There can be some days when life after an eating disorder is just about life. There are trips to the store, dinners with friends, nights out on the town. There are the sad moments too, of course: frustrations on the job, missed connections, unexpected obstacles, and even just the blahs that come out from the woodwork to sneak up on you and wreck your day.
But all of these things are just parts of life – little and not-so-little moments that add up to an answer of “it was pretty okay,” when someone says, “So, how’d your day go.”
There are also times though where life throws more at us than we feel like we’re going to be able to take. That’s been my last month.
Since I made the choice to start blogging again – about a month or so ago now – to see what muses were still in this space, I’ve been feeling like I’m going to drown in this whole life thing. It started with discovering a wet spot on the carpet.
Ever since we got the kitten in November, I’ve been edgy. Before “the big trip to the vet,” he liked to -er- claim certain things, and I’ve been hyper-attentive to things like washing bedding and keeping used towels and worn clothing off of the floor. So when we came in one evening and he was acting funny and trying to “bury” a spot on the floor, we panicked a little bit. Then when we started to try to suck the fluid into paper towels and there was just too much, we started moving furniture. One whole box of my comic book collection – of course, the ones that were worth something and slated to be sold to pay for surgery – was soaked halfway through with water and the bottom of the storage was covered in mold. The books on the bottom shelf of a bookshelf/CD/DVD rack were damp to the touch, the bottom of the shelf bloated with water. The bottom of the cat condo? That was soaked and showing evidence of mold as well. We started moving all of the stuff from this wall of the apartment, and reported it to the building management company the next morning – which meant that I was rushing to get to a conference at the last possible minute for work. They assured us that something would be done.
That evening, we got home. There was no indication whatsoever that they had done anything. I called the building manager, who told us that it would be addressed the following Monday. We went out to dinner because – well – I didn’t much feel like eating because stress and anger can sometimes do that to me and my partner does a great job of knowing where I need to head when I need to get out of my thoughts, unwind, and – of course – not just eat dinner, but also enjoy it. When we came back, maintenance had come in. There were industrial fans like those used to dry warehouse floors in my living room – and they were there and on for the entire weekend. Monday morning, I took the day off work to continue rearranging things – after all, while moving furniture over the weekend, my corner desk needed to be moved as it too was swollen with absorbed water & the fans had blown the water around – soaking the coffee table as well. The AC unit was checked out, a dehumidifier brought in for the overnight, and assurances were made that the leak was be stopped completely, that the fan would be taken out the next day, and that new carpet would be put down the following Friday.
Which would’ve been great – if it were true. Instead, we got zero communication, a new pool of water each day (& with it more damage to our furniture and other possessions), and visible patches of mold. The new carpet got pushed back. Promises were made that there’d be fresh paint. More failed communication took place. More questions went unanswered. Email became preferable to phone calls and skipping work because there needed to be documentation. Skipping work or leaving early became necessary because unless I was there and following up 10 times a day or more, and there was strain at the office and work was being impacted. We stopped eating at home because the smell of mold was so strong that we couldn’t be in the space. We stopped sleeping well because we couldn’t breathe. We kept throwing things out that we’d cared about or that had another purpose because they were damaged.
And all throughout the process, all we heard was that there was no mold. We heard this even after mold could be seen blooming on the wall and spores could be cultured from the air. We heard this and were told that we were wrong right up until I talked about calling the health inspector & the property manager finally came into the space and realized that, yes, one could see mold on the wall and baseboards & that we’d need to be relocated as soon as another apartment was available. I sucked it up and called and asked my parents for help for the first time in more than 5 years, and we made our first of two consecutive 500+ mile trips to take the cats to stay with them. We were assured that the space would be cleaned that night (Friday). On Sunday, tired from travel, we came home to find that nothing had been done. Let me repeat that: nothing had been done.
