myself to the brink of death to receive the psychiatric attention that I needed. I believe that things happen for a reason, though, and my experiences have taught me many valuable lessons:
- Your thoughts and feelings are valid. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Just because someone else has it the same as you or even worse doesn’t mean that your struggles aren’t real or unique to you.
- A diagnosis doesn’t make you more deserving of help or attention. Just because you don’t fit the criteria for a disorder doesn’t mean that your suffering is any less intense or that your self hatred is any less real. You have nothing to prove to anyone.
- Don’t be ashamed of your suffering. Your worth is not discounted by the number of bad days you’ve had. You are strong. You are deserving. You are a fighter.
- Let what can’t be counted measure your worth. How loved you are is more important than the number on a scale. Your potential is more valuable than the distance around your thigh. Your ability to help people is far more significant and vital than the size of your shorts.
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Check your pulse.
So, this is your life, and your life is a fragile, precious thing. Choosing to live is a decision that I have made, and that I’ll have to make again, and again, and again. It is my hope that one day this decision will no longer pose such a challenge to me. Life is full of struggles and uncertainties, but your fate is in your hands. Hold on to hope, ask for help, and choose life.