Story of a Teenage Anorexic Part 1

You would think that after four years of speaking out about my anorexia it would get easier, but it doesn’t. It isn’t so much the shame, the embarrassment, the judgment from others, or the societal trivialization of eating disorders that is so daunting to me. It is the hard reality that I hurt myself in this way. It is the fact that I wasted so much of my life punishing and torturing myself for the sake of control. It is devastating to me that thirty million Americans, myself included, are so affected, in part by the preconceived societal notion of the ideal body that we are willing to sacrifice our mental and physical well-being to eating disorders in order to attain it.  

I don’t remember a specific day when I decided to stop eating. I think it was more of a lifelong process. When I was a baby, I refused to eat. My parents and my grandmother, Grams, who helped raise me, had to coax me to eat at every meal time. As I grew from an infant into a child, that part of my life didn’t change. I would sit at the dinner table for hours trying to avoid eating my meal. In middle school, which is when I switched to an elite, college prep school, I remember hearing a rumor that people thought I was anorexic. I was embarrassed for an instant, but I shrugged it off because I was repulsed and overall confused by the idea of starving yourself. In high school, the stakes of my life were raised considerably, and the conflict with my mother that had been present for my whole life worsened. Fundamentally, my mother and I could not be more different, and the schism between us was one of the main factors that contributed to my need for control. Looking back, I had no idea of who I was, and I was beginning to develop disordered eating habits to cope with the stress of the high-pressure situations I faced as early as the beginning of freshman year of high school. On the surface, it was ballet: the pressure I put on myself to be perfect, my thirst for control over some aspect of my life, and the desire to prove to my mom that I was worth her approval were what pushed me over the edge and brought on the eating disorder. But I know that I would have suffered from anorexia no matter what. It was just a matter of universal timing.

Fast-forward to December of 2012, my sophomore year of high school, I caught a horrible stomach illness that was going around school. I remember throwing up thirty times in one day. The scary thing was not the fact that I was vomiting constantly, but the fact that I liked it. I thought no one knew I was anorexic and that I was getting away with it so easily. In reality, everyone knew I was sick, but what they didn’t know was how to help me or how to react. Earlier in the fall of 2012, my chemistry teacher at the time tried her best to get me help one day after school. I believe that for a while, although I didn’t know it at the time, she had been trying to gauge how much I wasn’t eating. On this particular afternoon, she told me she had a friend at Children’s Hospital who worked with young people suffering from eating disorders and that she had the number available for me to call. She told me it was my decision, left me with the number, and went to pick up her sons. I waited until she had left. Then, I got the hell out of there. I never made that phone call. I wasn’t ready to admit to myself that I had an eating disorder. I told myself I was just a conscientious eater. It was more of a hobby than a serious problem to me. I thought that those horrible things that happen to people with eating disorders would never happen to me. I wasn’t like them because I would never let it get out of control like they did.

Other students were beginning to notice me changing as well, but didn’t know how to act around me. I remember on the rare occasion that I would go to lunch, a student would take pictures of me eating and save them to a designated folder in her phone because “it was such a rare occurrence.” What most people fail to understand is that none of the prying questions or the poignant remarks were at all helpful, and nothing that anyone said or did was going to make me eat or make me want to get better. After just a few days into the beginning of 2013, the school guidance counselor called me into her office. She proceeded to ask me questions about my eating habits, when I ate, with whom, how often, and what I ate. I lied as best I could, but all I could think was, “Oh shit! She’s on to me!” She told me she used to work at an eating disorder clinic in Louisiana, which was code for, “I know your type, and I’m so onto you.” I left her office feeling like I had barely covered for myself. I found out that students and teachers had reported to the guidance counselor about my eating disorder. Now, I am grateful for those people who tried to help me, but at that moment I was furious. As an anorexic person, it is all about day-to-day living. What can I have to eat today? Where can I skimp where no one would notice? And the biggest priority of all, don’t get caught. I was angry because I had gotten caught, and I didn’t want to stop. Instead, I secluded myself even more, spending all snack and lunch times in the dance studio of the music building. There I worked up the courage to eat the bare minimum to keep me alive. I lived off of protein bars and gum. I was alive, but I looked dead and more importantly, I wanted to be dead. I was going through the motions of life, but I barely had the energy to get up in the mornings let alone get through a ballet class. I was fatigued, constantly nauseous, and dizzy. Due to my eating disorder, I remember very little of my sophomore year as a whole. Feeling dead and alive at the same time was what helped me realize that I had spiraled into an eating disorder that I could no longer control. I couldn’t dance anymore, and the feeling of control combined with a rush of adrenaline every time I didn’t eat was gone. I was a slave to my eating disorder, and I was miserable. I was dying, and all of a sudden, being in control was no longer worth it to me.

My two closest friends at the time noticed the changes in me, but rather than push me, they waited for me to get myself together when it came to my eating disorder. They never said a word about it to me, and they never tried to get me to eat something that I didn’t want to eat. Their unspoken support was most meaningful to me because I never felt pressured to eat or had to act differently when I was around them, but I know that they stepped in when things got dangerously bad. In April of 2013, I felt it was the time in my healing process where I needed to come clean to my mother. Not once during my eating disorder did my mom try to help me, and I resented her for that. When I told her that I was anorexic she told me, “You weren’t anorexic. You’ve always been just a picky eater.” Her denial really crushed me. It made me feel alone, and I don’t recommend that you fight this inner demon alone as I did.

Re-introducing food into my system was really shocking. My stomach was not used to some foods and the richness of the ingredients, and it was sickening to start eating again. Facing the food itself was one of the hardest things to overcome. In my recovery, I began to identify my triggers, things, people, or situations that made me want to starve myself and were at the root of my original problem. Now, when I encounter one of my triggers, I know how to face it, and I have healthier ways of coping with my triggers than hiding behind my eating disorder. The most positive part of my recovery was regaining my emotional and physical strength back in the ballet studio. Ballet was what ultimately saved me, and that is half of the reason why I love it more than I can even describe today. My performance in ballet was the first indicator that I had that my eating disorder had gone far beyond my control, ballet gave me something to live for, and helped me renew my desire to live.

My disordered eating tendencies are still something I struggle with each day. I have to be conscious of what I’m eating and if I’m allowing that to affect my self-worth. But my anorexia taught me that people, myself included, are a lot stronger than we think we they are and that there is not a thing you can’t do with the power of believing in yourself. I used to hate myself for not being a better dancer, for disappointing my mom, for not asserting control over my life, and for not being perfect so much so that I was willing to give up on life. Now I know that perfection is not only impossible but overrated, that hard work and humility will make me the dancer I want to become, that my mom and I are different people tossed together by fate and that while I respect her opinion, that doesn’t mean it has to be my opinion, that this is my life, and the only person keeping me from reaching my full potential is myself.

 

If anyone you know, including yourself, is struggling with an eating disorder please reach out to me, SPEAK, or one of the resources listed below. You have the power to affect change in your life. All you have to do is speak up!    

 

Christina Bargelt

President of Students Promoting Eating Disorder Awareness and Knowledge or SPEAK University of Utah

[email protected]

 

Women’s Resource Center

A. Ray Olpin Union

200 S. Central Campus Dr

Room 411

Salt Lake City, UT 84112

Phone: 801-581-8030

Hours:

Monday - Friday 8:00am–5:00pm

Closed Tuesday 9:00am–11:00am

 

University of Utah Counseling Center

Student Services Building, Rm 426

Phone: 801-581-6826

Hours:

Monday-Friday, 8am - 5pm