Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Learning to Eat Again

So, I've gone back and forth on whether or not to share this piece of my life...and I've felt a constant tugging to put it all out there, so here goes...

My junior year of college, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Here's my story:

 Like most girls in college their freshman year, I put on a few pounds. I'd always been naturally tall and thin, but add late-night pizza and beer to the mix, and anyone would put on some weight.

 My journey into the dark hole of having an eating disorder started out innocently enough. My sophomore year of college, in an effort to lose the freshman 15, I cut out desserts and most carbs and started exercising a few times a week. The weight came off quickly, and the compliments flooded in. I was an insecure 19-year-old, and I look back on that time in my life and realize how truly unhappy I was. I was deeply depressed, and I was looking for any way to have some control over my life...I missed my family; I missed home; I missed my high school friends. The compliments made me feel better about myself, and I remember thinking, "If people tell me I look good at this size and weight, I wonder how many more compliments I might get if I were even thinner?" "I wonder how much happier I might be if I weigh less than I do now?" "I wonder how many more friends I might have?" "I wonder how many more dates I might go on?" It was an ugly, scary path I was traveling down.

 My sophomore year ended, and I went home for the summer. I worked at a law firm, and when I wasn't working, I was exercising. We lived in a hilly neighborhood, and after work each day I'd come home (in the Mississippi summer, needless to say) and walk 4 miles. People started noticing that I hadn't simply gotten healthy and lost some weight; people realized that there was something wrong. Co-workers commented on how thin I was; my parents told me they were concerned about my weight. I ignored everyone's concerns and told them I was fine. I was always thin ("Look at my Dad," I'd say!) and was just focused on eating well and exercising.

 Summer ended, and I returned to school my junior year a mere 110 pounds. I'm 5'10" so this was scary skinny. Friends I hadn't seen since the previous semester were shocked to see me. I knew people were talking about me behind my back, but I didn't care. I was desperate to stay thin.

 The damage I was doing to my body started taking a physical toll. I had stopped having periods months prior; I had headaches on a daily basis; I was always freezing cold. I had no energy and was short with everyone around me. I lived with two friends in the sorority house at the time, and I remember going to bed each night super early because my body was so exhausted. I look back on that time and realize how much I was missing out on because of my deep quest to stay thin. Friends were going out and were staying up late just hanging out together...and I was in bed, dreaming of a world where I could eat what I wanted. I would wake up early each morning, starving, and would allow myself a 90 calorie Yoplait yogurt. I remember thinking 90 calories was a lot, but I had all day to burn them off. Before I'd go downstairs to eat, I'd sit on the side of my bed and feel my ribs. I wanted to feel them jutting out...if I didn't, then I had let myself down, and I'd beat myself up even more. I'd even go to the bathroom and lift up my shirt to view myself from the side. Was I thin enough, I wondered? How could I lose more weight and have people stop asking me if I were OK?

 This went on for months, and then a breakthrough came when I was home one weekend. I was running errands, driving around in my car, and I just started crying. I remember it so vividly...I started praying and told God I was so tired of suffering. I asked Him to give me the courage to admit I needed help. I told Him I couldn't do it anymore. I was exhausted. I was physically and mentally worn down.

 That night, my mom was helping me get more blankets for my bed because I was so cold...I broke down in front of her and told her I was tired and needed help. I know she was so relieved. I had an appointment a few days later with a psychologist who specialized in eating disorders. One of the first things she said to me was, "I should put you in the hospital, but I'm going to give you a week to either maintain your weight or gain a few pounds." I returned to school and had to keep a food journal. I drove from Oxford to Jackson and back each week for appointments with her. We always did a weigh-in first thing, and it was excruciating for me to see the numbers going up. While I knew in my head I had to gain weight to get better, it was still hard for me to accept.

 I had some good days, and a lot of bad days. My doctor was proud of me for gaining weight, but I shuddered reading aloud to her the amount of food I'd consumed the previous day. It was a rollercoaster. Some days I did better than others; many days I lapsed back into old habits, and some days I forged ahead, hardly looking back.

 I had to dig deep during that time to try to understand why I was doing what I was to my body...why I was literally starving myself. It's a much bigger issue than just food and body image…it was a quest for perfection, a quest for approval from everyone around me, a quest to be seen and noticed.

I reflect on that time and realize how much life I let pass me by. I'd do anything to have that time back...it was a blur, and I feel like I wasted a few years of my life. Even now, years later, I still struggle from time to time...I will never let myself go down that dark path of starving myself again, but I do still wrangle with body image.

As hard as that time was, I gained a lot of insight about myself and have grown tremendously. I learned that perfection is overrated; I learned that our flaws are what make us beautiful. I learned that life is too short to skip dessert. I learned that who I was/who I am is good enough. I learned that not everyone would always like me, and that was OK. I learned that my self-worth has nothing to do with my size or what I look like. I learned to give up control and to just be me...quirks, bumps, bruises, and all.

Through my struggle, I learned to eat again...and in doing so I learned how to truly live.

Thank you for reading my story.