Tag Archives: counselling

The Mind and Eating Disorders

I’ve talked before about the eating disorder I grew up with. It was always accompanied with self-loathing and vows to never binge again. Those vows were always broken. I felt I couldn’t remove myself completely from eating because we obviously need food to live. It wasn’t like alcoholism, I told myself, because you can remove yourself completely from alcohol. In many ways it was just like alcoholism.

One reason to eat all of something was instant gratification. The more my life sucked the more I could find instant pleasure in eating. I could not get enough of the taste. But then of course it was the catch-22 of hating myself for eating so much, feeling fat, sometimes gaining weight (though not always because I’d cut out most other foods), being hungry, eating sugars. Around and around and around.

When I finally sought help, I couldn’t go for counselling because it’s not covered by the health care system. But psychiatry is. Psychiatrists sort of counsel but they love to give out medications. I mentioned in my other post about the Prozac and then the Fenfluramine. Every week when I went in to see the psychiatrist he’d ask me how many times I had vomited. I would say, “Remember I’m the bulimic that doesn’t puke?” It didn’t give me much faith that he couldn’t note this in my chart or get it right.

We never talked about how I felt, why I couldn’t control my eating or why I had a bad body image. We talked about my writing, in the least likely way to relate to eating disorders. He told me, oh you’ll lose weight on these drugs. This psychiatrist specialized in eating disorders and had evening sessions at his home for people to talk about their experiences. I’d go and there would be a bunch of skeletal models and me, the bulimic, the fat one. It didn’t inspire me to feel like I wasn’t the only one with my problem. Instead I felt like the only weirdo amongst the weirdos. But still, all of those models knew at least one person who had died from anorexia. I didn’t. I think I only attended one of these meetings.

It’s said that people’s serotonin levels balance how much they eat. Too much and they eat little. To little and they eat a lot. I don’t believe my serotonin levels were out of whack to begin with but with the years of the disorder I do believe that they became unbalanced and that’s why I never felt full. I don’t know if this is accurate but it did seem to change. After about a year of taking the drugs and not losing a pound, of fruitless “counselling” and seeming to go nowhere, I quit the drugs and I quit the psychiatrist.

I did realize then that in fact my eating behavior had changed. I felt full when I ate. I could now have some chocolate in the house, or ice cream and not eat it all in one sitting. I still rarely keep these things in my place for fear of triggering the disorder but I can have them in small quantities now. When I’m depressed or unhappy there is still the urge to gorge but it’s more controllable. I feel less out of control and I can rule the food as opposed to it ruling me.

When people look at an overweight person and arrogantly say, She/he should just lose some weight, they need to understand it’s not an easy thing. True, dieting in and of itself takes time and isn’t easy but there are many factors than someone judging by looks alone can’t know. There could be genetic factors such as thyroid issues, metabolic such as a sluggish one or high cortisol factors, emotional factors such as past abuses, psychological such as phobias and blocks, and other external factors. One can’t know unless they’re in those person’s shoes. And even the person dealing with eating disorders and weight issues may not know. I’m not a medical professional so I can’t name all of the aspects that could affect a person’s weight but to gain or lose weight is not always as easy as just willing it.

The brain is a powerful tool and it can kill us. People with eating disorders struggle enough within themselves. Not one, whether thin or fat, wants to be that way. They either see themselves as fat when they’re not, or possibly thin when they’re not. However, an overweight person or a skinny person does not automatically mean an eating disorder. As I said, there are other factors and some people are naturally not in what we conceive of as the norm for body size, and some are happy where they are. But one thing is for sure, the more ridicule the person with a disorder receives the harder it is for them to get to a state of mental health.

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Alcoholism and Life

I grew up with an alcoholic father. Some might debate this but he drank a fair amount, did terrible things to us and grew violent. It was not pretty and it marred us with scars we bear to this day. My mother went back to school at one point and worked as an alcohol and drug abuse counsellor so she knew the signs well. It’s interesting, before she moved into that line of work, the men she dated were all alcoholics.

