Editor’s note: This post discusses anorexia/eating disorders
I happened to overhear my daughter’s online meet for health class. The topic caused me to freeze in place. I felt a dry knot in my throat. I struggled with the idea that she was already at the age to be dealing with these issues, but even more so that it was a subject of personal pain: Anorexia.
This will be the hardest post I will write, but it’s one of the biggest reasons I started blogging. I am a shy, reserved, and private person, but I’m trying to get over that. I don’t like the spotlight or attention. This brings both, and not in a flattering way.
Yet, I have felt the need to share this story for many years. Now I have a 13-year-old daughter, and I must let this story out—for her and for so many other young people who could be helped by this.
I had to search long and hard to find a picture during the time frame of my illness. Although I was obsessed with my self-image, I didn’t have many photos of myself at this time because I didn’t like to see myself. That, and if I did have pictures, it was usually in baggy and loose clothing to hide my weight loss—you know, the thing I wanted so badly. I know, it’s a twisted situation.
In the photo, I was a junior in high school and 90 pounds. My doctor had told me that if I lost one more pound, she would admit me to the hospital.
I carefully tethered on that one pound difference—not wanting to “give up my control,” yet not wanting to be hospitalized.
I can still remember my boyfriend’s class ring spinning around my finger, even after a ring-guard, and I took delight in that. There was a definite looseness of the Mickey Mouse watch I wore every day, it would spin completely around my wrist, another form of “measurement” for my “progress.” Another tool I used was the wrist check, meaning how far I would wrap my fingers around my wrist. A “good day” was when my thumb reached the top bend of my middle finger. These were meditated methods. Signs of a sickness out of control.
For those needing help with a loved one, I make the disclaimer that you read this first before you allow your loved one to read it. I say this because of reasons that are less spoken of, but for dangerous reasons that I acted out myself . . . research.
As an anorexic, I used any information I could gather, even information about getting help, to feed my need for control. It gave me ideas of “new goals” or “new methods” from the lists of symptoms and warning signs. It also gave me others’ stories to compare notes. I told myself the information I researched was for people with a problem. I convinced myself I was just using it for tips to get the weight off quickly. I felt I could handle it without things getting out of control. Sadly, at that point, it was very much out of control. It was a slippery slope that fueled my toxic path.
I painstakingly counted every calorie, always with the goal of maintaining or even having less the next day. An entire day’s meals would consist of things like dry cereal or a bag of jelly beans. Sometimes it was even a meal replacement powder I mixed with as little milk as possible. To this day, I can still close my eyes and remember the taste of the clumpy vanilla mixture in my mouth, and the smell of the imitation flavoring.
And that was it—for the day—not just for one meal of that day.
I would actually get internally furious at anyone offering me food or suggesting that I eat. I was terrified they would interfere with my goals.
I didn’t start out with the intention of becoming this ill-driven and obsessive person. Contrary to the beliefs of some, I did not wake up this way one day. It was a very slow process much like the analogy of the frog in hot water. You put the frog in the pot of water and turn the stove on. As it slowly warms into a boil, the frog never realizes until it’s too late.
I was the frog. The pot of water was peer pressure and the need to have mastery over something. The heat was the disorder I developed and its effects on my body. I was slowly killing myself without even registering the broader picture.
The peer pressure began because I was a nerd, an outcast, and a social recluse. I was looking for anyone to latch onto who made me feel secure and less exposed to the sometimes (OK, often) cruel, adolescent environment around me. I found that friend, but I would have been better off exposed and alone. She was the alpha, and I was merely the lowly person she graced with her friendship.
Often she discussed how her small and petite frame gave her freedom with food and she didn’t have the same worries I did. The comments were tossed out, not directly, but I knew they were for me. To make matters worse I started dating someone who equally wreaked havoc on my self-esteem.
I slowly started watching what I ate, and when I started losing weight I was surprised at the satisfaction I felt from the accomplishment.
I could literally see something I was successful in. As I mastered my ability to control my weight, I developed a distorted determination toward my goal.
My weight started dropping quickly, much to my complacency. As the weight decreased, my textbook symptoms increased. I stayed cold, not having enough body weight to keep warm. Menstrual cycles become sporadic and weak. (Anorexia can damage organs, including your ovaries. I often find myself wondering if my actions during this time later resulted in our miscarriage and difficulty conceiving. My OB doctor actually told me we would not be able to have children).
A fine, downy hair layer formed on my stomach. Our bathroom scales and the numbers it showed me became a ball-and-chain—I weighed myself several times a day, panicking if the number fluctuated higher than the last check-in.
My destructive course continued for months. My primary focus was food—and my control of it.
My parents quickly became concerned. My response was always a dismissive, “I’m just not hungry.” This prompted a trip to the family doctor who checked a variety of things but suggested I had an eating disorder. I denied the diagnosis and convinced my parents that an eating disorder was not the issue. With pangs of guilt for lying to my family and doctor, I maintained my new self-destructive lifestyle.
I did not want help.
I continued seeing the doctor because my mom was concerned I had a serious health problem other than what the doctor had already suggested. I think she also just had no idea what to do and think about my drastic change. I also received counseling, in which I still insisted that I did not have any problems. I struggled through one appointment and through tears convinced my mom to not make me go back.
My doctor had finally told me, at 90 pounds, that if I lost one more pound she would admit me to the hospital. Suddenly, my goals seemed to be slipping through my hands. I reluctantly registered what she had said and sadly left the office. It was enough to alarm me, and I reconsidered some of my choices, making very little effort of doing better but still not increasing my calories enough to gain weight.
My next weigh-in at the doctor’s office found me at 89 pounds.
I sat in the exam room nervously waiting for my doctor. I heard the sirens of an ambulance approaching and panicked. My mind raced. I unexpectedly felt trapped, trapped by my circumstances. Trapped by something I finally realized was out of control.
The ambulance was for another patient, but as my doctor walked into the room, I promised to change and make a full effort to increase my calories.
Around the same time, I somehow (and thankfully) grew distant from the “friend” I had. My boyfriend at the time had also broken up with me and moved on to someone else. I found new friends, ones who cared and wanted to have fun without judgment toward others and to enjoy our teen years. I also started working at a grocery store that was outside of my school district, which gave me a fresh start with new friends (ultimately leading up to meeting my future husband). My priorities changed as did my happiness and self-esteem.
I was able to take delight in food again, and enjoy it socially. With my focus on more enjoyable things and not counting calories, I quickly gained back weight (and some extra). I was enjoying life and the adventures of being a teenager.
My husband knew of my situation when we were dating. He supported me, never judged me, and always made me feel comfortable with who I was.
He is still my stronghold. He is constantly letting me know I am exactly what he wants, no matter my shape or size.
His heartfelt words and love encourage me daily. Not to say that I always like what I see in the mirror, but I don’t have to be anything different. I can be who I am and those around me accept that. I know if I should struggle with this again, my husband will be there to help and support me, and that safety net feels good.
For some, this illness is lifelong. For me, it’s pushed to the far back corner of my mind; however, I know it could rear its ugly head again. I am grateful for the consistent support and guiding light of my husband and friends. I now have three more very important reasons to continue my recovery: My children.
Originally published on the author’s blog