I am eighteen years old.
For nearly a decade now, I have been dealing with disordered thoughts around eating; eventually they manifested into a full blown eating disorder (which you can read a little bit more about here).
I have been in and out of therapy, in and out of life, for years, and finally, in September of 2017, I reached stability.I was so proud of my recovery. I fought hard for it. I spilled literal blood, and sweat, and tears for it. I was eating, and drinking, and sleeping. I was exercising healthily, and I was cutting back where I needed to. I was going to events, going on vacation, laughing with my friends, loving on my family. I was indulging recklessly in the full vibrancy of life, and it felt like a massive relief. It restored my faith in things like heaven, and hope, and the possibility of complete healing.
But it was short lived.
Here’s the thing about having an eating disorder: when you’re in it, it (inaccurately) disguises itself as perfectly believable bliss. The entire world revolves around numbers, and it is so all-consuming that nothing else has a way to slip in. There is no way for any other pain to coexist with hunger pains. And an empty stomach is far more comforting, to those of us with EDs, than an overflowing mind.
That September was a rare setting of mental stillness for me. I was running, still, but not quite fast enough to carry expectations. My relationships felt solid. School was going well. There was not much to worry over, not much I had to distract from.
October hit me like a brick wall.
And suddenly the arms I had wrapped myself in, believing them to be shields, began to suffocate me. We learned that my father is terminally ill. The looming future (college and majors and the thin line between my passion and my pride) was one month closer. My running performance completely plateaued. I felt my entire world come down in shambles, all within the span of thirty days.
And so I closed my eyes and reached into The Bag of Coping Mechanisms and I pulled out anorexia.
I slipped back into restriction slowly. An apple and a tablespoon of peanut butter for breakfast led to just an apple for breakfast. Which led to nothing for breakfast. Which led to nothing for lunch. Which led to higher mileage. Which led to secret midnight workouts. Which led to the dangerous game that had come to define me for so much of my life: how close to zero could I get that calorie intake number?
I’ll save you the guessing game; I got pretty damn close.
And it felt good, for a while there. It really did. It felt like raw oxygen. It felt like ice hitting your tongue on a humid summer day. It felt like sugar on strawberries. It felt like curling up in the corner of the library with a good book and listening to the gentle rain outside. It felt like coming home.
Until it just didn’t anymore.
My weight began to drop, and I had all the excuses. But no one believed them like they used to. I seemed to be the only one who really did. I was in complete denial of what I was doing, because I had beaten this, hadn’t I? I had won. I had done it. It was done. It was gone. This was normal weight fluctuation. This was a loss of appetite that came with the offseason. This was not drinking as much water as I had before getting weighed in the past. This was the clothes I was wearing when I stepped on the scale, the time of day. I wasn’t losing weight, I couldn’t, I didn’t, I hadn’t.
And come April, I would step on the scale to find that I had dropped far too much in far too short a time frame.
And there was no more denial. No more lying. No more hiding.
I was sick.
Maybe sicker than I’ve ever been.
This kind of sick was hidden under too many layers, blistered and bubbling and infected with so much heartache that it had been left to fester in for far too long. It wasn’t going to go away on its own. Admitting that was the most difficult thing that I have ever done. But as I write this from an eating disorder treatment facility, watching trains wind down the track like larger-than-life reminders of the possibility of freedom, I know that it was also the bravest thing I have ever done.
I don’t think I can ever forget the weeks leading up to my admission into McCallum Place’s intensive eating disorder program. The tearful phone calls to my best friend that always ended with her begging me to do something, the panic attacks on my bed and the hours spent absolutely numb in the shower, the moment where the floodgates swung open and I told my mom I couldn’t do it anymore.
I relayed my story to so many strangers that week. I have never felt more mixed emotions than I did when one of them said, “We are going to take you in. We will help you. And you are going to be okay.”
I sacrificed every ounce of normalcy left in my life to believe her.
I left my senior year of high school, with only thirty school days left, for a chance to get myself back.
People have claimed that that is stupid, and unnecessary, and even regrettable.
But after so many years of breaking yourself slowly to pieces, you begin to realize that given thirty more days, there might not be anything left of you to rip up.
All I’ve got right now is one bleeding heart. One bleeding heart under fluorescent lights, six meals a day and a NG tube, doctors and specialists, other people living the same story because of different pain, puzzle pieces and crochet needles and upholstered chairs and here, here is where I am going to begin to find the rest of me. I couldn’t do that at prom or at honors night or in AP Spanish class.
I am terrified, but I am proud. And I am ready to come back to life.
I will be chronicling my journey weekly through my time at McCallum Place and my recovery, so stay tuned for posts under the Recovery tab. Hopefully this little virtual journal can help someone else who is somewhere in between relapse and rising to choose to go up.
There’s always an up.
Welcome to mine.