I struggled with how much of my story to tell here, not wanting to be risk upsetting (not such a fan of the word triggering) anyone reading this. In the end I decided to tell my story in some detail because owning my story in an unapologetic and decidedly unabashed way is important to me and my recovery process. So this might be hard for some people to read and for that I apologize. Oh and its going to be really fucking long.
They say to begin at the beginning but to be honest I’m never really sure when this story begins. I was an anxious child. Looking back there were red flags thrown up all over the place throughout my childhood. But hindsight is always twenty/twenty and I don’t blame my parents or anyone in my life for not recognizing the warning signs.
My mental health problems started making themselves obvious when I was 14. My depression hit me like a ton of bricks. I cried all the time, I lost interest in school and sports, I didn’t want to spend time with my friends. Just getting out of bed took phenomenal amounts of effort.
Ninth grade. Quit the sports I had been involved with all my life due to physical injury and mental health struggles. Started restricting food intake as I was afraid I would gain weight without regular exercise. Didn’t lose weight but didn’t gain either. Wore the same outfit to school everyday. Spent hours hiding in the bathroom because I couldn’t bare for anyone to see me. Spent hours at night in front of the mirror scrutinizing my stomach. I spent eight weeks living with a family in Chile the summer after ninth grade. I barely spoke Spanish and at all and was far too self-conscious to try. I hardly talked to anyone the whole time. I cried a lot. I wrote in my journal about wishing I had the strength to kill myself. And I ate. A lot. And gained what I thought was a hideous amount of weight.
Tenth grade. I start at a small private school thinking it will be easier socially than the bigger public school. I am wrong. I hide in the bathroom and cry. I wear the same three outfits all year. I alternate between restricting and binging. I go to Nicaragua on a community service program where I live in a very small, very poor town with one other american teenager. I am anxious and depressed. I develop a kidney infection and spend a week in the hospital. I lose weight. I am thrilled.
Eleventh grade. I eat and gain back the weight I lost over the summer. I hate myself for it. I go to Rome for spring semester. I am anxious and depressed but in love with Italy and ancient Rome. I hate my body, I go through periods of restricting but it doesn’t stick. I cute myself with a razor blade for the first time but decide it was stupid and think I won’t do it again. I only drink a tiny bit. I don’t start smoking cigarettes. I experience unrequited love. I decide to spend the next summer in Mexico and to skip senior year of high school. I think that maybe the past four years have just been normal teenage angst and that I will go to college and fit in and be happy and leave my problems behind me. I mean after all its not like I was diagnosed with anything or on meds or even in therapy ever so clearly nothing was ever really wrong.
I could not have been more wrong. My freshman year of college is a blur of blood and tears and vomit. I barely ever go to class. I don’t sleep for days and then don’t get out of bed for days. I stop eating. I start eating and throwing up. I am cutting everyday. I walk around at night down the middle of the street barefoot in the snow. I am completely insane. No one knows except one friend who, unfortunately, is also completely insane.
So college didn’t fix anything. Maybe running far far away will. I get my shit together enough to work all summer to save up money. I tell my parents I am dropping out of college to travel. I buy a one way ticket to Venezuela. I am 18. Within a month of getting to Venezuela I have stopped eating, started cutting again, started binge drinking and doing drugs, and am regularly putting myself in very dangerous situations. I spend ten months travelling through South America. Thing get bad, then get slightly better, then get bad again, and then get worse. In the end I am in northern Brazil, have lost a lot of weight, am barely eating, am taking extremely dangerous diet pills, spending all day (and sometimes most of the night) walking and running around the city, stopping in at drug stores to weigh myself every couple of hours to make sure I am still “okay”. I am running out of money. I am terrified that I am going to die because my chest hurts so much all the time and everything goes black everytime I stand up.
