Scared into staying well?

My remaining grandmother (my mom's mom) is pretty kooky. She's actually barmy as hell, which sounds really mean but if you ever meet her, you'll know exactly what I mean. My grandmother isn't the family black sheep--we have several others who are doing rather well at playing that role--but she is kind of the polka dot one. For instance, one of my favorite recent Grandma stories:

"When I die," she told me, "I'm leaving all of my jewelry to you. And it's really good quality." {Pause} "I got most of it on QVC!"

Thanks, Grandma!

Although my grandmothers mental state is loopy and frustrating and only amplified by the fact that she's not exactly the sharpest pencil in the box (she thought the scooter wheelchair we told her to get over the summer was one of the kick scooters that kids used and refused to get one for the longest time), it's not her mental state that frightens me. Frustrates me, yes, but I don't particularly worry about turning out like her. It is, however, her physical state that is most frightening to me.

She's going to be 82 next month, and her spine has essentially crumbled. She has osteoporosis, yes, as it runs in the family, and she also broke her back in a car accident about 25 years ago. Currently, she can't stand up straight. She went in for a surgery evaluation, and the doctor said that there's nothing there to be fixed, as the bones have deteriorated to badly. She's on massive doses of narcotics for the pain (which only adds to the loopy behavior!), and she struggles to do the most basic of tasks.

Her knees gave out a number of years ago after she found herself compulsively walking for several hours each day to deal with the anxiety of my black sheep relatives. It was slightly different than my periods of compulsive exercise in that it wasn't linked to an eating disorder and a fear of gaining weight if she didn't walk, but her fear was that she would be overwhelmed by anxiety if she didn't walk.*

My bones are not in the greatest shape because of the eating disorder. My spine is the worst, and my hip usually walks the line between osteopenia and osteoporosis. I've probably lost about a half inch in height and a full shoe size due to bone deterioration. And I see my grandmother struggle to do the most basic of tasks, be in constant pain, and to be honest, it scares the living daylights out of me. My bones are almost certainly in worse shape than hers were at nearly 30, so I can only imagine what might happen down the road.

And this is one of the fears that helps keep me on the straight and narrow, ED-wise. These fears were never enough to scare me into recovery, nor is fear a particularly good motivator of lasting behavioral change. But fear is helping me stay changed. I still find myself shrugging off bits and pieces of the eating disorder thinking that continue to crop up. For so many years, the thoughts were all I knew that it's hard to feel alarmed when I have them. But seeing my grandmother's deterioration is much more potent than the ED thinking.

*My aunt (my mom's sister and other daughter of my grandmother) also "must" exercise each morning. Although her routine isn't excessive, it probably is compulsive, and I would bet that if she were closer to my age, she would have a full-blown eating disorder.

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Cathy (UK) said...

Ditto - regarding osteoporosis. Even a pelvic fracture and repeated rib fractures didn't spur me into trying to recover. It was heart problems/failure, regular fainting and terrible fatigue that finally made me stick with weight gain. These symptoms, alongside further bone loss are a further deterrant...

Anonymous said...

And it really is scary how even women without eating disorder histories are already super prone to osteoporosis/osteopenia. Seeing what it can do to your body is definitely enough of a scare for me to stay on track as well...I've never had a bone density scan done due to the waitlists, but my mother is getting one tomorrow and I'm hopefully going to book one sometime in the next few months.

Amy said...

Blergh, it sucks to watch grandmas deteriorate. Seeing my grandma, too, reminds me of the benefits of a great many things.

julie said...

I never could stick with any way of eating for too long (other than bingeing), but I remember my hair in awful shape, my fingernails bendy and easy to break. Not like now, I actually kind of think of myself as healthy. I look at my dad aging and having problems, and other people, and I try to do right by myself nutritionally, and do body sculpt/yoga 2-3 times/week. I can't go back and feed my teenage self right, this is all I can do to mitigate damages.

Cammy said...

I think that reading this post is the best thing I could have done this morning. I've been slip-sliding around for the past week or so, and needed this reminder. I am sorry that your grandmother is having to deal with those physical problems, it is pretty sobering to be faced with the fact that our bodies are not indeed invincible, and that all debts will come due in time. Major, major motivation to stay on the right path.

How often do you have your bones rescanned, btw?

Unknown said...

I wish I could make these kind of motivators/deterrants stick for me. I don't even have to look to a relative or outside myself ... I have had at least three epiphany-worthy experiences, and none of them lasted beyond the fading gratitude that I survived, which fed denial that it was really that bad after all, since I lived to tell the tale. Instead of feeling vulnerable, I feel strong for having overcome without the accompanying self-talk/insight that strength cannot be sustained from nutritional compromise year after year. I seriously can't even really acknowledge the major medical events that have occurred ... it really feels like that couldn't have happened to me; as if it were someone else or unreal. Ergo, no significant internalization. It may just be the ongoing lack of disease-relevant insight that comes with still having anorexia. And therein is the conundrum ... the illness/my brain gets in the way of my completing a full weight-restoration program and maintaining restored weight; the lack of such contributes to the denial and minimizing, which maintains the illness ... part of which has me believe there isn't really a problem. Still. Despite ample evidence to the contrary. It's crazy-making from all perspectives.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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