Sunday, July 11, 2010

The line between fear and phobia

I know I've talked about the neighbor's kids who live beside me before (here and here), and I probably will do so for some time. I truly marvel at them, just observing how innocent and free they are at this age (kids are ages 1, 4, 5, and 6 or 7) and I love the fact that I have the chance to actually watch them grow up. The kids now know all my dogs and me by name, including any new dog I may have (currently, taking care of G., Cammy's dog). They remember that Daphne is deaf, they know how to ask them for a sit, they ask me questions--sometimes slightly awkward ones like "what is G. doing to Tovah?" (my answer, "we call that piggybacking"), etc. The only sad part is that the little 5-year old boy (T.) is very allergic to dogs but he loves them. Because he is so allergic, he cannot have them licking him. He even reacts if his siblings have been around dogs, and they've washed their hands well. I've heard him say to them out of fear not to get too close, so he doesn't have a reaction. Poor thing. His mom fears that he may develop a phobia, because he worries that a dog will lick him. And I worry that later in life there could be resentment from his siblings or guilt from him as all the kids loves dogs and other animals.

*I'll just put a warning here that this talks about past ED life so if you happen to feel triggered, just don't read the next few paragraphs* I try to be careful with this stuff, as that's the last thing I would want to do. There are no numbers, just a few details.

This whole scenario with him made me think back both to a time period when I was very restrictive and also early in recovery. Though they are not synonymous, they are related. This specific active restrictive period happened so quickly that I hardly knew what was going on. By this time, fluid intake was the only thing my body was existing on. This was probably the worst starvation period I had during my entire ED life. I would open the fridge/pantry, look at food, really think I should eat it, really wanted to, but the fear had already developed into a serious phobia. This phobia wasn't just a specific food or food group, it was any food, including foods like vegetables which had been my safe food staple. All I could do at the time was cry. I talked to my therapist and told her how deathly phobic I was of food, but she encouraged me to try bland foods as such in the BRAT diet which stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. This used to be a diet prescribed for those with GI problems but no longer is due to its nutritional deficiency. My therapist at the time, just wanted to get me to eat something, saying off hand that if I continued this way, I would wind up in the hospital.

I'm not sure what helped eased me back into eating foods again. I know it was a slow process and each bite was difficult wrought with tears and made me feel more bloated. At the time, like many with EDs, my stomach was distended, and I had an awful flatulence problem. (I realize this is a bit TMI but seriously I have still always wondered exactly why this happens as no food was entering my stomach) It was not easy by any means, but small bite by bite, I did manage to lessen my phobia of food. By then, I was able to find my way back to eating something, even if it was a return to my staple foods.

This type of phobia differs from my early recovery when it wasn't a phobia of food, but rather fear of eating certain items--that I'd balloon up, that I may binge, or that if I added in exercise, I'd become compulsive again. This type of fear hasn't felt as rigid as my ED restrictive phase. After all, I was still eating, but just limited in both quantity and variety. This fear felt easier to manage and get past than the consuming fear of all foods which of course makes sense.

Another point this reminds me of is how easy it is for many of us with/who have had eating disorders can go from fear to phobias. As Carrie has been writing in her relapse prevention series this week, it is important to watch for our own signs of when we may be heading in the wrong direction. I know for me personally, the fear to phobia thinking doesn't take long, though I'd say certain factors have to be in place for that to happen. Therefore, it is important for me to remain vigilant. Though I know completely recovered doesn't elude me, I still know I'm not there yet. My hangs up there, just a little intense than they've been in the past.

So going back to little T., it is important for him to remain vigilant around dogs due to his severe allergies, but at the same time, I hope his fear won't turn into a phobia. It would be sad for him to live a life of a phobia of dogs when it is something he enjoys so much. He even recently got his face painted like a dog! Only time will tell what will happen. I'm hopeful he will outgrow his allergy to dogs (he's also allergic to some other things), but that's up in the air for now.


notpollyanna said...

I don't know what makes his allergy tick (for me, it is the fur), but maybe you can make sure to extra include him around other animals? Do you ever bring home any lizards or turtles or other non-mammals? Or maybe show them snails or snakes or worms when they show up? My heart goes out to this little guy because I've had a similar problem, loving animals but being allergic.

Tiptoe said...

Notpollyanna, I'm sorry that you've had similar troubles. I can only imagine how difficult it is. It is likely the dander of the dogs' coats. All dogs shed in varying degrees, and ones with longer coats will shed more and have more dander.

As for other animals, I don't bring home other animals. I did show T. a mole a few weeks ago, since I knew that was something he had wanted to see. Occasionally, a turtle will show up in my yard, and if the kids are out, I'll show that to them.