We called again. The director of maintenance who still insisted there was no mold called out contractors and, in Spanish, instructed them to tell us there was no mold. Then they kicked in the sheetrock and pulled out insulation with visible mold colonies while we sat in our living room. Then they complained that it was hard to work in the space because one of them was allergic to cats and it was making it hard for him to breathe. I had an asthma attack – my third ever – because of the mold spores that they’d released into the air. The property manager called back and said, “There’s no mold if they say there’s no mold; you’re making it up; they’ve done all they can.” I said, “they’ve just made it worse.” She said, “well what do you want me to do about it?” I emailed her supervisor who’d been included on the emails and in discussions talking about the need to do something.
The next night, we were told once again that we weren’t mold experts and told that if we were told it was nothing, it likely wasn’t for us to say that it was. But they put us up in a hotel. And then they rushed to prep another apartment. Since then, we’ve been moving when not home. We made another trip to pick up the cats. The restaurants that I look at as safe space – well, the one that used to be the place I went to when everything else was crap because I could get back in the moment there? – became unsafe for me last week. Before this weekend, I managed to go 4 weeks with sleeping no more than 5 hours per night. I didn’t eat a balanced diet because we weren’t able to cook at home. My body kept betraying me – not only was breathing difficult, but it was also compounded by binding, which is necessary until I can afford surgery. My sense of “life is what it is, and all I can control is how I respond to it,” cracked – because it got to the point where I didn’t have the balance that I needed to actually respond well.
It was the first time since 2003 in which I didn’t act or think, feel or plan, or find the ability to gain insight. Not sleeping, not eating well, drinking a bit, trying to do too much at once, not being heard, not being supported, being in a situation in which my health was jeopardized every single day, not having my cats around, moving furniture daily, seeing goals getting further away rather than closer: the experience of all of these things at exactly the same time felt like it was going to break me.
In truth: it felt a lot like those periods in the midst of a struggle with anorexia in which nothing I did was enough, nothing could be enough, and nothing was ever going to change. Everything was wrapped up in that apartment and its collapse the same way that everything can get wrapped up in a moment – in wanting the number on the scale to move in one direction and not seeing it, in wanting to be recognized as real and having value and not feeling like anyone was willing to say/do anything to validate, in the hopelessness, in the sadness, in the struggle.
And while I’m sitting here, while I’m writing this and planning to share it, I keep asking myself why I’m bothering. I’m telling myself that my terrible month of living in an apartment that was making me sick is so different that there’s no point to the story. I keep thinking that somehow I’ve got to find a lesson somewhere – and maybe this is the best that I’m going to be able to do.
Even though I didn’t want to spend the money (or really even have it to spend), we did send two mold kits off for analysis. Today I got the results: There were two different strains of mold growing in that apartment, one of which has been shown to increase the occurence of cancer in lab animals. I may not have gained much from the validation – and I may not have received a response at all from the management company – but I’ve gained this:
Some things are worth fighting for.
It’s so easy to try for something and meet a roadblock at every turn the way that I just did in my home life – and the way so many people do early in the recovery process. This time, I was dealing with maintenance, and office staff, and contractors standing between me and something healthier – for someone approaching recovery, there are other gatekeepers: insurance companies, the voice in the back of their heads that just says, “but you’re not sick enough,” or “you can keep going, it’s not going to kill you,” friends with similar behaviors, bosses that won’t allow time off for treatment.
The results haven’t been perfect. It’s still an ongoing process – the getting settled and getting my life back – and it’s going to continue to be one. But if I hadn’t fought, it wouldn’t have even started to get better.
If you’re just starting to think about recovery or you’re having a rough day and are thinking about giving up, know this: everything that stands in the way? It’s about protecting an asset – it’s about someone else trying to cover his or her own ass – and it has not a damned thing to do with you.
Some days you’ll have all of the support you need. Other days, you won’t. And it might feel like there’s no fight at all left in you. And you might wonder why you’re pushing through and fighting because it doesn’t seem like you’ve made an progress at all.
Those are the days that the fight matters the most. Keep at it. Because as trite as it sounds, it gets better. It doesn’t get immediately perfect, but it definitely gets better.