submitted by Darlene
I was a shy, quiet girl, who didn’t grow up with many friends; I never had a best friend. I was more of a loner and because of this I spent most of my time reading books. I dealt with high anxiety at a very young age. I can remember as far back as being five years old, thinking I was on the heavier side and asking when I was going to loose my baby fat.
I was teased in junior high and high school because I didn’t wear the right clothes and because I wasn’t popular. I tried to achieve the perfect grades and be the perfect daughter but I never felt good enough. If I took one dance class, I had to take 10. I tried so hard to maintain the perfect weight.
In the years that followed, I did whatever it took to be thin; it was all I thought about. I had to be the perfect anorexic. My parents noticed I had lost a lot of weight. They instantly took me to my pediatrician because I was just 16 years old and she referred me to a therapist. Because my family didn’t understand this disorder, they thought if she eats then she will get better but it’s not that simple. This disorder is a lot more complex than that. At the same time, I was in an abusive relationship and all I really wanted was to be invisible. I didn’t have any self-esteem, self-worth or self-confidence. My parents continued to bring me from one doctor to another but it didn’t matter who I saw because I wasn’t ready to get better. I was petrified of food and weight gain, food was seen as my enemy, not something I needed in order to survive.
My life continued on a rollercoaster from the ages of 16 to 32. Some years were better than others. When I was 25 I moved out of my parent’s house and purchased my own condo. I was independent, however, my eating disorder was still a huge part of my life and now I didn’t have anybody to monitor my behaviors. I was driving great distances to see my therapist. I was working full time, as a legal assistant, at an insurance company. I loved my new independence, my home, my job and my friends. Finally, everything was moving in the right direction. But I was kidding myself thinking everything was perfect because I was out every night drinking and partying, and those new habits were beginning to get out of control. My drinking started to become more than social and my anxieties were the highest they had ever been. I was slowly losing control of my drinking and my anorexia. I worried constantly that I was failing. At the same time I was dealing with suicidal thoughts. I didn’t want to live because my life was such a mess and I didn’t know how to fix it. But I opened up to my therapist and I knew I had to stop drinking. So with my own strengths, my journaling, and my therapist, I stopped drinking and stayed sober for over two years. I learned I didn’t need to be the first person at a bar or the last person to leave.
My drinking improved but I was still suffering from depression, anxiety and my eating disorder. I struggled for years because I didn’t know how to fight my eating disorder. I was scared to let go because without my eating disorder, I didn’t know who I was or if I would wake up and be a different size. I was tired and sick all the time. My hair was falling out and no matter what the temperature, I was constantly cold. On the weekends, I wouldn’t get out of bed. I stayed there until Monday; when I had to get up for work. At this time, my family and friends didn’t realize how bad my anorexia and depression had become. They knew something was wrong because they would go days and weeks without speaking or seeing me. They were very concerned and worried but they didn’t know how to help me. So I felt that nobody cared or loved me because I had made a huge mess out of my life. Even though, my parents love me unconditionally and would do anything to help me. They couldn’t save me because I wasn’t asking for help. I was drowning in my own pain and I didn’t know how to get out of it.
Then it was summer and I had hit rock bottom. I was at my company’s summer picnic and I passed out from dehydration, heat exhaustion and lack of nutrition. They had to call 911 because I was in serious trouble and the paramedics had to restart my heart. I will never know what that did to my parents to drive an hour away not knowing if their daughter was going to make it. So after I was released from the hospital; I had no choice but to try and recover from my eating disorder and depression. I didn’t want my parents to bury me, even though I thought everyone would be better off without me. I fought so hard against my eating disorder. I went to my therapist and my nutritionist and every bit of it was intense. I was feeling every single emotion and every ounce of food but I had to save myself from this disorder.
After a few months I was doing better and my life seemed normal. I, for once in my life, was taking care of myself and putting my needs and myself first. I was at a healthy weight and I did it with the help of my therapist and nutritionist. I was fighting my eating disorder with everything I had. I was tired of being sick all the time. I wanted and deserved a better life than the one I was living. I wanted to be healthy; I wanted a life where the size of my clothes didn’t matter. I wanted to be viewed as a different person. So I decided to look for a new job. I had to leave the negative environment I was currently working in and I did.
I found a new job. However, it carried very intense moments. The work I did within my first year was ok. But I lacked confidence and I had no self-esteem; so I struggled a lot. In my second year, things got worse and it was all because of my eating disorder. I had a vision that I had to be perfect and when mistakes happened I spiraled out of control. I was dealing with intense thoughts, an eating disorder and high anxieties; so my therapist referred me to a physiatrist to be treated for bi-polar.
I took the medication; however, one of the side effects for this particular medication used for the treatment of bipolar diagnosis is weight gain. My doctors and I believe it did affect my weight which made me feel scared and out of my control of my body.
I was miserable but more determined than ever to lose the weight this medication had caused plus more. During this time, I started dating a new man and he loved me for who I was. He didn’t care that I was bi-polar or that I suffered from an eating disorder. He loved me for the person I was and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why….especially when I didn’t even know who I was.
