I have what is called Neurocardiogenic Syncope (a.k.a. vasovagal syncope)
…brought on by many years of malnutrition caused by an eating disorder called anorexia nervosa, with which I struggled with since I was a teen. Basically, syncope means “to faint” unexpectedly. There is no real danger in it except that if I don’t catch the symptoms in time and sit myself on the floor the fall from a standing position may result in my hitting my head. That has happened twice to me, once causing me to be rushed to the hospital. I don’t feel good a lot of times… I get dizzy easily and short of breath after a simple walk. I can’t have any caffeine and can’t do a lot of the simple things I love to do, like ride on a roller coaster because, if I get too excited or upset and increase my heart rate too quickly, I will pass out.
I have been hospitalized many times because of my eating disorder. For years I was able to hide my disease (anorexia) from my family and friends… I’ve lied almost every time to my family as to the reason I was in the hospital… but the sicker it made me the more apparent it became to those close to me.
The day before my 39th birthday I passed out at work and was rushed to the hospital unconscious. The Doctors had referred to it as a “cardiac episode” and, after having to go through 2 Tilt Table tests along with other examinations, diagnosed me w/ malnutrition and Neurocardiogenic Syncope. After 2 days I was sent home wearing a heart monitor. That was when everyone around me learned I had an eating disorder. It was mandated by the hospital that I have weekly therapy treatments. So, I was finally on the road to recovery. I didn’t realize then that I was about to embark on a whole new struggle.
A few months later I found myself sitting at an Easter dinner with my family, including my in-laws when along comes that quiet moment that always seems to happen… no one is talking and for those few brief moments, that to me seemed like a full 10 minutes, the quiet became deafening. I felt my heart racing as I suspected that everyone was watching me from the corner of their eyes wondering if I was going to eat what was on my plate. So I took a deep breath in and I started eating. To explain how I felt after would take too long but suffice to say I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the food I had just devoured. I became consumed and obsessed and oblivious to all the talking going on around me. I went into the bathroom and threw up. Correction… I went into the bathroom and made myself throw up. It started. I was now bulimic. It gave me a power, a control over the control that was taken away from me when my anorexia was discovered. I suddenly realized that I could take back control by doing this, and no one would know.
Each time I did this I would look into the mirror, first and after. First was a quiet argument inside my head that ensued… “don’t do this, you’re stronger than this” … the reflection would reply, “You stupid fat ugly bitch, you have to and you know it!” Then after, the reflection would reward me with compliments on how much better I would feel now and how much prettier I would be when I am thinner. A year later, I was hospitalized again. And about 6 or 7 months after that… I was hospitalized again.
Let’s make this a bit briefer… now at the age of 47 and though I still struggle at times I found a way to heal myself through gaining power and control in seeking out others like me and trying to help them.
I found not judgment but support in my friends and family who all along quietly struggled with me, never knowing quite what to say or do to help. When I came out of the hospital that first time I opened up to my dearest and best friend Olympia who was the first to show me compassion and that the judgment I feared so badly wouldn’t come from everyone. She passed away 3 years ago from leukemia. The grace and strength she exuded during her own battle humbled me to see that I could do the same. And I wanted to. And then there was Hal… who, at a time when I had just met him as a counselor and licensed social worker at my daughter’s school, came to my hospital bedside the last time I was hospitalized to offer me support. He headed up a non-profit organization called Windows of Opportunity, Inc and had come face to face with many teens who he knew had some form of an eating disorder but he didn’t quite know how to help them and found very little resources out there. We began to talk and the more I talked the more I healed my own self and the stronger the drive inside of me became to want to help young girls to never become like me. I wanted to erase the stigma that an eating disorder means you are crazy. I can look back now and laugh at the times when someone would say to me “just eat something!” as if it were that simple. I couldn’t laugh then though and, in realizing how many teens, not just young girls but a rising rate of high school boys as well, cannot laugh either strikes a chord in me.
And so, together Hal and I created the Inner You program… a self esteem and fact empowering program to educate both those who may have an eating disorder and those who do not. To create an awareness so everyone can understand on a whole new level exactly what an eating disorder is. It is a disease… one w/ a mortality rate higher than any other psychological disease… one that triples the number of people living with AIDS… one where 20% of its victims die prematurely from complications related to their eating disorder, including heart and kidney problems. In one person’s life time at least 50,000 individuals in America alone will die from their eating disorder. It is the 3rd most common recurring illness among adolescents.
The numbers are elusive since so many people with an eating disorder do not seek treatment or even admit to having one. Out of the reported cases, 1 in every 200 women over 40 years old suffers from anorexia or bulimia, more than likely because they never sought treatment when they were younger.
One thing everyone should know about anorexia and the many other associated eating disorders is that it is very rarely about weight and food. It is more about feeing inferior, low self esteem and the distorted image one has as to what the world views as being beautiful. It’s about feeling accepted and being heard. As to why it even begins is something only that person can tell you, for with each victim it can be a completely different reason.
So now I am stuck with this stupid condition (NCS) but, especially if those statistics are correct, am grateful to be alive and every single day… rain, snow, Monday, Wednesday… I will always be happy to awake and be able to say, “There but for the grace of God go I…” If one day we meet and I pass out on you, just put a pillow under my head and hold my hand and when I wake up (usually within a minute or so) I will see your smiling face.
Please, visit the Inner You Program for eating disorders website to find out more about how you can help, or find help.