By Vaneza Paredes
Content warning: This article contains descriptions of eating disorders
But after arriving and settling in to my new dorm room in a new city, cramped into a tiny space with two new roommates, I quickly found myself desperately homesick. I missed the endless sunshine of Los Angeles, my friends and my family. Independent since birth, I found myself completely confused with these newfound feelings. Why wasn’t I feeling happy? Isn’t this what I had wanted for so long? Thoughts swirled my mind, and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t push them away. And so, I threw myself into anything and everything I could, determined to push through and try to find some peace of mind.After graduating from high school, I couldn’t wait to begin my college adventure. I had envisioned endless freedom, hot guys, amazing opportunities, and so much more. I had my bags ready and packed two weeks prior to my move-in date; my brand new baby blue sheets and new pillows eagerly waiting their new destination.
I took on a heavy course load, and found myself working two jobs on campus. I fell in love with working—the monotonous tasks of serving bakery goods and coffee cleared my mind for the hours of my shifts. Yet the minute I was off the clock, and my classes were completed for the day, I would trudge back to my dreaded dorm room, with intense feelings of loneliness and depression. I didn’t realize I was depressed at the time; but looking back, I was completely and totally depressed.
One day, I decided to hit the gym. It was a beautiful gym, a center with an Olympic size pool, endless machines, dance classes, and so forth. I hopped onto the treadmill that first day, and spent an hour running. Then I got on the elliptical for another 30 minutes. By the time I was done, I realized it was already time to head to my next class. That day officially became the day that changed my life, and not for the better.
Despite my intense school load, and my two jobs, I still felt desperately unhappy. I couldn’t control how I felt, no matter how hard I tried, but in my mind, there was one thing I did have control over: I could control what I ate, and how I looked. And with this distorted mindset, I developed an eating disorder.
I began to work out for hours on end day after day. I limited my calorie intake, restricting to the bare minimum. Each night I went to bed with my belly growling, I considered a “good” day. I dressed only in leggings for my jeans had become too baggy, and as I watched my friends eat nachos and burritos on Friday night our favorite Mexican restaurant, I silently ate my garden salad, with low fat dressing on the side that I knew I wouldn’t dare to pour over it. In my mind, I was fine. Of course I was fine! I had become a liar, to not only everyone around me, but to myself.
After months of restriction and compulsive exercise, I came home for Thanksgiving break. I confessed to my mom that I was dealing with an eating disorder, but that I would be OK heading back to school. She was concerned, but mostly confused, as she couldn’t really understand my eating disorder. I didn’t blame her; how can anyone understand why someone would want to starve?
So I went back to school, and tried to get it together. Despite my efforts, my restriction had become an addiction. I was literally addicted to the feeling of being hungry, to counting every single calorie I ate, to just not eating enough food to survive. My menstrual cycle had long stopped, and finally I went to see a doctor. As the nurse read my weight aloud, my mind became obsessed and fixated on the number that was on the scale. I can make it lower, my mind challenged itself, and I went on to attempt to bring the number down lower and lower.
Around January, I came back home and my mom was more concerned than ever. I realized that I had a problem, and that I needed help because I couldn’t do it on my own. We started to look for therapists nearby and found a rehabilitation center near my house. At first, I was mortified. I couldn’t go to rehab; I had a life to live. I had to get back to my 4.0 college GPA, my two jobs and my friends. I didn’t have time to “take a break” and go to rehab. Wasn’t rehab only for alcoholics and drug addicts?
I went back up north to school, and started looking for therapists near the campus. After checking in with a few, they all informed me the same information: I needed help, and I needed something more than just weekly therapy. I couldn’t believe what they were saying.
I finally went to one last therapy center; it was far out from the campus, and very secluded. The intake specialist took down my information, and asked me to step onto the scale backwards. As I slid off my boots, I felt my heart thumping in my chest. I stepped on, wishing I knew the number that she was recording down on her clipboard. We talked about the program; it was a half-day program, which meant I would really have to work hard both at the program and outside of it. The problem was that I honestly did not want to recover. She called my mom after our appointment, and told her that their program wouldn’t be effective enough for me; I needed a partial hospitalization program, something far more intensive.
This was rock bottom for me. I finally sat down, realized that I needed help. I couldn’t do it on my own, and if I wanted to finish school and accomplish all of my hopes and dreams, I was going to need to be alive to do it. And so I made one of the most difficult decisions of my entire life: I decided to take time off from school, move back home and go to the eating disorder center near my house.
Going to rehab changed my life. I spent six months at the rehabilitation center, learning about who I was. I delved into my past, and learned new ways to cope with my anxieties and my fears. I discovered I had OCD compulsions and tendencies, and discovered how much anxiety was pent up inside of me on a daily basis. I learned that food doesn’t have to be “bad” or “scary.” Crying while trying to eat a croissant during challenge snack didn’t mean that I was weak; it meant that I was struggling, but that I had the strength within myself to overcome it.
Going to rehab was the best decision I ever made. It has helped me become self-aware. I know what I want, and what makes me happy. I have re-discovered my love of writing, and am able to communicate more easily with other people and my family. My relationship with food is still a work in progress, and I still meet with a therapist weekly, but I’m in a far much better and happier place.