Yoo-hoo Invisible Teeth, Where are you?

Teething. Three words: Shit. It. Sucks.

“Da, da, ahhhhh,” then tears–non-stop tears out of her dark baby brown eyes.

“What’s wrong?” I say, rocking her up and down, shushing while simultaneously doing squats. It weirdly helps and as a nice bonus, is also good for my inner-thighs and booty. When that doesn’t help, I try the bottle or bah bah. She pushes it away like it’s the worst thing ever or in her eyes, naptime. Then, when all else fails, I am left with the realization— she must be teething.

The worst part about it is that it has been two months of on-and-off pain, this past week being a very on week, with no teeth in sight. I call them the imaginary teeth.

I tell my husband, “I am going to give Viv Tylenol for her imaginary teeth,” as I squirt some into her mouth. Vivienne usually plays hard-to-get with the syringe, but actually enjoys the sweet cherry flavor.

I find myself massaging her gums, letting her nibble my fingers; to make the imaginary teeth feel better. I am giving her frozen teethers on the daily hoping they are laced with magical whiskey to really make her feel better. Kidding, but I think my parents may have done that to me, which may explain a couple of things…

We are waiting for those first few teeth to come in because we are told after they come in it gets better. Plus she is almost nine months and most babies sprout their first tooth between four and seven months.

The interesting thing about imaginary teeth or not visible teeth is that there is nothing to justify the pain. Invisible pain is exactly what mental illness is. Mental illness you are hurting terribly but an outsider can’t see your pain. It’s not a broken limb and the person doesn’t look sick. It’s kind of like your soul is sprouting its first tooth, teething non-stop, but like Viv’s current gum situation, everything on the outside looks unchanged.

I think it makes people feel better when something is visible. Like, if Vivienne’s teeth started coming in, we would feel better, because it would be actual proof to why she was acting moody, cranky, waking up every two hours. Now, we can only suspect and go by her moods because there is nothing that meets the eye.

That’s the same thing with eating disorders: anorexia and bulimia. Because anorexia has a physical component people take it more seriously than bulimia while both are deadly eating disorders. This also applies to people with EDNOS (eating disorders not otherwise specified). The person can suffer from anorexia but not meet the weight criteria and therefore not be qualified for treatment. Just because they look healthy doesn’t mean there isn’t something deeper going on. I suffered with EDNOS for most of high school, but because I gained weight people thought I must be healthy, until I lost the weight. And then some.

I remember thinking this was so ironic, and it is, in a totally Alanis Morissette way. When I was making myself sick with laxatives every night and Jabba-the-Hutt fat (as I called myself at my weight peak), no one said anything about my eating, but when I was skinny, that was considered unhealthy and a cause for concern? I never really understood that. In my mind, even though I was too skinny, I wasn’t abusing laxatives so I was healthier. Either way, I wasn’t the pinnacle of health, but I digress. That’s the crazy thing about invisible pain—no one knows about it except for you.

Now Viv unfortunately doesn’t speak a lot of English yet, but I go by her moods. I know she is in pain and can’t let her suffer. Soon her teeth will come in and her pain will be gone. It’s not that easy for people with mental illness. Viv speaks her pain with tears and that’s the only way I know. If you have mental illness don’t be afraid to speak your pain. People care, will listen, and you can get better. In the meantime, all I can say is teething. Three words: Shit. It. Sucks.

Prouder Then Ever Of My Frump

“Dani you always wear the same blues.” My mom said looking me up and down, up and down, eyes scanning me from head to toe.

“That’s because I aspire to be a smurf,” I said straight faced, because you know what? It’s kind of true. Who wouldn’t want to be a cute little blue humanoid and get to live in a mushroom-shaped house? I would change my identity to “Frumpy Smurf.” It would be a perfect fit. But I digress…

So what are these so-called blues? The blues are sets of pajamas I have– all a shade of blue, not an extremely complex concept–which I wear on a nightly basis. Oh and I look forward to getting into them all day long, that sometimes I actually sneak them on during the day too. I know, so scandalous or face with stuck-out tongue and winking eye emoji-worthy crazy. Hands down favorite part of the day: taking the bra off and putting on the blues. And I am not some crazy “blue lady,” believe it or not, this collection of comfies is totally coincidental: The blue life chose me; I didn’t choose the blue life. There is one thing they all have in common besides their color scheme. They are so comfy like what I would imagine being wrapped-up in a Little Giraffe swaddle to feel like.

