I Didn't Have To Be Hospitalized For My Eating Disorder To Be Valid
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I Didn't Have To Be Hospitalized For My Eating Disorder To Be Valid

We only talk about the people who were hospitalized for their eating disorders, not those who suffered on their own without medical help.

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I Didn't Have To Be Hospitalized For My Eating Disorder To Be Valid
Ashlyn Ren Bishop

I've noticed a LOT recently on Odyssey and other places online that most of the posts shared on social media that pertain to eating disorders usually include the author mentioning her/his hospitalization.

When have my other articles, diving deep into my three-year, excruciating struggle with anorexia, made it to the front page? When did the thousands of other people afflicted by eating disorders –– recovered or not –– make it to front pages?

The answer: rarely.

I achieved a healthy weight a year ago, after three years severely underweight. Four years ago, when my anorexia first began, it was bad.

On at least three occasions I should've been hospitalized, and on many, many more occasions, I was threatened to be sent out of state to eating disorder rehabilitation centers (that we couldn't afford so that never happened).

Just because I, and many other eating disordered individuals, didn't go to a rehabilitation center or get hospitalized, doesn't mean our eating disorders are any less valid or important or dangerous as those who did go.

I was 16 years old when my eating disorder creeped up on me.

I'm a 5 feet and 4.5 inches tall female.

I went down from 119 lbs to 97 lbs in a short time during my junior year of high school, right after I turned sixteen. For two of my three years with an eating disorder, I weighed an average of 93 lbs, far far below what I should have been.

Right before my freshman year of college, right after turning 18, I hit the 80-pound range, and for my last year of my eating disorder, I weighed an average of 83 lbs. I was a walking skeleton, afraid and refusing to eat, always overexercising, vomiting up small snacks here and there, afraid that something like an apple would cause me to gain five pounds overnight.

My tailbone stuck out an inch or two past where my butt should round out, but instead, my butt was severely sunken in. The space between and underneath my ribs was hollow, and my ribs looked like knives against my pale skin.

On several occasions, I would almost pass out. And at one concert my freshman year of college, I did –– twice in one night –– at a concert an hour and a half away from home.

When the venue asked me if they could call the hospital, I was petrified.

I was 82 lbs at the time, and I knew that if they called the hospital, my parents couldn't afford it and I'd be sent off to the place I dreaded most, kept under lock and key, forced to gain the weight I did not want to gain.

So for many months longer, I continued to sit at this deadly weight, waiting for the day that my heart and organs would fail...which my kidneys came close to many times, warning me with severe UTIs and kidney stones that the time would come where they wouldn't function anymore.

Scared that the night I forgot to set my alarm at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. or 4:30 a.m. –– scared I wouldn't wake up and would die in the night –– that that would be the time I'd sleep forever, never making it past eighteen. Forever embalmed a skeleton, nothing for the Earth to feed on.

Eventually, I realized I needed a change, though I didn't want it.

I had, for the first time, an outside desire to get better. I didn't want to get better, but eventually, a year and a half ago, I told myself that I needed to gain weight.

The times of vomiting then falling to my knees in the bathroom or kitchen, bruising them, my head spinning, my heart racing and aching, coughing up blood in the morning, barely being able to lift the covers off my body when waking up, my bones aching after walking for just ten minutes, seeing stars when I stood up –– everything that I suffered through, it had to end. I had to survive.

The first ten or so months of trying to gain weight (in the wrong way) was excruciating mentally and physically.

I didn't have the doctors and professionals there telling me how to go from 81 lbs to 120 lbs safely and efficiently. I didn't have the medical tests telling me what in my body would be affected as I gained weight, and how badly damaged my body already was.

I didn't know how much of a toll gaining weight would be on me. I didn't know that not only was being severely underweight a risk for my health, so was gaining weight.

During that time, my body didn't know what to do with the intake of food, no longer overexercising, trying not to think about the calories in everything. I couldn't shut off my mind, and my anorexia turned into bulimia when I was trying to recover.

I didn't know when I was actually full or hungry.

I didn't realize that "bad" food could taste so good; I thought the best way to gain weight was quickly eat everything and not think about it, but then I'd only vomit it all up because I didn't actually want to gain the weight, so I just ended up damaging my body even more.

My organs were already damaged from three years of being severely underweight without being hospitalized or rehabilitated. I had had bloodwork done occasionally before, scans done, etc., and each time I'd fought back long and hard with doctors who tried to send me away, to make me gain weight before I was mentally ready to.

I had a little bit of an idea of how close to death I'd been those three years from the few tests I'd had done, but trying to quickly gain weight in the wrong ways was almost as deadly as being severely underweight.

I started to vomit more often, deteriorating my insides and teeth and throat even more. I coughed up blood more often, I'd have chest pains in the middle of my day, my stomach and intestines couldn't digest certain foods which caused severe stomach pains and for food to not fully digest.

I had to, in a sense, diet while gaining weight.

For months, I couldn't have much dairy or meat or gluten products, because my body didn't know how to process them. I had to go on an alkaline diet for a time so my body could adjust its levels of acid in my stomach. I left work and school early many times from the physical pain.

My body had been dying for so long that it couldn't figure out how to properly live.

I was never hospitalized or rehabilitated. But for three years, I was a skeleton, slowly dying, my friends and family watching from the sidelines, wishing they could do something to make it end. My eating disorder could have killed me.

You don't have to be super thin to have an eating disorder, just like you don't have to be hospitalized to have an eating disorder.

Eating disorders come in different shapes and sizes, it transforms a person more mentally than physically, and both are just as dangerous. I couldn't afford –– nor did I want to go to –– a hospital or rehabilitation center, even though I needed to.

But I managed to make it through my three years on the brink of death without medical attention. I should have died many times, and some of those experiences still shake me to this day when I think about how close I came those times. If I didn't have my family and friends there to look out for me and offer support, to be there when I needed it most, I could be dead right now.

I didn't need a doctor to tell me I was dying.

I didn't need to be poked with needles and tubes to realize that my body was deteriorating and may not be able to fully recover –– that I could die at any moment.

I have friends that have been hospitalized for their eating disorders that are recovered now, just like I have friends who were not hospitalized that have recovered or are currently recovering, just like me.

Everyone seems to think that an eating disorder isn't real if you don't physically show it or get hospitalized for it. I used to have that mindset before I realized how deep into my eating disorder was, and I quickly accepted the fact that it might kill me.

I was 80-90 lbs for three years without being hospitalized, when I should have been.

I had an eating disorder that was killing me. I didn't need doctors to tell me so. I didn't have to be hospitalized for my eating disorder to be real, to be valid. Not everyone has to. And I have recovered from my struggle with an ea, without being hospitalized or rehabilitated.

So why don't we talk about that? Why don't we talk about the fact that all eating disorders are valid? Whether we are hospitalized or not? Where are the stories of other people like me, who were dying and didn't have the resources to get medical help?

Every eating disorder is valid, no matter what. And they can be overcome without medical attention.

August 2015 (94 pounds) v.s. August 2017 (122 pounds)

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