Living with an eating disorder has been nothing short of difficult. Each day I wake up it’s on my mind, and although I have been in the recovery process for almost two years now, it’s still a daily battle.
It is a common misconception that each victim has made the conscious decision to fall prey to these vicious diseases. Eating disorders are life threatening. They creep up on you as quickly and as silently as any other illness. Unlike many illnesses, however, eating disorders stay with the victim for their whole life.
Eighty one percent of ten year olds are afraid of being “fat” and, unfortunately, I fell into that statistic. I began to feel uncomfortable in my own skin at a very young age. It became a huge issue as I faced constant bullying from sixth grade through freshman year. Gradually, my self-esteem declined as the same group of girls ridiculed me for years.
Eventually, I just wanted control over something in my life. At the time I was struggling with my adoption which is something I had no control over. I was having a hard time at school, and though I worked hard to change the situation, nothing was working. My friend from treatment, Kaitlyn Dennison, believes that control is a huge aspect of most cases of eating disorders.
“For me it was about looking a certain way but it was also about control. Food was the only thing in my life at the time I could control,” Dennison said.
There are many underlying issues to eating disorders. Many believe it is all about weight and food, but it often has to do with emotions.
School and outpatient psychologist Gretchen Powers said, “It’s another way people try to manage emotions. It’s the use of a substance to manage the way you are feeling. No one consciously decides to develop an eating disorder, they are just seeking a way to relieve their suffering.”
When battling emotions I hadn’t faced before, my eating disorder gave me a sense of power. I was happy that I was able to control something in my life, even if it didn’t make me feel the best. I was suffering for about six months prior to being admitted into a treatment center.
Once a patient is admitted, the course of treatment taken will vary depending on symptoms and criteria met. “You first will consult with an eating disorder specialist. They take into consideration how long the individual has struggled, the severity and frequency of the behaviors, and the type of support they get at home,” said Lauren Smolar, Director of Helpline Services for National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) in an email interview.
I did not have a say in my treatment plan. My health was so deteriorated that we had to move quickly in order to get me the help I needed. I was brought into the office one Monday morning and had my evaluation done. I was emotional, extremely hesitant, and most of all, upset with my parents and my doctor for forcing me to let go of the only “good” thing in my life at the time.
I could hardly participate in any daily activities because everything took so much energy out of me. My heart rate was dropping a little each day and if I pushed myself too hard I was at risk of having a heart attack. With the lack of nutrition I was experiencing, my body began to consume itself in order to have enough energy to get me through the day.
My weight began at 128 pounds and plummeted to 98 pounds in the blink of an eye. My blood pressure dropped to 85/50 and my heart rate ranged from 35-45 beats per minute. Because of my physical complications and how quickly everything happened, I developed multiple other issues.
I became extremely depressed and had increased levels of anxiety. My nails and hair became brittle, and as time went on I began to lose a lot of my hair. I was hyperactive, unable to sit still. This made it quite difficult to sleep through the night and especially difficult to sit through meals since they were hard enough already. I developed muscle atrophy which is when my muscle mass decreased due to my body feeding off of itself. The last thing that occurred was lowered body temperature. This was very difficult to deal with because regardless of what I was wearing or how many blankets I had, I was never able to warm up.
When I entered the program it was a common theme among my group that none of us actually wanted treatment. We were all forced there by doctors or parents.
“I was forced into treatment by doctors. If I didn’t enter treatment, I would have only had about two more months to live. Admitting to myself that I was sick was the hardest and scariest thing I have ever done,” said Dennison.
I participated in outpatient treatment first. I went to the center three times a week after school to follow a rigid program in order to switch the way my brain perceived food and the way I saw myself. I suffered from body dysmorphia, meaning I would brood over my flaws for hours each day. Other people may have viewed these flaws as nonexistent or normal but to me they were so distressing that they were constantly on my mind.
Once I entered treatment, the next six months of my life were devoted to recovery. It took me three months to accept that I was sick and to choose recovery.
“Since the eating disorder was not a choice in the first place, it can be difficult to “choose” to change something that has often become something that feels normal in a person’s life,” Smolar said in an email interview. “The individual is relying on professionals to guide them instead of being able to use their own inner voice.”
Although it was a difficult choice to make, I don’t know a single person who has regretted choosing recovery.
“I don’t think I will ever fully recover, but I have been able to accept that I need to eat but there are days and meals where I struggle,” Dennison said.
Recovery may very will be a choice, however the development of the disorder itself is not. Each case is personal, and it is important for society to understand that this is a prominent issue facing many teens today.
Said Dennison, “Never be afraid to ask for help. We often underestimate how serious our condition is.”