My first major mental health thing (aside from feeling vaguely “off” and emotionally “different” at the age of ten or eleven) was the eating disorder I developed in high school. That disorder was a tremendously strong force in my life for like, a reaaaallly long time. It was my disappearing act, resulting from crippling depression and anxiety, where I shriveled into a shell of who I once was and lost all sense of how to relate to my body, my self, and my loved ones. It was crying in what felt like every bathroom stall of my school as I hid from anyone who might figure out what I was doing, what I was being made to do, for fear that they might try to intervene. Because if they did, I would just EXPLODE, so I had to stay away. It was throwing myself into my schoolwork, distracting myself with the drive to get straight As and 100s and be perfect so I could graduate and go to a good college and get a good job and be successful and not fail out of life itself because how fucking shitty would I feel if that happened, I already felt shitty enough! The eating disorder was a lot of things. None of them particularlyyy good.
To speak in a way that isn’t full of words that are me just trying to be a fancy writer… I fucking starved myself for three years. In ninth grade, at fourteen years old, I met Depression. My friends didn’t like me anymore, I was lonely and sad, I was stressed out with school, and I was a teenager so like, my relationship with my dad was shit and it caused me a great deal of stress. I stopped eating because I wasn’t hungry. I was anxious and panicky and sad. And furthermore, I was consumed with schoolwork and advanced classes, and the pressure was crushing me. I worked through lunch instead of eating because I thought it’d alleviate some of the ever-present dread, maybe chase away the dark cloud looming above my head or the sense of impending doom. It didn’t, but I wouldn’t eat anyway. Then, weirdly, I was compelled to skip breakfast too. So I skipped breakfast too. And then I was told by some omnipotent presence to get on the scale. So I got on the scale. And thus began the competition I had with myself to make the number I saw get lower and lower and lower. Cue body image problems. Enter physical issues. Bring on the bitter, biting, painful cold that settled in my bones and didn’t leave me the fuck aloneeeeeee.
No one really noticed, or so I assumed, but if they did notice, they left me to it until I was too far gone. By the middle of eleventh grade I desperately wanted to stop. I had realized there was a word for what I was doing, a name for this THING eating me from the inside out, but I didn’t say it. I didn’t write it. I tried not to think it. Because with the awareness that this was anorexia was the feeling inside of me that I was consciously doing wrong. And I wasn’t a bad kid. I was and always had been a good girl. I wasn’t wrong, I wasn’t bad, I couldn’t HELP IT, ughhhhhh.
I was thrown into the hospital in an eating disorders program in April that year. I say “thrown,” but I guess it was my choice? I was brought to this appointment as this office far away from where I lived, and I mean, I had a feeling it was about this eating issue thing of mine. And my stomach went sour when I realized that feeling was right. But the doctor who talked to me and examined me was so nice. I trusted her immediately. And I mean, I wanted to get better. So I was honest with her, said the dreaded word anorexia, and even more said that that was what I had, that anorexic was what I was.
“Laura is very mature,” the doctor told the nutritionist when she walked in. “Came right out and told me she’s anorexic.”
I beamed with pride, but the happiness only lasted briefly, because now we had to “talk about options.” Oh, god. Oh god oh god oh god. “Because you can’t stay sick forever. You can’t stay stuck in this forever. I think you know that, Laura.” Ughhhh, I diddddd, but I was scareddddd.
“You can leave here today. And you’d have to come back in two weeks for an appointment. And during those two weeks, you’d have to try, really try, to eat and gain weight.” The words she spoke hit me like a ton of bricks. “But patients I send home never do as well, and every time I let someone go home, I regret it. I’m afraid that…” she shifted in her chair and leaned towards me. “I’m afraid that if I let you walk out of this office today, you won’t walk back in.”
The subtext of that being, of course, that I was going to drop dead. I knew that was what she meant. I struggled to breathe, I struggled to see straight without dark clouds spotting my vision, I had no energy, my body hurt, I was cold, emaciated, I was going to die.
“Or,” she paused to look at me, “you can stay here. We’ll admit you to the hospital.”
Somehow, as this brilliant doctor and I were talking, the decision was made that I’d stay. She was extra brilliant because she somehow made sixteen-year-old me believe that I had made the decision. Which was important because it made me work extra hard over the coming months in the hospital and the program. It was what I had decided I wanted to do, wasn’t it? I mean, it truly was what I wanted. But goddammit, eating??? Gaining weight??? That shit was difficult. Almost as difficult as processing the emotional shit and talking about my secrets and opening up about my disorder whileeee eating and gaining weight.
I made friends in the hospital that helped me back into my skin and reminded me who I was as a person. My friends back at school (the ones I’d made and grown close to over the prior three years, the ones who came to love me even though I was a miserable, starving mess) were so incredibly supportive. My teachers were incredible, I can’t understate how helpful they were. My family I can’t even begin to describe. And like, holy shit, just feeling such extreme love after having felt the exact opposite for so long…it was enough to catapult me into recovered life.
Not that the “road to recovery” was all skipping through fields of flowers. I gained 50 pounds, yeah, but uhhhhhh that didn’t mean shit? I mean, I gained higher comprehension and understanding and became more self-aware and able to process shit. But I still felt like the sick me. Even though I looked like a “healthy” me. *Identity crisis intensifies*
I held it together as best as I could. I never really had a major relapse and never wound up back in the hospital, but it was a wild ride from there to here.
I’m realizing now I’ve never thought extensively about my actual recovery. I know how I transformed in the actual hospital, and in the very early stages of recovery. But I’ve never truly thought about being in college and grappling with both eating disordered thoughts and the determination to kick the shit out of those thoughts. Put a pin in this, that’s a blog post for later.
Long story short (not really), I’m 27 and the eating disorder is an issue anymore. I’m thankful and lucky and proud. So yay 🙂
Some people don’t believe in “full recovery,” but I mean, I don’t have an eating disorder anymore, so I think it’s a thing I believe in. I totally get that people are talking about the ongoing process of recovering. And I understand that. I dunno, maybe it’s different for everyone.
It’s also currently eating disorder awareness week, and I posted about it on facebook, so I’m gonna post here what I posted there. Just for funsies, Lol.
I usually like to tie posts and writing up in a nice bow to end things, but my brain isn’t brain-ing right now. So no super-great ending. I just hope you enjoyed my ranting here, internet 🙂