Dear Therapist, I Did A Bad Thing
[Listen to an audio version of this blog HERE.]
He chuckles. I love when he chuckles. Laughter is medicine, right? And a lovely distraction from the actual problem.
"What did you do that was so bad?" he asks.
"I bought appetite suppressants," I answer, almost proudly. I know I just wasted money on apple cider gummy's that are supposed to keep hunger at bay, but that probably don't. I know that it was both futile and stupid, and that I don't really have weight to lose, and that hunger cues are helpful indications that my body needs food, and blah blah blah.
But I did something naughty and I wanted him to know, which is the exact behavior that would render me a terrible murderess. I wanted to shock him, even though he's been a therapist for many decades and has likely seen many more shocking things than apple cider gummy's, sold for $17.99 for a pack of 60 on Amazon by an un-vetted company, shipped directly to my door in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. The real kicker is that they tasted awful, but I digress.
The reason I wanted to shock him is so that he would pay attention to me, so that he would think there was something wrong with me, and perhaps pity me, or perhaps tell me that I really am too fucked up for words. I'm not sure. I ordered the gummy's during my pre-menstrual cycle puffiness, which happens every month and which induces panic every month, even though I know the puffiness is temporary, having more to do with my birth control pills than with anything I'm eating or not eating.
The reason I wanted his attention and pity is because I've had a rough few weeks, and I was feeling particularly unlovable, and I wanted someone to hold my hand, look in my eyes and tell me, "you're fine. I'm here for you. I care about you." Of course, nobody can do that right now, and I feel very strongly that no one should need to. So, I tried to give that love to myself. "I'm fine," I said. "I'm here for me. I care about me." For some reason, it just isn't the same.
I told someone a few days before ordering the gummy's that my skin is hungry. I miss hugging my friends. I miss holding hands. I miss cuddling and being in close physical proximity to other living, breathing people. None of this is an excuse, per se, for an anxious Amazon appetite suppressant purchase, but it does make sense, and here's why:
1. Isolation worsens eating disorders.
I wrote an entire blog about this, so give it a read. But to summarize: isolation (self-imposed or not), exacerbates feelings of low self-worth; allows someone with an eating disorder to avoid the fear and pain of being present in real life; underscores a lack of trust in other people and in the self; and is usually not preferential. Body dysmorphia (an obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance) is also worsened by isolation, in part because people have little else to concentrate on or control. My appetite suppressant purchase came in a moment of low self-worth, and undoubtedly underscored a lingering lack of trust in my body.
2. Anxiety is quelled by doing something, even if that something is wildly unhealthy.
Dale Carnegie said, "If you want to conquer fear, don't sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy." I doubt Dale Carnegie meant to "get busy" by disrupting one's health, but his sentiment holds true. I busied myself researching appetite suppressants, which turned out to be useful in quelling my body-related anxiety. Our brains are complex, and even though my busyness was doing me a disservice, it was better than stewing in dissatisfaction. A better thing to do would have been to direct my attention to my work or a creative project, or just about anything else. But, my brain was stuck, and ordering the pills seemed to magically un-stick it.
3. My therapist wasn't shocked.
Which kind of took the wind out of my sails if I'm being honest. I wish he had been shocked, at least a little, or even acted like it. Instead, he told me exactly why and exactly how the gummy's would do precisely nothing. They aren't regulated by any agency, like the Food and Drug Administration, he said. If an appetite suppressant really worked, everyone would know about it, he said. Heck, the hospital system he works for would prescribe it to unhealthily overweight patients. But alas, no such magic pill exists. And finally, he said, don't be so hard on myself. The way diet pills and products are marketed is extremely misleading and preys on our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, which as I've mentioned, have been heightened in the past few weeks.
What might be more interesting to think about, however, is why feeling anxious led me to purchasing a useless supplement, and why obsessively researching weight loss devices somehow quieted my anxiety. The root of many eating disorders is an anxious desire for control. Even though I rationally know that the appetite suppressants would do nothing, the part of my brain that needed to control something was convinced otherwise.
It is no secret that the quarantine orders are impacting those with mental health concerns. Our routines are disrupted and uncertainty is rampant, so we turn to the thing we wish we could control: our bodies. I didn't need my therapist to tell me that buying the gummy's was futile, but it was nice to hear nonetheless. If you are struggling with anxiety, body dysmorphia, disordered eating, or any other type of mental health concern, it may help to know that you're in good, if socially distanced, company.
P.S. If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, contact the NEDA helpline at (800) 931-2237, find a treatment center or therapist near you HERE, or find an Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA) meeting near you HERE.