Anyway, my mom thought I could use a wardrobe overhaul. Which I translated into: Dani, I want to GET RID OF THE BLUES. All I could do was picture her throwing them in a big black garbage bag and me in slow motion screaming: NOOOO.

Viv plays with my blues all the time—giving me big “hugy hugs” in them, playing with my sleeves. I have a zipper on a sweatshirt that she pulls up and down as she giggles at the short hissing noise it makes.

For years when I was struggling with anorexia, actually the majority of my life, I cared so much about what others thought about me. You are not pretty enough for this person or not smart enough for that person. I heard the ana voices constantly screaming in my ears. Now, the only person’s opinion I care about is my daughter’s and she loves me, frump included. She loves me for me–no makeup, comfy sweats, and hair in a messy bun. A child’s love goes a long way. Babies just want to love and be loved. They are so sweet, pure and innocent. They know good people, so when you have a baby’s love and approval, you know you are doing something right. In conclusion, keep being you.

So my reply to my mom would be reminiscent of Cher in Clueless “as if” or “whatever.” Meaning, no wardrobe overhaul needed, but thank you!

So yes I will wear my blues. I feel my best in them and that’s all that matters because remember the comfy blue life chose me and now I choose it back.

Two Thumbs Up For Maudsley

“There’s one more option up for consideration,” My eating disorder therapist told us. My blank face stared back at her in suspense. Yes, one more option, I need one more so damn badly. “We can try the Maudsley approach.”

Maudsley approach—I wanted to say bless you in response because it sounded like a sneeze. My parents and I had never heard of it, but I was excited to learn that it was an alternative to being sent away to residential treatment or hospitalization. I was willing to do anything, ANYTHING not to be sent away!

The Maudsley approach (“weight restoration”) is an intensive outpatient treatment where parents play an active and positive role in order to: 1) help restore their child’s weight to normal levels, 2) hand the control over eating back to the adolescent, and 3) encourage normal adolescent development through an in-depth discussion of these crucial developmental issues as they pertain to their child. Maudsley considers the parents to be a resource and an essential component in successful treatment for anorexia nervosa. Basically, the parents are responsible for feeding the child and finding any acceptable way to be sure she eats. The parents are full members of the treatment process and an integral part of recovery. There would, of course, be modifications based on my age. I was an adult, so these standard rules would be customized toward my own needs, and not being an adolescent would make this a trial of sorts.

Now, imagine moving back home at the age of twenty-six and giving this approach a shot. Well that’s what I did. I withdrew any bit of control over food and put it into the hands of my parents. Having not lived at home since I was eighteen, this proved difficult for both my parents and I. We had to find a proper family dynamic that was able to work for everyone. I am not sure we ever achieved that specified dynamic as we constantly struggled, but we were at least able to make it work and plant the seeds for my recovery flower to start to FULLy blossom.

What I did find was that the results are even far more than recovery—it is a closeness and richness in relationships that become a gift, a silver lining of a very dark cloud. We are all better because we shared this process together.

First off, weight restoration happened with the help of an eating disorder specialist and therapist. Parents are by no means professionals and need the help along the way, so I wouldn’t suggest this approach without the guidance of a professional or professional(s). It was also extremely hard on them. They had to pause their lives for the time I was home to play food-police. I was able to get back to a healthy weight in five months, but hell, weight restoration was the hardest thing I ever did in my life. Take one entry from a journal I kept during this time:

Time: 12:45 pm

Lunch: Cream cheese and lox on Mom’s special nutritious bread and Dr. Brown’s cream soda

How I am feeling: I shut the door to my and my dad’s conjoint office space to block out all the people at work before we ate our lunches together. For some reason, I always feel rushed at work—afraid someone may come in and make a comment about “me actually eating.” Yes, believe it or not, people actually say that to me now that I am eating—Correction, being helped to force-feed myself. I ate it pretty quickly out of fear of those comments. I am finding that just getting the food down as quick as possible is my best method of ingestion these days.

