We are honored to be able to share with you a brave testimony from a guest blogger. She shares the story of her struggle with Anorexia Nervosa. I am so glad this woman was brave enough to share her story. My young neighbor has been struggling with anorexia for a while now. Since learning more about how she lives with her eating disorder I’ve also learned that there are way too many girls like her out there. It is only through talking about eating disorders and gaining knowledge that we can help people struggling with them. Every person’s struggle with an eating disorder is unique and personal so I will not say anything more in introduction other than once again “thank you” to this brave woman for sharing and joining in the fight to help others.
A few months ago I found myself struggling with a demon that I had not fought since my teen years. My husband had been deployed for a month, and I was watching my world crumble around me. This was our first deployment; our once unshakable marriage had been rocked to the core. I felt depression slowly creep over me as the days passed. Balancing full-time school, various volunteer activities, and a wonderfully willful toddler had proven challenging with the support of my wonderful husband. Alone it felt impossible. This deployment was driving a wedge between my husband and me. That wedge brought on a level of abandonment and loneliness that broke me.
That is when It crept back into my life, slowly but forcefully. At first I just tried to ignore It. I contributed it to the developing depression. I was exhausted. I was overwhelmed. I was scared. A few missed meals were just a drop in the bucket compared with everything that was going on. I was barely sleeping at night; no wonder I did not have the energy to worry about eating. Overnight It seemed to morph into something much more insidious. Suddenly I was justifying skipping meals while bouncing back and forth between stress binging and fasting. That chocolate milkshake I had for breakfast? No big deal. That is about 1200 calories; I just don’t need to eat again today.
Nobody wants to admit when they are struggling. Nobody. As much as I wanted to tell myself that I was strong enough for this deployment, that I could keep my shit together, I couldn’t. I was struggling. I was drowning in pain and too scared to even admit it to myself.
That is when It moved in. It had taken ahold of me. No matter how hard I tried to ignore It, in the back of my mind I knew. Its claws were sinking in deeper and deeper. I knew this demon; Its name was Anorexia Nervosa.
So began my daily rituals. Every morning I greeted the scale with an anxious excitement. I had to weigh myself as soon as I woke up, no exceptions. If my daily weight did not register at least .5 pounds lighter than the day prior, guilt would torment me for the rest of the day. Calorie counting was more than a chore or a habit; it was a necessity. I NEEDED to know how much I was taking in so I could know how much to limit myself after I inevitably stress binged.
At first glance, this may look like just another strict diet. Unfortunately, for those who suffer from eating disorders it is so much more than that. Eating disorders are NOT some new fad low calorie diet. They become an obsession. They become something that weights on your mind every second of every day. You start to contemplate how long you can put off eating before you get too dizzy to get off the couch. You start to panic when you reach the point that you know you will end up wandering into the kitchen to stuff your face; so you try to find ways to distract yourself just to put it off for a few more hours. You begin to dread spending time with friends and family because you know you will only have two options. Eat so they don’t question you, or lie to placate them when they inevitably notice you aren’t eating. You begin to relish that skinny feeling when you are famished, and hate yourself for filling full. You wouldn’t even describe it as feeling full. You feel “stuffed” “bloated” or even nauseated because that salad filled your stomach a bit too much for comfort. In my lowest point, there was nothing more I hated (besides myself maybe) than feeling full.
This is where things start to get a little better. I started seeing a counselor the week prior to my husband leaving. This deployment was going to be hard. Not only did I know I would need the help, but I wanted it. Several weeks after Anorexia intruded back into my life, I finally worked up the courage to admit what was happening to my counselor (and myself). I didn’t just cry, I bawled. I huffed and sobbed then huffed and sobbed some more. Anorexia had taken ahold of me, but it wasn’t strong enough to stop me from seeking help. More accurately, I was strong enough to seek help. That didn’t mean it hurt any less to admit I was so screwed up. At least that’s how I felt, like a screw up and a failure.
That day my counselor asked me why I was having such strong urges to fast… Why… I don’t know why… Am I supposed to know? Not only was I screwed up, but I didn’t even know myself well enough to explain why! So I bawled some more as I repeated over and over again, I don’t know.
Still I do not have an exact answer as to why Anorexia, after years, regained such a strong hold me. For people struggling with eating disorders it is not always just the desire to be thin. I am very thin, and I know that. So why?
I may not be ready to understand the answer to that question. However, after weeks of reflection, I understand why I felt so lost and hopeless for those few months. Control: My husband was gone, my marriage was in ruins, and all of my self-worth had been stomped into dust and blown away with his departing plane. All I wanted to do was fix things. I wanted to make everything better by sheer force of will, and I refused to accept that I could not do that thousands of miles separated. I had seemingly lost all control over everything in my life that was most dear to me. Doubt: There was this malicious voice in the back of my mind that scorned me after every fight between my husband and me. This was only my fault. If I was strong enough, this wouldn’t be happening. If I was strong enough, I could make everything right. Self-hate: When it came down to it, I hated myself. I wasn’t good enough in any facet of my life. I wasn’t a good enough wife, mother, friend, daughter. So many times I thought to myself; no wonder nobody loves me, I don’t even love me.
Sometimes when I’m reflecting on everything, I allow myself to wonder if Anorexia had somehow become a cure for all of that. Those thoughts scare me.
One night, I reached my lowest low. I was scared for myself and of myself. I was scared I would leave my son alone. I was scared I would abandon all my family and friends because I did not feel worthy to be a part of their lives. I did not even sleep that night.
The next morning, I got into the doctor and started anti-depressants. At that visit he also did a full blood panel to see if anything was contributing to the depression. The next day he called me and said my potassium was dangerously low. If I felt any heart palpations I needed to call 911 immediately. I cried not because I could die, but because I didn’t want to leave my son. Starting with a banana, I forced myself to eat regularly again.
Eventually eating felt more normal, and not strained. I am comfortable feeling full. I do not bounce from stress binging on junk food to fasting. I am not scared anymore. I have come to accept that I could always be recovering, and never fully healed. I am ok with that.
Talking about eating disorders is HARD. For those who are just learning about eating disorders, this topic is uncomfortable and ugly. For those that have witnessed someone suffer, I am so sorry for the fear and pain you have endured. For those who have suffered through this, I know how much it hurts to be this vulnerable. However, please keep this conversation going. The more we talk about, the more we learn and grow. We can overcome all of the advertising and unattainable standards we are bombarded with every day. We can make things better for our children and our grandchildren. First, we need to move past our discomfort and face eating disorders head on. Just keep talking about it. If our conversation can even save one life, it is so worth it.