I also had a friend who became my best friend and lived across the alley from me. We got into various types of trouble together, went to parties, and drank underage, as most of our friends did. I cannot tell her tale as to what pushed her too far. It could be an easy statement of physiology though easy is not the way it was. By sixteen she was an alcoholic with a host of embarrassing events under her belt, making difficult for her friends to be around her. I asked my mother what to do (and I have to say my mother was very good about not berating us for drinking underage) so she gave me some pamphlets to pass on to my friend. One was a checklist of behaviors that could indicate you’re an alcoholic. Some of the statements were: do you not remember what you’ve done while drinking, do you pass out after drinking, do you feel the need to drink every day–things like that.

Of course, giving a teenager such pamphlets didn’t go over that well and as high school grew towards its end and my friend also became pregnant (facilitating a quick marriage), we also started to grow apart. I couldn’t help her and she was going to need to help herself. I don’t know if she was embarrassed by her alcoholism or felt that I judged her (and I confess that I did at that time) but we eventually lost contact. It was only many many years later that she made the effort to contact me, having been dry for a long time, with grown and growing children. I then had to get past the wall that I had left behind from that time.

In high school I had also started dating a guy who I went with for a year and a half. He was two years older than me so he was finished while I was in grade 11. And he worked at a pub. I looked old for my age and could get into the bars without being ID’d. (Oddly enough, after I turned legal age, I was ID’d often.) He too became an alcoholic, drinking too much and too often. I don’t remember if that’s what broke up the relationship but it was a contributing factor.

I’d seen enough alcoholism by my mid-twenties, including an Irish couple in Vancouver who were on a self-destructive path through their drinking.  We also stopped being friends. And there are others, those with the red splotchy faces, the abusive tongues, the rude behavior that had driven friend and family away. I would often talk to these people, if they were friends, expressing concern but when they continued along their way I felt I didn’t need to be in the path of their abuse either.

I was arrogant enough to think I’d never be an alcoholic because I didn’t like alcohol that much and I was aware of it. That may have been the case but I wasn’t aware of the abyss in my soul and where it was sucking me to. I was unhappy and single, while all my friends were in couples. I hated myself, my eating disorder was out of control. On top of it, I’d fallen in love with a man who didn’t love me and inadvertently probably rubbed the fact in my face with his patronizing way.

Before I knew it I was drinking to drown the pain and perceived loneliness. I stood in the back of a poetry performance night one evening, crying (from my broken heart), then going out to my car to drink a cider, then coming in and crying, and repeating in progressively drunken way. I went to a camping event and proceeded to get so drunk that I didn’t know what I did. In essence, I had a blackout. Then on New Year’s eve I went to Blaine to some friends’ party. Bored and feeling the loneliness around all the couples there, I decided to drive back to Vancouver to another party.

Lucky for me, some friends braved my wrath and took my keys away. I later passed out and left the next day. Shortly after that night I was thinking of my life and realized I teetered on the edge of becoming a full fledged alcoholic. The brink was close and I was sliding over it. Also lucky for me, with that realization, I started to reassert control over my life.

And two friends at that time, drew straws to see who would approach me and say I had a drinking problem. The loser got to come up to me, probably expecting me to tear into her. But when she said, we think you have a drinking problem, I said, Thank you for being such good friends to tell me. You have the right, if you see me out of control at any time, please tell me.

And after that, I did try to control it, and not drink to cover my problems. Alcoholism, though, can strike for a number of reasons. Some people are physiologically more susceptible. Others make it part of their lifestyle. Others use to flood the hollow spots. It is the duty of anyone who is friend or family to say to the drinker, You have a problem and you need help. But as always, it is up to the person to change and hopefully have the support of friends when they take that path. I learned some valuable lessons about drinking and about me. I wouldn’t want to go that road again.

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Driving Me Crazy: Driver Etiquette

I really think that there are way too many people on the road these days who shouldn’t be there, who don’t know how to drive or who have forgotten or who have become just plain dangerous. What’s the solution? Have them do a driver’s test every year? Well, that would raise the cost of our licenses and everyone would study up (which would help) but it doesn’t mean they would drive better the rest of the time. So, I’m not sure what the solution is. Spy drivers? Increase fines for when you’re caught? But fines, like death, are something that people think will never happen to them.