During the meal, my dad called in Marie, our secretary, to retrieve papers on his desk. I was a little annoyed at him and afraid she would make a comment about what I was eating, but she didn’t. I felt relieved, but I am still very uncomfortable eating in front of people because honestly I can’t take their comments or the attention it draws to me. It makes me hate myself a little more and makes me feel even more sorry for myself. People think its okay to continue to jokingly put me down for not being able to do something so natural like eat. My condition is not a choice. I explained this to my dad and he said he understood, the best someone without an eating disorder could probably understand. He probably thinks I am crazy, but I would have to agree with that sentiment. My hands were shaking as I finished my sandwich. Then I went back to work, trying to distract myself from the never-ending dialogue playing inside my mind. You are so fat and worthless, Dani. No one will love you if you gain weight. Nothing I do is ever good enough for the voices. They always tell me that someone so horrible doesn’t deserve the food. It’s so hard not to believe them.

                                        ***

After the first two phases, I still had some soul searching to do on my own. I had to find myself not only as a healthy adult in society, which I had never been before, but re-build from years of depression and isolation. I ended up moving back to my apartment, working with my therapist, and was able to keep myself on track. My recovery came with many knocks, more than a handful of relapses, and it’s hard to restore a social life or any kind of normal life when you are coming from an ed-lifestyle: work-centric, depressed, and sick. It is possible though. Many others and I have achieved this and are living FULL lives without our eating disorders.

So, do I think this method is practical? Yes I do. With a good support system it  worked for me and may work for someone you know. At the same time, I was in a place where I wanted to get better. It would have been much harder for someone who was more resistant at my age.

Would I recommend this to anyone? No way! Everyone has their own road to recovery, their own story, and their own journey. But I do suggest you don’t make this excursion alone.

Proud Of My Frump

“Why do you still order maternity swimsuits?” My husband said eyeballing me as I slipped on the new polka-dotted swimsuit I got on amazon to see if it fit. I just looked quickly down at my body and went through the checklist in my head: it fit ✓, covered my thighs ✓. Perfect, I thought, and then stripped it right off robotically. This bathing suit was a “winner winner chicken dinner,” in my book. Which brought me back to another very important decision in my life– hmm, what should we have for dinner?

“Hello, Yoo-Hoo, Earth to Dani.” The hubs said waving his hands in front of my face. Waking me up from my zombie or more like zombie chicken like trance.

“Because they are more comfortable, a little lose, more flattering.” I answered, swatting his hands away like he was a pesky bee zigzagging around my head. Plus, he was kind of acting like one.

He clearly doesn’t know my checkered history with swimsuits. At least I will now wear one in public. My worst nightmare was to actually have to go to a store and put one on in front of the mirror. Both, terrible nightmarish situations—especially for this self-proclaimed anti-shopper with a poor body image.

It used to go something like this:

Try it on. Look in the mirror: flab, cottage cheese, fat or arms, thighs and stomach respectively. Followed by feelings of sadness and failure.

It would not be legen–wait for it—dary in the words of How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson or “not legendary at all.”

If you don’t get it still here is a simple equation: See-no-evil monkey emoji times twelve, as I would stare in the mirror completely horrified.

Now, I find myself in this not so legendary bathing suit situation every Thursday. My daughter takes swim lessons and obviously an eight month old can’t swim alone, meaning I have to go in with her. Though her instructor informed me she is pretty buoyant, I don’t think I should chance it just yet. So every Thursday we go to swim and I change myself then her into our bathing suits. When I walked out of the locker room our first lesson, to my surprise, I didn’t even think about the fact that I was wearing the dreaded swimsuit. And five months later, I still don’t.

