I am sitting in the back seat of my aunt’s car looking up at the street signs. “Hospital, straight ahead.” Frantically, I drink seven bottles of water in ten minutes, desperate to boost my weight. For the third time in three months I am being dragged to the ER, and for the third time I will be admitted.
Much contributes to me developing anorexia, but there is no one specific cause. My mother is a dieter and still today talks of little other than weight. Dance school emphasizes weight also, and I feel surrounded by this constantly. Barely after puberty, when girls often gain weight, my parents tell me my thighs “are a bit heavy.” I do not blame them for my illness, I am past that, but I need to tell the truth here. Other parents need to be warned of the dangers of yoyo dieting and food talk all the time. Children see. Children listen. They notice everything.
By the age of seven, I am exhibiting signs of an eating disorder. My best friend and I love the scale. I spend many days at her house as a child, doing endless exercises and Barbie workout video-tapes. She eventually develops Anorexia too, but later than I and never quite as seriously as I did. We jump rope not for fun, but for exercise. We weigh ourselves and scoff at the number. “I am going to lose five pounds.” “Well I am going to lose ten.” I’m comforted because she weighs more than me; she is quite a bit taller, but only the numbers matter.
Now I am in high school and purging every day. I have no idea where this will lead. In one year’s time I will start a long, tumultuous road of treatment, relapses and severe depression. I do not eat anything until 4 O’clock pm, when I eat a normal sized meal and purge. I lose weight and everyone worries. I lose more and everyone panics. I lose more still, and action is taken. This is when I am brought to the ER and admitted to Children’s Hospital’s medical floor for the first time.
Back in the car with my aunt and mother, I finish my last bottle of water just as we arrive. Unknown to me, water loading is seriously dangerous. I am admitted to the medical floor because of the dangerous electrolyte imbalances the water had caused, in addition to my low weight. I have been told numerous times that if I am admitted three times, it is off to treatment I go. I beg not to be sent away, but my pleading falls on deaf ears. I desperately do not want to get better. I relish in my low weight, at having everyone at school whisper about my eating habits and gray color. My anorexia was my life and my religion, and by God no one was going to take it from me.
Round three goes no better than the first two. I hide all my food and am constantly threatened with the tube. I want no part of recovery, and treatment is futile unless one wants to get better. With all of the games I am playing, I start to lose weight and get sicker again. The weight loss is blamed on the re-feeding process, which can push one’s metabolism to extreme highs. It is a sick irony that people with anorexia often have to eat an incredibly large amount of food in order to gain weight. Once I was stable enough to go to the psychiatric unit at the hospital (no treatment facilities had a bed), things only got worse. Every day for sixteen hours I pace the hallways, up and down, to burn off more calories. In my room, I run and do jumping jacks. I cannot get myself to sit even when I hit the point of exhaustion. At this point, I am sicker than ever, but nobody knows the half of it. They all believe, because of my lies, that I am recovering.
After this first stay in treatment, it all becomes a blur. I never graduated tenth grade because I was in and out of the hospital and treatment facilities so much. I received so much treatment in the following three years that I can barely remember how many times I was admitted.
On my 18th birthday, my therapist of two years told me she did not think treatment was working for me and that we were not making any progress together. I was utterly devastated. This was just another name in a long line of treatment team members who have dropped me for lack of progress.
Round 27 in treatment is just like all the others. Inpatient, residential, partial, IOP, inpatient…
I drop out of college in Florida because I am too sick to be there. My weight plummets yet again and off to treatment I go. This time, something clicks. This time, I realize I have nothing left to lose but my very life itself. I have no real “life” to speak of, but I am breathing and even my breath is on the line. I begin a new job and fall in love with it. I know I need to be healthy (or as healthy as I can be) in order to keep it. I am finally trying to get well.
I relapse in May 2010 and enter a residential eating disorder facility for two weeks. . While in this treatment – the shortest one of all – I decided I was not willing to let my eating disorder take what little I had in my life. It was time to take control and start loving myself.
It is up-and-down from there. Needless to say, it has not been an easy journey. Here I am today, absolutely adoring what I do for work and preparing to start college for the third time in the Spring. I send a text message to my dietitian who I still see weekly, “There is no way any eating disorder is taking what I have right now.” It is as simple and as complicated as that.
Bodies don’t work without fuel. Brains don’t work without food and fats and nourishment. I have found a direction in my life and that direction has provided motivation- the key to getting and staying well.
I write this in the hopes that even one person gains a better understanding of how complicating and life altering eating disorders and the recovery process are. Every single day, every moment for that matter, I have to make a choice. Will I give in to my disease today, or will I stay strong and show my body the love it deserves? It sounds like an easy decision, but for someone who struggles with this disease, it’s the hardest, and most important, of all.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder of any kind, please get help. I waited far too long to reach out for help and with every passing year I stayed sick it made it all that much harder to get well. No one deserves the pain and torment of having an eating disorder. If you suffer from one, you probably don’t think you are “sick enough” or “thin enough” to get help. Remember that we all think this and that absolutely NO ONE deserves to be tormented the way an eating disorder torments its victims. Get help, trust your care-takers and loved ones, and most importantly, and take care of and love yourself.