It takes one voice. We are not alone.
Low carbs. No dairy. Less sugar. No fat. Less fat. Eat three meals a day. Eat five meals a day. Skip dinner on the weekends, you’ll drink your calories anyway. Don’t eat the next day. It’s okay if you throw up, good for you for getting rid of those calories. Growing up as a female in this day and age, we are bombarded everyday with new and crazier ways to become thinner. The ultrathin society created by magazines and popular figures in the media have manufactured this unrealistic expectation for women to conform to. When do the ideas pass by the normal dieting phase and twist into a slippery slope of an eating disorder? For some, this expectation descends further past the surface and starts to define who they are to the core.
With the pressure of a growing ultrathin standard, it is no wonder that we are seeing a rise in eating disorders in young adults and college students. The prevalence of this mental illness is manifested from this standard and it is perpetuated due to the secretive nature of the disorder. I am a junior in college and actively battling an eating disorder of my own. Not many people see the struggles I face on a daily basis, which is why I have gained a better understanding of the magnitude of this glossed-over disorder. But this beginning to change, so here is my story. Here are all my nitty gritty details that are hidden and silenced due to the uncomfortable nature that is talking about mental illness.
Eating disorders do not appear overnight. The illness takes years to form, and for the most part just seem like some new dieting trick. Except the habits are far more than just a diet. Eating disorders come to control every single thought. Eating disorders will isolate you, weaken your immune system, and make you vulnerable to injuries, sicknesses, and yourself. Eating disorders are even secretive to you. I took an abnormal psychology class my sophomore year and learned about anorexia and bulimia. Even then I couldn’t recognize the signs when they were blatantly diagnosed in front of me.
My eating disorder, ED, became an abusive friend. Ed controlled every second of the day. Ed left me feeling dependent, trapped, and without options. Ed even led me to the darkest time of my life, the beginning of my junior year. After years of battling with Ed, he jeopardized my life more than ever by leading me to the day I planned to kill myself.
Ed and I had a familiar routine. Eat. Drink. Binge. Purge. Restrict. Then return to normal for a day or two. Day after day, week after week, and month after month, this cycle was my ritual. Until one Saturday night, I blacked out and the next day, purged to the point where my body physically could not move anymore. Familiar with this cycle, I prepared myself for a tough couple of days to follow in which self-hatred and disgust would settle in as Ed told me how unworthy I was.
When I woke the next morning, I looked at myself and saw Ed glaring back at me. Ed told me I was disgusting. Ed told me that I was not enough nor will I ever be. Ed told me I was a failure and had no right to exist.
Monday, September 12, 2016. This was the day I planned to kill myself.
Ed had tired me to the point where I only heard his nonstop judgmental voice in my head. I had no more will to live, no more will to fight him. The rest of the morning I was numb, only listening to the thoughts of Ed in my head telling me I wasn’t enough, and that I was too disgusting to live. Later that day at lunch, I sat down with my best friend. When she asked how I was, I looked up, thoughts swirling in my head as I would for the first time speak up about Ed and break the silence. I whispered, “I don’t want to be alive anymore.” After that, something inside me broke. The rest of the afternoon was a blur. My friend got me back to her dorm where I laid for hours sobbing repeating, “I don’t want to be alive anymore, I don’t want to be here anymore, please make the pain stop.”
I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for a week. A week living under the constant surveillance of nurses and therapists. The craziest feeling of all was being there because I was a danger to myself. We are taught to be afraid of strangers or crossing the street without looking both ways when we are young, but I never thought my greatest fear would be the reflection looking back at me in the mirror.
After being discharged from the hospital, I vowed to never take another day for granted. But soon that feeling started to dull, and Ed crept back in. Ed told me if I didn’t want to end up where I once was, that I must listen to him. Ed would make me enough. Ed would make me happy. The months that followed were a downhill spiral of trying to keep my feet under me but moving too fast to be able to stop. These months of denying I was under Ed’s control ruined relationships with my family and friends. It ruined work relationships and made me lose any and all motivation for things I once enjoyed. I was having everything stripped away from me, but I only felt in control when listening to Ed.
One day Ed’s grasp was a little loose and I was able to speak up for the second time, breaking down about what was going on with Ed and me. With the help of a family friend, I found The Renfrew Center, an eating disorder clinic where I could start getting better full-time right then. But there was no way in hell Ed was letting me go. Ed started whispering in my ear again. He told me lies and insecurities in order to sway me from getting help. He told me I would lose all my friends. He told me I would be an outcast in the program because I didn’t really have an eating disorder. He told me not to bother getting help since nothing was wrong with me.
I struggled between what the right decision was and what Ed was saying in my head. Even as Ed turned every area of my life upside down, I still could not imagine getting the help I so desperately needed. It took the love of close friends to make me want to get better. I wanted to be a better sister, daughter, friend, and girlfriend. My family, friends, and boyfriend are the reason I went into recovery. When I didn’t think I was enough, I knew that I wanted to be more for them. So after finals, I started treatment.
On December 21st, 2016, I started treatment at Renfrew Center where I would stay for 8 weeks.
My first night at Renfrew was very intimidating. Although all the women and the therapist were friendly and supportive, I was still scared to speak. Ed held my tongue even when I was in the company of those who would become the people who understood me most in the next few weeks. Throughout my time at Renfrew, I started opening up in the group sessions and to the individual women in the program. The groups would become my greatest outlet to defend myself against Ed. Never had I felt so safe and supported. I could open up and explore the twisted path Ed and I had walked for many years and finally feel safe enough to step away from Ed. After connecting with the women in ways Ed never had let me before and opening up to the therapist, I became stronger and happier.
I have never been one to write down the words I wanted to say—mostly because I never thought they had any worth to offer others. But after this journey, I wanted my experience told. I write these words to show that it does get better. I do not know if I will ever be fully free from Ed, but I do know now that as my voice gets stronger, his gets weaker. It is a long and strenuous road to recovery, and it did not come without prices. I severed relationships with some of the closest people in my life, becoming a hollow shell of the person I had been. I scarred my family. I had my worst semester in academics in college. I nearly lost my job. I nearly lost my life. All of this because Ed’s grasp grew tighter each day.
Nevertheless, I have made it here, with a full life ahead of me. For the first time I’m thinking of a future. Thinking about all the experiences I can enjoy without Ed in my ear. I never will forget the women and the therapist I met along the way, nor will I forget the lessons and tools they gave me to fight against Ed.
It has taken me years to get where I am and open up about the relationship between me and Ed. Eating disorders, just like mental illness, are not fun to talk about. They are uncomfortable, secretive and tiring. But this silent stigma that mental illness has surrounding it must go.
It takes one voice to start and show we are not alone.
So here is my story and here is my voice. Maybe you’ll understand the next time you see someone like me staring down at their plate with a miserable expression or a rigid, timid gate as they walk past Wismer’s stations. Because what you see is more than just a girl trying to eat a meal. What you really see is a girl battling against her own Ed, not just to eat this meal, but fighting for her life.