At this time, I was still seeing my therapist and my nutritionist but a different psychiatrist, (she put me on better meds for bi-polar and this one helped and it didn’t increase my weight). However, I wasn’t following my meal plan and my weight was continuing to drop. I was going thru the motions of life but not really living. Everything was an effort because I had no nourishment; work was especially difficult. I couldn’t think straight and I kept mixing up appointments and conference calls. At the time, I had no idea that it was all because my brain was starved. Then the day came, when my boss told me he was moving me into a different position because I wasn’t focused enough to be at the level he needed me at. So again, I failed and felt horrible inside. Because I felt this way my anorexic behaviors came charging back and I started eating even less. I knew I couldn’t control the change in positions but I could control what I ate or didn’t eat for that matter.
In May of 2008 my nutritionist told me she couldn’t help me anymore. My weight was dangerously low and I needed to be hospitalized for my eating disorder. I remember sitting there in amazement. I couldn’t believe what she just said or understand why she was turning her back on me. I kept thinking I don’t need to be hospitalized. My weight is fine but yet at the same time, my mind was saying “lose five more pounds”. My nutritionist told me about a treatment center in the Boston area. I waited until Monday to do the research and made the call that same afternoon. I was scared because I was never hospitalized before and I didn’t know what to expect. But somewhere deep inside I knew this was the right decision.
I was admitted into the treatment center on June 4, 2008. After spending a very long day in admissions, I was brought upstairs at 5:00 pm. They gave us a tour of the floor and then I had to say good-bye to my parents and my boyfriend because it was dinner time and I had to go eat. I was petrified and couldn’t stop crying. One of the counselors that checked me in told me I was so malnourished that I couldn’t speak in complete sentences and they were there to help me get my life back. I remember missing my family and I spent a lot of time crying. But after a few days of being there I realized I felt safe for the first time in a very long time. Being hospitalized was a huge challenge. But the others girls and the staff were incredibly nice and for once I felt understood. I soon became close to one of the girls and we were great support for each other. We encouraged each other when we were having good and bad days. We connected and at night when our groups were over and our meals were done, we spent time laughing and joking. She soon became my best friend.
While hospitalized, I had to make the decision to either get better or continue on my path of self-destruction. If I chose the latter, then I wasn’t going to live a very long life. At first, I was extremely difficult to deal with. But eventually, I started eating, it wasn’t easy but I knew I had to do it. Then one night at dinner, I ate my complete meal. It was the first time I received a 100% on my dinner sheet. One my counselors sat and encouraged me with every bite I took until my final bite. I was proud of myself but at the same time, scared because it was the first time in a very long time that I ate everything. I didn’t know how I was going to feel in the next few minutes or hours or if I was going to wake up and be a different size. But we all know that’s not true. The best part was when I told my friends in group, everyone clapped and cheered for me. My best friend, family and boyfriend were so happy for me. I knew I had accomplished a huge task and I felt proud but of course the voices in my head were causing me anxiety, so I talked to my counselor about it and she reassured me that everything was going to be ok.
My goal each day was to beat my eating disorder and to continue eating 100%. I had to work very hard at this and I did. I would journal or talk to someone about my emotions. Eventually, I stopped taking everything out on my body. I learned to write down what I felt or I would talk about it. But along with that, I had to stop the voices in my head, improve my body image and I had to stop body checking every time I ate a meal. I needed to give myself a break and to take one meal at a time. During this re-feeding process, the old me was starting to come back. I was funny again and I could speak in complete sentences and things were finally being to look up and it was all because I was giving my body the nourishment it needed.
Then the day came when they told me I could be discharged…here was the day I was waiting for, but yet I was scared out of my mind. What if I relapse, what if I forget everything I was taught and what if I fail when I get home. What was I going to do? Who was my support team now? I was scared and didn’t know how to handle it. But time moves on and my boyfriend picked me up two days later and brought me home. But unfortunately, after two weeks of being at home and feeling very overwhelmed and very anxious, I ended up back at the treatment center. But due to unforeseen circumstances, I was discharged shortly after.
I was home but living at my parent’s house during the day and my boyfriends at night. I was not allowed to be at my condo by myself. Because of my depression all I did was lie on the couch and watch tv. I was on disability from work. I tried to participate in the out-patient program in Northampton but my weight was to low and I wasn’t eating enough calories. So my counselor advised me to go into the Residential Program. I declined the offer because I didn’t want to live in another hospital setting. But my mother stepped in and made the decision for me to go. It was one of the hardest decisions she ever had to make because she didn’t want to send me away but at the same time she knew I wasn’t going to get better lying on the couch. I’m grateful to this day that my mother said yes because if she didn’t who knows where I would be today.
I entered Residential in August of 2008 and again I was scared but then again, we are always scared of the unknown. I didn’t know what to expect; all I knew was that we had to cook our own meals. I had no idea how I was going to manage cooking all my meals and eat 100%. When I arrived, this place was nothing like a hospital. It was a beautiful condo and reminded me of a fancy college apartment. Again, I met amazing girls and counselors; they gave me so much support. I cried a lot because I was scared and I kept thinking I have to beat it this time because I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in and out of hospitals. I knew I was in a safe environment but I missed lying on my parent’s couch every day where the world couldn’t hurt me, even though I was hurting myself.
