I will go ahead and start by telling you that the following story is not one that I particularly enjoy telling. This is a part of my life that I am not proud of, but I am learning not to be ashamed of it either. I will also add that I am not looking for sympathy; in fact the sole reason I’ve written this story is to spread awareness on eating disorders.
So I will go ahead and jump right into it. When I was growing up, eating disorders were completely off my radar. It was something that no one talked about or learned about in school; it was somewhat of a taboo subject. It was not until I was 15 years old that I really learned what an eating disorder was, and that’s because I was diagnosed with one.
Prior to my diagnosis, I spent at least a year obsessively counting calories, exercising multiple times a day, and watching my weight. During that year, I became so comfortable in my unhealthy ways that I became a control freak. If I ate even the tiniest bit more than I was “allowed” to for the day or ran five minutes less than I “should” have, I felt completely out of control. That need for a sense of control translated into all aspects of my life. I became controlling in my relationships with my family and friends, and I had to plan every minute of everyday so that I could control the outcome of any given situation. I was consumed with the idea of perfection, and if my body, my grades and my relationships did not reflect that, I became moody, depressed and felt out of control.
When I was first diagnosed with an eating disorder in October of 2009, I was in complete denial. I didn’t think that I had a problem, and therefore, I refused to accept any sort of help. I continued doing what I was doing for another two months, until my family staged an intervention. On December 8, 2009, they took me out of school and brought me to Children’s Hospital, where I went through a medical evaluation and I was admitted into the Eating Disorders Unit. On that day, I weighed just 78 pounds and had a dangerously low heart rate. Not to mention, I was depressed and had an extreme (and irrational) fear of weight gain. I spent the next two weeks as an inpatient along with other young people that suffered from anorexia, bulimia and/or binge eating disorder. I found comfort in being surrounded by other people that dealt with similar issues, because it made me feel more “normal.”
Each of us worked with a team of doctors, counselors, psychiatrists and nutritionists that helped us with all aspects of our recovery. They created a personalized plan that included a strict eating regimen, daily medical checkups, frequent counseling sessions and more. We spent our days in group therapy sessions, where we shared stories and talked through our struggles. We went to art classes, music classes, and if our physical condition allowed, we would take walks and go to yoga. And we ate. A lot. There was very little privacy – I had to have a counselor with me when I went to the bathroom or took a shower. Every time that I ate, my counselors sat with me and inspected my tray at the end of each meal, making sure that I had eaten every last bite and didn’t hide any uneaten food under a napkin. A low point was when I tried to get away with using only one of the two packets of mayonnaise I was given to put on my sandwich. They weren’t kidding when they said every last bite, because when I went to get my tray inspected, my counselor said, “Not so fast!” as she emptied the mayo packet onto a spoon and handed it to me. My stomach churned in disgust as I choked down a glop of the slimy, greasy condiment. Needless to say I haven’t eaten mayo since.
But I won’t go on and on with the details of my hospital experience, because to be honest, it was monotonous, miserable, and full of anxiety-provoking situations. In a nutshell, that is what anorexia was for me; a way to cope with my anxiety. So when I was forced to let go of the one thing that helped me get by, a serious amount of stress ensued.
When my physical and mental health hit rock bottom, I had to give control to my parents, my doctors and my counselors. Letting go of my eating disorder was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do, but I am thankful everyday that I did. Going through a life-threatening situation made me more appreciative of my life and the people in it, and helped me recognize the beauty that each day holds. Today, I am a more empathetic person and I try not to be judgemental of others, as everyone is fighting their own battle.
My personal battle with anorexia went on for much longer than I had anticipated. After being discharged from the hospital, my recovery was far from over. For about two years, I continued to see a counselor, had weekly “weight checks” and doctors appointments, and fought the demons that were deeply rooted in my head. Although anorexia is behind me, those demons still creep back into my head and haunt me every once in a while. The difference is, I now have the tools and resources to overcome those negative thoughts before they take over.
Today, I am a “normal” college student that goes to school, works and lets loose on the weekends. I am healthy and happier than ever, and I never let my past define who I am. Now that I am back on my feet, I help those that are struggling with an eating disorder or know someone who is by talking to them and reassuring them that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I also try my best to spread awareness and fight the stigma associated with eating disorders. There is a common misconception out there that those that have eating disorders are shallow and preoccupied with their image, but that is far from reality. Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses that can affect anyone and everyone. Despite the fact that millions of Americans are affected by eating disorders every day, research and funding is severely lacking. Everyone needs to be educated about what an eating disorder is and what it looks like so that they can recognize the problem in themselves or their loved ones. I hope that one day, anyone who is struggling with an eating disorder does not feel ashamed and feels comfortable reaching out for help. Everyone deserves to be happy with the body that they were given and love who they are.