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.

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…

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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.

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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?