I connected with my counselor and I was finally able to open up to her about all the bad things that have ever happened to me in my life. I felt comfortable talking to her, she was someone that didn’t judge me but understood me and was there to help me. Then I met my nutritionist and she gave me my meal plan. Now I had to start cooking my own meals. During one meal one of the girls held my hand and at that moment I knew everything was going to be ok. Four girls were assigned to a kitchen. We would listen to music and talk while cooking our food; this helped because it was a distraction and you weren’t so focused on what you were preparing. It was a really nice setting because you didn’t feel like you were in a sick environment. We were all in the same boat trying to achieve the same goals.
I grew so much stronger from being at Residential. Everyday was getting easier and easier when it came to preparing my meals. I even challenged myself and cooked more difficult meals. Not only did we have to cook our own meals but every lunch time we had to pre-order our food and eat in the cafeteria. During my first weekend at Residential, I was allowed out on a pass with my family to a restaurant because I was eating 100% of all my meals. My counselor and nutritionist helped me pick out a meal because I had to meet all my food requirements and off we went. We had a great time. It was the first time in a very long time that I enjoyed myself in a restaurant. Not only did I learn a lot from Residential but I was excelling and because of this I was able to go for walks and participate in yoga. I was also allowed out on more passes and for longer times. At the same time my body was changing and yes I was putting on weight and no it wasn’t easy to deal with but I knew I had to in order to get well. I was soon feeling better too. I wasn’t cold all the time or tired. I didn’t want to stay in bed all day. I wanted to get out and enjoy my life. I didn’t want to suffer any longer. After three weeks of extreme hard-work my counselor discharged me. I was confident when I left. I wasn’t scared about relapsing because I had the additional knowledge and dedication to take care of myself.
Now I was back at home, the place where things went array in the past. But this time I was able to participate in the out-patient program in Northampton. I was trying to follow the meal plan that I was given at Residential but it was sometimes difficult. During the day, I would take my nephew on short walks around the block to help distract me. Then the out-patient program in Northampton soon turned into a day program and it was so much better because I was eating two meals and two snacks there. I would sometimes struggle when it came time for dinner and my last snack but I got thru it with the help of my parents and my boyfriend. Things are different when you’re on your own and it’s a lot harder than people think. You don’t have a counselor or someone telling you “its time eat or its time to prepare your meals”, etc. You have to rely on your body to tell you when it’s hungry and time to eat. This was always a challenge for me because I excelled in certain settings but when left to my own devises things would sometimes end up out of control. I knew I had to work harder so I could return to work and live a normal life. I wanted my life to be ED free and I was the only person who could do this. I learned a lot from the out-patient program, I learned that you’re “Brain Needs Grains” and your body needs more than just a salad for lunch. Your body needs certain nutrients everyday and you have to feed it.
After the out-patient program, I was able to return to work in October. This was another challenge I had to face because I was gone for months; I had to come back and be a different person and because of this I had to change my routine. Everyday I got up earlier so I would have enough time to pack my breakfast, lunch and snacks. I didn’t allow myself to be without food and I continued seeing my therapist and my nutritionist.
Since returning to work in October of 2008 I was soon placed back in the original position I was hired for. I finally had the confidence, self-esteem and self-worth I was yearning for. I realized what a difference eating makes in a persons life. You really need nourishment in order to survive; food keeps your brain and everything else working properly. When you are in starvation mode, nothing works, everything starts to shut down. I have been back to work for 2 years now and things couldn’t be better. I’m a better person for taking the time I did to take care of myself. I had to deal with everything in my past in order to have a brighter future.
In the end, I spent half my life counting calories, depriving my body of certain foods and exercising in a very unhealthy matter. I no longer consume my life with those things. I did a lot of terrible things to my body and in the end she is still here. She never gave up on me even when things were really bad. I live a very healthy and happy life now. In October of 2010 I married the man who stood by my side during all my hardships and we couldn’t be happier.
I don’t ever regret the summer of 2008 because it made me who I am today; which is a much stronger person, that isn’t afraid of food. If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, please take the time to take care of you because you deserve it. We all do. Every one of us deserves a life filled with happiness and joy but most of all, a life that is eating disorder free.
My life has changed so much since I have recovered. I’m a happier person now. I wake up everyday happy, positive and full of energy. I have the confidence and self-esteem I was missing for so long. I know so much of this is because I eat and take care of myself. But most of all because I love the person I have become. You need to accept, love and embrace your body. Make recovery possible.
I want people who are reading my story to understand it’s positive to recover. It may have its difficult and scary moments but you always have to go thru the bad in order to get to the good. You have to believe and trust that your therapists and doctors are telling you the truth. They are not out to hurt you; they are there to help you recover from this terrible disorder. Life is not supposed to be filled with all the terrible things we put our bodies thru. When we were kids, we didn’t grow up saying I want to have an eating disorder; we grew up saying I want to be a lawyer, doctor or teacher...unfortunately ED took our dreams. But now it’s your turn to take your life back and recover. Go out there and become something wonderful. Love your body and yourself.