Eating disorders: some of the most romanticized, glorified, and deadly mental illnesses in existence today. They come in many shapes and forms, weights and sizes, symptoms and consequences. For the last 4 years of my life, I have been in a battle with a disorder called Anorexia Nervosa, which has the highest morbidity rate of any psychiatric diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). I hope that by sharing my own story, I can potentially help or even prevent my fellow students from going down that same, dark path.
I grew up living with my strong, hero of a dad. He joined the U.S. Army at 17 and has been employed there for 30 years. My father taught me that health, fitness, and perfection were standards that everyone should aim to achieve, and I took this to heart.
As I entered middle school, I was always conscious of what I was eating, how much I had exercised that day, and my never ending urge to succeed. School sports turned into more than just a game, low calorie foods became my safe haven, and B’s were no longer an option. The people around me were constantly talking about their new diet or how much weight they’d lost, just adding to my growing addiction. My freshman year of high school, I began throwing as many meals away as I could. I exercised after my dad went to bed so that he wouldn’t know how much I was truly working out. My weight plummeted. Once, I tried to reach out for help and was told that I was not “skinny enough to have an eating disorder.” Nothing was perfect enough, small enough, or good enough to me- not even my own self.
This all progressively worsened until my senior year of high school when I finally was completely refusing to eat. My passion in life, snow skiing, had been plagued by my eating disorder; I no longer felt the rush of adrenaline after a challenging slope. Instead, that feeling was replaced by the voice in my head telling me to go until I could barely ski any longer. I started to believe that I would be a better flute player if my fingers were skinnier and that my friends would disappear if I ever gained any weight. At this point, I had multiple people “compliment” me for having the willpower to lose so much weight. By January of 2017, I was hospitalized and had a NG feeding tube placed to keep me alive. Nevertheless, this was still not enough of a wake up call to make me change my habit. I was still restricting, purging the food that I did eat, and taking double or triple the recommended dosage of diet pills. By June, I had been fired, hospitalized in New Orleans for a whole month, and my dad had broken the news to me that if I didn’t get this under control, I wouldn’t be allowed to attend Belmont University this fall. I had been made into a literal and figurative skeleton of the person I used to be.
There are certain things in each person’s life that will make or break them; for me, that thing is college. I had worked so hard to get here, and now this addiction was going to rip it away from me. I felt alone, helpless, and utterly hopeless. Slowly but surely, I started to rethink my recent decisions. I began to question the logic of it all; eating disorders develop because they seem like a way to make your life better, whether that is through bingeing to comfort yourself, purging to get rid of your thoughts, or restricting to numb your emotions. I realized that I had adopted this “friend” to attempt to deal with my stressors and traumatic memories, but that my Anorexia wasn’t fulfilling its promises. Instead, this disease was ravaging my mind, body, and future. I was having muscle spasms, blackouts, and trouble walking. How was I supposed to stay enrolled in college when I was barely keeping myself alive? The simple answer is that nobody can do it. Eating disorders slowly deteriorate you; there is no way around it. Whether it’s in college or later in your life, the consequences will come. My life changing consequence came before I even moved into my dorm.
I turned this fear of failure into my motivation to recover. They began to assemble a complete treatment team, create a meal plan, and a revised exercise regime for me. Slowly, meals with friends became sources of encouragement. I, reluctantly, put back on the weight I had worked so hard to lose. Happiness became a familiar face once again.
Sadly, everyone has this idea that recovery is a linear path, but I am here to testify that this is not the truth. During my journey, I have had multiple lapses and relapses, and that is okay. A relapse is a chance to get back on your feet and prove your eating disorder and all the people who say that you’ll never recover wrong. Recovery isn’t beautiful until you look back at all you’ve done and accomplished along your journey. It’s hard, long, and exhausting, but it will be the most rewarding thing you will ever do for yourself. It may be a lifelong commitment, or it could only take months. Let me be the first to tell you that these disorders aren’t pretty; they won’t get you the boyfriend or girlfriend that you want, an A on your final, or any sort of validation in the end, no matter how bad you want or need them to.
So, I encourage you to go out on that late night fast food run with your friends, take an extra selfie, don’t track how many calories you’ve burned this week. Wear that new bikini with your friends. Exercise because it’s fun, not because you want to fit into those size 2 flare jeans. Grab an ice cream cone and don’t feel ashamed. Once you finally make an effort to go against the flow, you will notice the changes. Suddenly, you aren’t body checking yourself every time you see your reflection, pilates sessions are more about having fun with your friends, and you take that group picture on your girl’s trip to the beach… in the flawless bikini body that you’ve come to realize is actually your body!
My hope and prayer is that my words and my story lights a fire, or at least a spark, in your heart: one that will encourage you to help yourself, your friends, and anyone that you reach. Eating disorders are preventable, but it is up to each one of us to make an effort and change society’s attitude.