A small sterile, windowless room reeking of bleach and plastic. Draped in a faded hospital gown, days spent pacing the room; the long lonely hours interrupted only by a bossy, stern nurse bringing in meals. Trays piled with unrecognizable globs of noodle casseroles, fried chicken and chocolate pudding plopped down for consumption while nurse Stern watched over, making sure every bite is eaten. Then left in the little prison, with no way to exercise, the food sitting like a lump of uncooked dough. Belly painfully distended. With absolutely no control over food, schedule, or body.
I’ve been asked why I so adamantly resisted inpatient. Although the scene described above is how I remembered treatment depicted in an after school special, a quick Google search can find treatment options to be just the opposite. Oceanside programs with private rooms, farm to table meals, and yoga that could make even the healthiest of women to say “sign me up!” But you could have thrown in massage and a pool boy, and inpatient treatment would have still been a terrifying thought to me. Of course I did not want to be away from my family. Sure, I was concerned about what other people would think. The OMG she was sent away kind of gossip I was sure would ensue, bringing embarrassment to my kids and myself. But in reality those were excuses to cover the real reason I did not want go into an inpatient program, I was afraid of losing control. Relenquishing the power I had fought so long and hard to obtain over my life. Using food, and exercise to control my body in efforts to find peace, balance, and security. I was in no way ready to turn my only means of control over to anyone, leaving me feel powerless.
It became evident in that first session with Kirsten that if I did not pull my shit together and eat, that is where I would end up. In treatment and out of control. And I was still convinced, that because I did such a fantastic job getting myself into an eating disorder, I could get myself out.
But that ship had sailed.
As harmful as not eating was to my body, the more significant danger was in the actual consumption of food. Refeeding Syndrome is what Kirsten called it. A term that sounded relevant for sick, weak, dying individuals. Cancer patients or people just out of a coma. Not people like me who could still run, cycle, and play tennis. But Kirsten made it very clear that even if I had it in me to eat more food, I was so undernourished that the hamburgers, pizza, and cake I promised to eat could prove to be fatal. Eating the necessary amount of food could send my body into shock, causing heart failure, renal failure, and seizures. Medical oversight, she said, was critical to my survival. The illusion that my health was just mind over matter was fading with every word Kirsten uttered and after years of trying to get my attention through heart palpitations, amenorrhea, and aching joints, my body was now using Kirsten’s words. It was screaming, “do you hear me now!”
Yes, I heard. And if I were sitting next to my best friend being told this information, I’d say, “don’t be an idiot, you have no choice. I’ll help you pack your bags, sister.”
But I wasn’t willing to be so direct with myself, and even though I heard, I was still not ready to listen.
Refeeding? That is for sick people, not me. Right?