I go home. My parents are paralyzed by fear and do nothing. I start eating again, gain to a seemingly healthy weight, freak out, decide to go back to South America, and get very sick all over again. I come home. I gain some weight. I freak out. I go to Mexico and stop eating. I come home. I gain some weight. I decide to go back to school. I move to Montreal to study anthropology at McGill. I get very very sick. I lose a lot of weight. I drop out of school. I start binging and purging and abusing laxatives. I spend hours everyday at the gym. I walk around Montreal in the winter in a t-shirt instead of sleeping at night. I cut a lot. My mom confronts me when I am home one weekend. I tell her if she interferes I will leave and they will never see me again. I tell her she can explain that to my little sister. I tell her I would rather whore myself out on the streets than stay in that house with her. She believes me. I go back to Montreal. Things get worse. I am scared I am going to die. I go home.
I am 21. I am living at home. I am finally on medication for my depression. My eating disorder is still out of control. I am working part time and taking a class at the local community college. I start dating my boyfriend. He is amazing. I want to be normal for him so badly. I decide to go to an IOP (group therapy acouple evenings a week) program. I get worse instead of better. I move into an apartment in the city and go back to college fulltime because maybe if I just act like everything is fine, then it will be fine (because this strategy has clearly worked in the past). I stop going to class so I can binge and purge and cut all day. My boyfriend tells me he will leave me if I don’t go to more intensive treatment so I drop out of school and enter PHP (partial hospitalization, 8-3 monday-friday). I get worse instead of better. I drop out of treatment entirely when they tell me I have to go to residential.
Somehow, and I honestly have very little idea how this worked, my boyfriend dragged me into recovery. I got a fulltime job at a bookstore near his office. We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together everyday for months. He did the grocery shopping and cooked one of the three things I would eat for dinner every night (after I finally decided to let him cook for me – before that he bought dinner at one of the three restaurants I was ok with eating at). He comforted me while I had panic attacks every night, didn’t listen to me when I told him to leave me alone so I could hurt myself, was patient when I slipped up, and determined that things were going to get better. And they did get better. I stopped binging and purging and gained what I thought was enough weight. I stopped cutting. I was utterly amazed that I could get through a day without struggling against the eating disorder for every single second. We moved in together. We got a puppy. I got a fulltime nanny job. Life was finally good.
I relapsed. Insurance wouldn’t pay for more treatment. I got a little better. I got a job. I got worse. I quit my job. I got a little better. I found another job. I got worse. I quit my job and went back to the day treatment program. I got worse instead of better. I lost weight. I was binging and purging constantly. I was depressed and anxious and belligerent and completely insane. It was destroying my relationship with my boyfriend. We broke up and I moved back in with my parents. I begged insurance to cover residential, promised I wouldn’t back out at the last minute, promised I would try so hard, promised I would get better. They said no. Things got worse. I started overdosing on my anti-anxiety meds so I could sleep for twenty hours at a time because when I was awake I just wanted to die. I ended up at the ER and in the psych ward for a couple of days. I don’t remember very much of that except that my (ex) boyfriend came to see me and I cried and begged him to take me home and he cried too. I went home from the hospital and things continued on as they were for another three months or so. My (ex) boyfriend moved away. I dated some not so nice guys. I restricted and binged and purged and drank too much.
And then something changed. I moved into a new apartment in the city on october 15, 2009 and decided to start working on recovery, by which I meant I was going to stop binging and purging. I gained some weight but I was still eating a very, very limited diet and over-exercising and there wasn’t really any indication that this “recovery” was going to last any longer than any of my previous attempts.
But it did. Little by little I made changes. I started eating more foods, I decreased my exercise bit by bit, I gained to a higher and healthier weight than I had ever been at. And it hurt. Every step along the way felt like torture. There were a lot of times, more than I can count, that I just wanted to give up. But I didn’t. I don’t know how. I don’t know why recovery worked this time around. I didn’t have some huge epiphany, I wasn’t “ready to recover”. Sure I was “sick and tired and being sick and tired” but I had felt that way before. Sure I has lost everything in my life to my ED but I had felt that way before too. I guess all I can say is that so many different factors came together at just the right time to make it possible for me to begin recovering and none of the million things that could of derailed me happened. In all honesty, I feel like I won the fucking lottery.