Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Meeting the Beast Again

When I got to Pittsburgh, my lovely Philly friend sent me a link to a site that lists volunteer opportunities. I scanned it for two things:  eating disorder groups and animal causes.  I found plenty of the latter, none of the former.  After considering my options, I concluded that might be okay.  Perhaps I needed to take a break from a disease that I had lived with for the past decade.  (Because make no mistake about it, ED is a disease that impacts every family member in some way.)  I had been constantly conflicted when I served with AFED.  I felt a draw to be involved in the work to eradicate the disease that took my daughter and impacted all of our lives forever, but I lived with it night and day for so long that I was exhausted and wanted to shed it like a snake sheds its skin, slithering away from anything that contained the words bulimia, anorexia, ED, Ana, treatment and/or recovery in a sentence.  Discussing it with a couple of my friends and my daughter, I decided allowing myself to work with four legged beasts was something I had earned.  Of course, as I pointed out in the last post, working at least some of most weekends has delayed me even doing that much.  Then again, I look around at my feet, crowded by lounging dogs, and I think that's probably best for now too - I'd be too tempted to bring a warm, fuzzy beast home.  So, for now, I spend my spare time in selfish pursuits - a little bit of baseball, a lot of preseason football, a museum visit here and there.  And so it was on a glorious late summer Sunday that my husband and I drove the hour and change to Steeler training camp.  And there it was that I was confronted with the disease again, which has got me thinking about it ever since.

I am not sure I can tell you definitively how someone like me knows an ED sufferer on sight as opposed to the number of other things that will emaciate a body:  another kind of illness such as cancer, drug addiction, or even just a extremely high metabolism.  Some of it is in the skin, drawn and taut like parchment.  Some of it is in how the individual carries herself (or himself).  Some of it is the fact that they aren't dressing to cover any needle marks maybe.  But, somehow there is a series of telltale signs that you have seen intimately in your own family that allows you to know it beyond a reasonable doubt to be able to label it occasionally.  And that's what my husband and I were confronted with not long after arriving at camp.

Among the crowd lining up to watch the players come down to practice was a young woman who was dressed in a Steeler-logo halter top and very short white shorts with a bandanna tied around them and not much else.  So it was easy to see the vertebrae in her back protruding and the bones in her shoulders standing above her skin.  She had raven colored hair, which accentuated her pale tone, not white exactly, more like a slightly yellowish tinged shade of pale, like dying skin.  She was tall, so her long, thin legs were hard to miss although it was hard to see how they were managing to hold her up, let alone allow her to sprint around as she was doing - constantly, like a frenzied bee.  There was no missing her; she really didn't want anyone to.  Unlike most of the individuals I have come across before in the ED community, who at least understand they have the disease even if they are not at the point where they can actively try and fight it, this young woman was in full denial.  She was not only proud of her looks, she was flaunting them.  I thought of taking a photo to try and illustrate what I saw - she would have liked that actually, because she at one point jumped onto the steps where the players would soon be coming down, waving her thin arms and posing for anyone who would look.  But there was no way I was going to indulge her.  Once the players began trickling out, she really went into high gear, trying desperately for their attention.  The ones that spared her a glance were polite, but you could see it in their faces - I've seen those looks before.  They may not have really understood the disease that envelopes her, but they saw her far differently than she sees herself.  For me, that remains an oddity that I do not understand:  how does that young woman not see how they look at her?  Granted, everyone else in the crowd around us with the exception of her friends was clearly uncomfortable with her as well, but she wasn't worried about them.  She was there to catch the attention of the virile young men in black and gold.  But, she couldn't read them.  She couldn't see their discomfort with her appearance.  To me, it was obvious.  Is she really that self absorbed?  Greg at one point said he wanted to take her and shake some sense into her.  For my part, I was just glad that once the crowd broke up to move down to the practice fields I lost sight of her and didn't see her again while we were there.  I managed to put her out of my mind as I considered the practice, concentrating on trying to read my coach's reactions to the players and trying to guess which rookies were making the team and which ones weren't.  Football:  the great salve for heartache.

Maybe all of this sounds cruel and harsh, like I hold this individual in disdain.  That's not the case.  Quite the opposite. What I hold in disdain is the Beast that possesses her, but I do marvel at her inability to see it.  The person I saw on Sunday is very ill.   The fact that she had energy enough to prance around like she did was belying her true condition; it doesn't take an expert to know that.  And she won't have that energy long-term.  Whatever zest for life she has will be zapped in short order and sometimes looking at that straight on and honestly seems ugly and mean.

Yet, back home, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this unknown young woman.  Honestly, I have rarely met her personality type in the ED world.  Most of the individuals I know afflicted with the disease are more introspective, and their personalities come across differently - less brash, I guess.  But, it is a disease that strikes all manner of people with all manner of personalities, and the one thing I can say for sure, I know what I saw.   She, on the other hand, has no idea what she has done to her body.  And what I was left with is wondering about her family and friends.  Do they see what I saw?  Or do they see what she does when she looks in a mirror?  How do her parents interact with her?  Do they even?  Bottom line, I cannot get this individual out of my head.  Was I somehow meant to see her to remind myself that I cannot extricate myself from this disease?  Were we meant to briefly collide so that I put myself back on a course to do something about it?  To keep others from sharing the same fate as Kelsey?  And, if that is the case, can I somehow begin to atone for my inability to recognize it for the beast that it is early on?

Or was it just the law of averages that, in a crowded city, eventually someone actively anorexic is going to end up in the same place as someone who has lost a daughter to ED and it means no more than that?


  1. you were worried that you were too harsh with the words: "She had raven colored hair, which accentuated her pale tone, not white exactly, more like a slightly yellowish tinged shade of pale, like dying skin." After having read all of my online journals from 2004-2006, I cannot tell you how many times I described MY OWN skin as "yellow and sickly" in multiple entries. I guess it didn't occur to me at the time that it was that color not because I was ill with respiratory problems so much during summer 05, but because I was malnourished. The point I'm trying to make: don't be concerned in the "harshness" with which you describe this girl; you're trying to explain with words what you saw with your eyes, and sometimes harsh words are the only ones adequate. From what you've told me, your description of her in here is generous. There's nothing pretty about the illness, so using pretty language is actually a massive contradiction. Just wanted to put in my bit on that subject - you know my thoughts otherwise. <3 Love you, mama

  2. I saw a young woman working at Lowes. She had terrible acne and she was soooo thin. I could make out the joints in her elbows. Her jeans were belted with a bandanna (is that some kind of badge of honor or something - being able to use a handkerchief for a belt?). I don't even know how she bought jeans that small. Anyway, I remember feeling physically uneasy, odd, an unsettled feeling. She wasn't "right" - as if I were looking at a dying person, which I am guessing I was. I thought - please eat something. Please eat something, many times. Like you, I wonder if she saw it on peoples faces. I wonder if it makes it worse. Did the girl at the training camp read their unease as rejection? Did she think "If only I was thinner, then they would notice me, they think I'm too fat." I hope not.