My family doesn’t talk about important personal stuff. We’ll get into the nitty-gritty when it’s politics or important global issues – we tend to skew liberal, except for that ugly period when my father was listening to Rush Limbaugh. We had an intervention.
We even talk about money, uni-directionally. My father regularly wants to know “how’s your debt, do you need any cash?” I mostly don’t answer, but if I did it would be “too high and yes, please.” Except I’m a grownup and don’t like to hit mom and dad up for cash if I can help it.
I did let them pay for my stint in a private rehabilitation facility in 2014. I didn’t have forty-thousand Canadian dollars kicking around, nor did I have the two to three years it would have taken for public help to get to me.
I was dying. My eating disorder was out of control, and not only had I become suicidal, but I’d already tried to kill myself at work. I did talk then. That talking led to an intervention, interviews with facilities, and an away I go.
I was happy to be getting help right up until the moment I got there. That’s when reality hit me with a gut punch. I was moving away from home for a least three months.
This was the first time I’d been away from my son for a significant period. The longest gaps were weeks here and there – a band trip, a stay at summer camp.
I missed his fourteenth birthday, though they let me call. This was an exception since no outside contact was allowed for the first two weeks, and my agreeing to go was conditional on getting that permission. But we don’t talk about my absence, or the whys thereof.
We don’t talk about the fact that I struggle with mental illness. We don’t talk about the fact that I’ve tried to kill myself three times so far in my life.
I try sometimes, but the people in my circle like to play whataboutism. My mom will talk about the depression she fell into after her mother died. It was severe, and she’s struggled some with anxiety though that mostly ended when my grandmother passed. But we are not alike and our experiences with mental illness are not the same.
Ditto my friends who like to say, “I know what you mean. I was depressed once.” I would love to be able to say that, but I’m well into double-digit episodes. We’re not the same and historically, I’ve found these efforts to be somewhat diminishing. I get people are trying to sympathize, but they’re trying to do it in a way that allows them to not have to hear about my reality.
I don’t want to play that way anymore.
It’s the third anniversary of the last time I forced myself to vomit up food I’d eaten. For those of you doing math, yes, that’s seven years since I was in care. I wasn’t fully abstinent after I came home, though I managed it at rehab. Recovery is a process. After I came home, I managed a couple of weeks without purging. Over time that increased to a couple of months, and then it was six months, and now, I’m here.
I’m three years sober from active bulimia, but my brain is not my own on a full-time basis as yet. I’m not fully free, and I didn’t expect it to happen this quickly. When my son’s father and I split, the lawyer told me getting over a relationship takes about half the time you were in it.
I had physically active bulimia for thirty-seven years. Seventeen-and-a-half years is the midpoint. My brain is not going to be fully my own for some time yet. I still skew toward wanting to be skeletal. And there’s other adjacent stuff to be dealt with still. But things are moving in the right direction. This is good.
This makes me a little unique among the people I’ve met in mental illness and recovery circles, because of the people I’ve been in treatment with over the years, about two-thirds are dead, with at least half of the remainder still struggling with active issues the majority of the time.
Part of the grotesque lack of treatment for those suffering from eating disorders is about sexism. If a disease started destroying the lives of our best and brightest young men, we’d throw money and research at it like nobody’s business. But eating disorders mostly destroy women, so nobody’s that concerned (at a policy level). [i]
I talked to my son this morning. I told him it was my three-year anniversary of being vomit-free. I told him that we don’t talk about things that matter and that I hate it. I told him it was mostly my fault because I carried the culture I grew up with forward. That was not the best idea. But if the best time to make a change was years ago, the second-best time is now. [ii]
The number one cause of death in men under the age of fifty is suicide, at least in the Western world. My son is a young man under fifty who comes from parents who struggle with mental illness. Even without that societal punch, he’s at risk. I awkwardly brought up the article the other day to a great thud – I’d yet to introduce the idea that I want this to be a more open house, and I had no real plan for a conversation mostly driven by panic and frustration at his twenty-something taciturn ways.
I’ve tried before to make a change but failed to follow through.
That was then. This is now. I’m different. I’m tired of death.
Another friend is dead. She was lost to depression; she couldn’t find her way back anymore. It’s hard, fighting yourself all the time. It’s hard when the voice in your head tells you there’s a way out, a way to be free from the pain. It’s tempting to listen when you’re so very tired.
Fighting the good fight is tiring.
I wish she’d stayed, but I understand.
I always understand.
I hate that I understand.
But I don’t want my son to make a choice like that. Parenting is often like that. You’ll do for them what you won’t do for yourself. This leaves me here, talking to my son over breakfast about the suicide of a friend, and my eating disorder recovery milestone.
Open and honest is going to be my new black.
I may, however, have to work on my timing.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please, reach out to your local suicide prevention services, a friend, the DJ on the radio, a counselor, basically anyone. Suicide is a very permanent solution. In Canada, the number is 1.833.456.4566, SMS 45645.
[i] I’d love to claim this observation, but I read it somewhere once upon a time.
[ii] It was also not the worst. It’s mostly about culture – I come from a long line of British people – and the way things were when we were being brought up.