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Scared into staying well?

Posted Dec 29 2009 10:47am
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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