Our cities are too congested, our roadways inadequate for the commuting, our public transit inefficient or too expensive for many commuters, our homes too expensive and so people buy further and further out. This all leads to people going long distances, speeding, feeling pressured, working too much and getting angry. Governments need to take a far ranging approach but also every person has to take responsibility for their own actions.

Here are some of the purely insane or stupid things I’ve seen drivers do. If you’re reading this, I hope you won’t/don’t do these or will consider not continuing to do them.

  • Changing lanes into a turning lane and then signal. Duh, it’s obvious once you’re in the turning lane that you’re going to turn. Let’s look at the word “signal.” What does it mean? If you signal someone or something you are attracting attention and letting someone know you’re going to do something. A turning signal lets people know you’re going to turn or change lanes. You use it before you move into another lane, not after. And as the bumper stickers say, it is not an option. It’s the law. If you signal that you’re changing lanes it lets the drivers around you know that you may be changing speed and merging. The signal should blink at least three times (not a half-blip) before you do any lane change or turn, giving everyone enough time to react properly. It’s done for safety and to avoid accidents. 
  • Speeding up to not let people in. I watched a guy in rush-hour traffic yesterday as all of us crept along. He would leave a big space in front of his car, but when a car signalled properly that it was going to change lanes and then merged into the empty spot, the guy sped up and honked his horn at the car, then of course veered into the HOV lane without signalling (and a single driver). Remember this, folks. No one is ever first on the road. It’s a long asphalt snake with no beginning and no ending (more or less) and there is always someone ahead of you and behind you. Try some courtesy and it might be returned. It’s give and take; if someone signals and gives enough time, let them in, and if you are the one signalling don’t cut off a car coming up quickly. Oh, and if someone does let you in, do signal them with a wave of thanks. It’s the polite thing to do.
  • Sideswiping and crowding. I’ve been nearly pushed into the retaining wall on the highway when I was already on the exit ramp and a truck came over from the next lane into me. I honked and he just kept coming, pushing me onto the shoulder. I’ve had some insane woman nearly crush me because I was coming from a merging lane, signalling, and she wouldn’t let me in, willing to risk damage. Another guy one night, when the highway was empty, came into my lane and pushed me toward the retaining wall. Why? I don’t get this at all. Where do you think people should go? We can’t disapparate.
  • Insane road rage. But perhaps the above is just another sign of road rage. Like the time I was in the curb lane with cars parked beside me. A car stopped in front of me, a taxi I think, to let someone out. The car behind me blared his horn. Then after the car in front of me turned off, that car followed me with his lights on high. I’m still not sure how I was supposed to do anything else.
  • Street racing: we can blame car companies partly for the increase in this. Ads always declare the cars fast and sexy. And yeah, young guys have to prove they’re cool by racing but it’s absolutely unsafe and enough people have already been killed in Vancouver because of it. Drag racing was the old style problem and again could be an issue for safety of other drivers and pedesterians. But the amount of souped up and super fast cars makes this even more of an issue. Speeds of 150 km in the city are not acceptable and you certainly can’t react fast enough at that speed.

Sideswiping, speeding, tailgating, rudeness, all are extremely dangerous and do lead to accidents and death. It is the worst type of bullying, and criminal. I still think of those poor guys, on the way to the airport, who were first pushed off the road and then the guy came back, insane with anger, and ran over one young man, killing him.  Why? Did they do something first? Who knows but this sort of escalation is completely crazy. Driving isn’t a game or a competition. Not on our city streets. It’s thousands of people, each one unique and important in their way, and they all have a myriad things going on. They’re busy, sick, preoccupied, worried, happy, rushed, relaxing, whatever. It’s about people getting safely from one destination to the next. You, the driver cannot possibly know why someone does something. People sometimes make stupid mistakes. But if we try to be kinder, calmer, not presume the worst and be more aware, perhaps we can save just a few more lives, or a lot more, on the roads.

And I have to watch it when these drivers drive me crazy. Therein lies the path to road rage. Right now I shoot them with my finger gun and leave at that, grateful that we do have gun laws. Maybe counselling should be added to every driver’s licence exam. Counselling before you get the license and every couple of years.

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Eating Disorders and the Forbidden Food

I grew up with an eating disorder. It’s not that I wanted to be a super skinny creature after seeing too many anorexic models and movie stars. I didn’t want to layer myself in cushions of fat to keep the world at bay. Really, to this day, I don’t know what my reasoning was but I know I had no control.

