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I Still Have Osteoporosis. But I Choose What That Means.

Last Thursday, I got a voicemail from my doctor saying that my bone density has decreased by 3% since I last saw her in March. My processing of this news is slow-going. I did shed some tears–lots of them–Thursday night, and I even marveled at the spider web formation of the snot I held in my hand, but I’ve been somewhat hesitant to talk about it, hesitant to determine how I feel about it.

Well, how do I feel about it? My head says it’s okay. It says my weight is fine, my nutrition is great, I’ve controlled what I can, so the rest doesn’t matter. This does not represent where I am in recovery and it does not diminish my growth.

But when I think about it–really think about it–my heart heavies, my breathing slows, and my eyelids droop. There’s my answer: I’m depressed.

So first things first: I must clear the energy. I’m holding this depression in my center heart. And I’m certain it’s a 10. I place my left hand over my heart and my right hand on top of my head. “All the ways I’m depressed by my bone density going down.” I move my right hand to my forehead: “All the ways I’m depressed by my bone density going down.” Next chakra: repeat. I move through each energy center, ending with my root, and the emotions begin to flow.

In treating that statement, I’m reminded, now, of the value of stillness, the importance of patience. Much like there’s a disconnect between my head and my body, there’s a disconnect between my head and my heart. My head’s always ahead of the game, ready to move on before Body or Heart can catch up. But my body needs time to recover, and my heart needs space to feel.

I normally race to the finish line, including, and especially, in my healing. Had I gotten this news 6 months ago, I’d have called my parents immediately, called my treatment team immediately, treated every statement I possibly could, and checked that off the to-do list. But this time I’m not doing that; I’m acknowledging the lack of urgency.

I’ve been meditating, lately, on time. Oprah, in her Super Soul Conversations Podcast, says, The greatest gift you can give yourself is time. And Maya Angelou, in the film The Power of the Heart, says, When you don’t know what to do, do nothing. Even Haruki Murakami, in Dance Dance Dance, says (something along the lines of), We mustn’t force things; we must let things happen in their own time. If we sit back, watch, and listen, the answers will come and we will know what to do. 

I’m fortunate to have absorbed this wisdom shortly before receiving this news; I now have the power and the freedom to process it how I choose. In high school, the adults called the shots. If Jane, or Randi, or Carley, or Saunders, or Litchfield, or anyone else told me I had to gain weight, then that was it–I had to gain weight. It didn’t matter how felt in my body. Now, when that protocol began, I was in critical condition. But my lack of choice never let up, not even when I advanced in recovery.

I never gained my power back.
I’m still working to gain it back.

That’s why I recently got my new tattoo, telling me to validate myself. Because I struggle with that. I’m so used to my period being the referee, the indicator that all-is-well or all-is-not. I’m used to “The Experts” looking me up and down and telling me I’m healthy or I’m not. I have recurring dreams about being back in rehab, dreams where my power is robbed. They’re traumatic flashbacks, so to speak. I know trauma is relative, but for me this was trauma.

I should have regained my power over time, but my mindset was permanently altered. In my two years of treatment I was wired to believe that I had every reason to doubt myself.  But this is a new experience. I am an adult in a new space and time. I have an opportunity to receive news about my health and decide for myself what it means.

I should explain how and why this bone loss happened. The osteoporosis stems from my anorexia, the combination of malnutrition, high-impact activity, and amenorrhea (period loss) for an extended period of time. Most girls my age don’t have osteoporosis. My peers in treatment who also lost bone mostly had osteopenia, which is less severe. I’ve healed my eating disorder, but I still have the bone loss; they don’t go hand in hand. Take a person who smokes, for example. Let’s say they develop lung cancer. This motivates them to stop smoking, but still the cancer remains. They can be totally clean, but the tumor’s still there, and whether it grows or shrinks is out of their control. I’ve healed my eating disorder, the cause, but I still have osteoporosis, the effect.

Based on my lifestyle these past 6 months, my bone density should have gone down. I lost my period in March due to stress (which I say in total confidence, thank you very much), and I went all spring and summer without it. Summer could have been a time to rest and heal, but no: I took on O Negative. And while that was life-changing, it all but killed me. The stress of the project plus the miles and miles of concrete I traversed each day took a toll on my hormone levels. However: the victories of this summer far outweigh this loss. I went through the entire project without losing an ounce. Take that, Eating Disorder! If that’s not a testament to my recovery, I don’t know what is.

In her voicemail, Doctor L asked if I was taking birth control or “just menstruating regularly.” I haven’t called her back yet, but the answer is neither. Again: there’s no urgency, and I needed to take this time to gather my thoughts about the situation before talking to her. She will tell me to take birth control. She will tell me my body needs estrogen. And yes, that’s true. But I don’t want artificial estrogen. I don’t want an artificial fix. I want to heal. To really heal. And I approve of the time and space that takes. Again, I reference The Power of the Heart when I say, Unless you or I can’t breathe, there is no real urgency. 

I am happy. I am healthy. Though it saddens me, my bone loss causes no physical pain. Yes, I’m at risk for stress fractures. Yes, I have to be careful. But I believe in my body and its capacity to heal.

So, how do I choose receive this news? As a message, as a sign.
My body and the universe are asking me to pause.
They’re saying I’m not invincible, that my eating disorder took a real toll.
They’re reminding me why I don’t want to go back.

Overall, it’s an opportunity.
It’s a chance to heal and grow.
And, most of all, it’s a chance to claim my power.

-Bella

Image courtesy of National Osteoporosis Foundation.
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