Recovery is the key that unlocked all of my doors clasped tightly together by shame. Recovery has let me live, and thus experience. All of these amazing momentous things happened to me because I am in recovery. There was a trickle down effect of sorts. If I wasn’t in recovery, I couldn’t have a baby: one, because I wouldn’t have let anyone in (so unless I was The Virgin Mary herself that wouldn’t be possible) and two, because I wasn’t healthy enough to conceive. If I didn’t have a baby, I wouldn’t have really understood how amazing my body was and really appreciated it.

So yes, because I am in recovery and my body was able to give me my daughter, wearing a swimsuit has become a non-issue. I hardly think twice about how I look while playing in the pool with her. I see my daughter’s smile, hear her laugh as she “splashy splashes the water,” and that’s all that matters. In that way, thank you recovery for giving me the experiences and perspective to make a swimsuit that—just a swimsuit.

So no, I won’t be the girl rocking the tiny string bikini, thinking I look hot, but that just isn’t me or what I am about at all. Plus, I think some old fashioned modesty goes a long way. So yes, I will be the girl in the one-piece, or comfortable two-piece playing confidently with my daughter, smiling, laughing. And you know what, I don’t care what society says about my frumpy suits; I am happy and have come a long way.

Don’t Handle The Holidays Like Tickle-Me-Elmo

I gazed over at the table set-up buffet style in the kitchen examining what I was going to eat at this break-the-fast feast. There was a brown basket filled to the brim with bagels: two cinnamon raisin, four everything, the rest plain–at least that’s what I made out from my view. Cream cheese, whitefish salad, egg salad, tuna salad, all in perfect circular scoops, rested on a long plate beside the carb filled basket. There was a tray, to the right of that, filled with kugel and blintzes. Wow, so much food.

Not too long ago, it would have made me literarily shake, hands vibrating like an out of control Tickle-Me-Elmo doll, and want to plan my exit. I know I would be great at Escape the Room, because no one has perfected the escape better than me. Now, the food was actually beautiful in its arrangements, smells, and colors. How poetic, right?

“Vivie look at the pretty colors,” I said, giving my baby girl a tour around the table from my arms.

Vivienne stared and started smiling, even clapping her hands–then she tried to reach for a bagel. I hope she always has this attitude towards food. She loves it.

Yom Kippur is my favorite holiday in terms of dinner food, and no, not because it’s the one-day I get to fast without people asking questions. I could eat breakfast for dinner everyday and be happy. I can’t say that wasn’t the reason a couple of years back though…

             ***

Holidays are the worst when you have an active eating disorder. Everyone is there, analyzing what you look like and what you put in your mouth. It is neither relaxing nor fun to be around all that food, especially when people are talking about their dieting resolutions while stuffing their faces. Enraging! They’d be commenting on how all the food on the table was “fattening” before eating it, while simultaneously talking about putting on their “fat pants.” Then they’d expect me to eat all that fattening food after that. Yeah, right. Triggers anyone?

 People who really meant well would piss me off with insulting my intelligence by trying to entice me to eat. “Mmmm, Dan, you have to try these mashed potatoes; they are so delicious.” Don’t shove it in my face that you can eat it, you fool! It’s not going to make me want it more! I wanted to pat them on the back and say, “Good for you.”

I would feel uncomfortable and bad about myself with each bite everyone else took, with each bite I took, with each moment where I felt abnormal. I couldn’t go. I couldn’t handle any of it, and it was no one’s fault but my own. That’s why I would tell them I was too sick to make it or my eyes were burning, as I had corneal erosions from malnutrition at the time—anything to get out of it.

***

The holidays for me now represent recovery. In recovery I can get together with my family, loved ones, and really enjoy myself. I don’t have to worry about eating in any capacity and can catch up with my family.

However, I do think it’s important for family members to not make triggering comments that can set a loved one in recovery back. Avoid trying to get someone to eat by shoving it in their face, making comments about their size, drawing attention to their problem, demanding they eat etc.—it won’t work and will most likely be detrimental. Pick a time when you can speak to the person in private, then explain why you’re concerned. At a holiday meal, is not the time.

Anyway, the point is that the holidays, once a time I avoided, now is a time where I can embrace my FULL—being FULLy in recovery and being okay with the satisfied FULL feeling. How are you going to embrace your FULL this holiday season?