The background is that my father sexually abused my older sister and me. That leaves a lifetime of scars. I don’t have statistics before me but I know in the past that I’ve read that something like 80% of people who were sexually abused have eating disorders. Cause and effect.

For me, it was a bit of a different style. I wouldn’t starve myself, but I would binge, but never throw up. I was missing that second half of the bulimic equation. Mostly, from such an unbalanced diet, I would get diarrhea and purge that way. Anorexics and bulimics might take Ex-lax or stick their fingers down their throats to vomit. Mine was more natural. I tried the throwing up thing once and couldn’t do it.

No one ever binges on lettuce or carrots. It’s sweets and carbohydrates; junk food and fatty foods. I was put on a diet by the doctor when I was about 12 (my eating disorder began around the same time). I remember nothing of what I was supposed to eat, except sneaking down to the freezer in the basement and pilfering cookies. When I was in my late teens/early twenties, I would buy candies from various stores. Like an alcoholic, I would try to not hit the same store twice in case they started to recognize and judge me. I never had any change in my purse because I used every spare cent for sugary crap.

Once I was going off to dance class. (I was living with my boyfriend but I hid my sweet secret from him too.) I had a bag of smarties (or something similar). I threw it in the dumpster when I left for the class but when I came home, I dug it out, ashamed but unable to stop myself. No one knew I had this eating disorder. It was a dark secret, a terrible stigma. When I moved to Vancouver it continued, in my home, when alone. I ate normally in front of people.

I tried diets several times. But my pattern of not eating much and then binging on a full bag of cookies, a box of chocolates, a carton of ice cream, continued. Diets worked to a degree, until one year. I tried Weight Watchers and gained in the first week. I hated myself. I weighed 175 lbs, more than I’d ever weighed, I was single but all my friends weren’t, and I’d fallen in love (accidentally) with a man who couldn’t love me. I nearly became an alcoholic, recognizing that abyss only when I was hanging over it by a thread.

Finally desperate enough, I went to my doctor and said, “Some of my friends think I have an eating disorder.” She said, “Which friends?” I said, “Well, me.” Then she asked if I’d been sexually abused and I burst out crying, while at the same time I sat there and watched myself cry, feeling odd and disassociated with my reaction. She sent me to a psychiatrist who specialized in eating disorders. He asked me if I’d been sexually abused and I had the same disassociated reaction. At the end of that first session he said my eating disorder had nothing to do with being sexually abused. ??WTF? Then he put me on various meds like Prozac and Fenfluramine, and then Fluvoxamine when the first didn’t work. He promised that I would lose weight. I never did.

The counselling of course was nil and I’d go to his evening sessions with all the skinny anorexic models and me. At least I hadn’t known someone who died from their disorder, like they did. One thing I had never felt when eating was full. That mechanism had malfunctioned and I would only feel full when I’d binged so I never stopped eating soon enough. The medications, which made me somewhat zombie like to my friends, did not aid in losing weight, but did in fact seem to bring in that mechanism of feeling full. A year later, frustrated with the lack of progress with this doctor and with the unending pills, I just quit both. What I found was that I could now eat and feel full. Something had changed.

A year or so later my doctor asked me how I was doing, did I still binge? And I said, yes I did. She asked me what I considered a binge and I said eating two or more chocolate bars in a day. She told me everyone does that once in a while. What I then realized was that it had never mattered how much I ate but how I felt when I ate: I hated myself for having no control and then I would be was out of control.

I sometimes still get that feeling and it scares me when it happens. I unfortunately still have a sweet tooth, but I eat way healthier, and don’t have to eat all of something. If I’m depressed I tend toward hiding under chocolate. I have to watch that. I might have suffered less and had fewer sensitivities to foods now had someone given me the right help early enough, had my father not scarred my psyche, had I not been ashamed.

I was talking once with friends and the subject of comfort foods came up. I couldn’t name one, because for me, there had never been comfort in food. Just trauma, guilt and self-hatred. These days, I can take comfort in a few foods, like Lipton’s chicken noodle soup, but I never feel I can let my vigilance down because that eating disorder is still just around a corner.

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