Yesterday was another day of scrambling at the office, I’m taking today off and had a few loose ends to tie up before, not a great way to start time off. I am really looking forward to the long weekend and spending quality time with hubby, work on some more recipes and maybe a little shopping if our rainy weather forecast holds true. Naturally, the weather was breathtakingly beautiful yesterday while I was at work, rain is falling now. Oh well, I’m thankful for the farmer’s market bounty this heavy rainy season should bring. And we have a fun day planned today, heading into San Francisco for an exhibit and a little exotic eating. In honor of NEDA Week, I thought I’d be late to the party with my eating disorder story. First I’d like to say that I’ve really been enjoying the stories I’ve been reading, so much blunt honesty that I could relate to and just an amazing sense of community among fellow bloggers sharing their experiences.
For a most of my high school career, I was a happy-go-lucky teen and felt I had everything going for me in many ways. I was the first in my circle of friends to get a car, I had a decent job and hardly a worry. The occasional zit or bad hair day never bugged me and I hardly noticed or got wrapped up in what what my peers were into. Why bother when I had great friends and felt generally accepted as is?
But things changed the summer before my senior year. My best friend who lived next door, moved and got knocked up before falling off the face of the planet. I had a serious summer relationship with a guy who didn’t tell me he was leaving for the Navy until a few days before. Then another relationship shortly after with a guy that only wanted one thing and moved on to another one of my friends when he couldn’t get it from me, squashing that friendship. And these stresses started surfacing on my face in the form of acne that I could no longer ignore. I impatiently tried many treatments to control it, probably making it worse and me more self-conscious and angry that some students had perfect skin which I couldn’t get no matter what I did. It also made me very self-conscious about other aspects as I started comparing myself more to other students.
It didn’t help that the high school I went to in Florida was across the street from the beach and many of the students were tanned beach bums sporting perfect bikini bodies. Or that an aspiring model sat behind me in one of my classes. She was very popular and spent a lot of time talking about photo shoots, hygiene products, weight management, etc. She frequently brought in her portfolio pictures for other students to gush over. She was sickening sweet and radiated perfection, everyone liked her. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a model, but I started adapting a distorted view that that’s what I needed to be just to be accepted in life during a vulnerable time.
My struggle and unhappiness with my skin continued, I spent many mornings having emotional meltdowns in front of the mirror trying to conceal my skin problems with makeup and assumed everyone viewed me as a hideous monster. It got to the point where I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror, I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t control my skin and look perfect. Eventually I slid into a depression, I kept to myself and didn’t do much else beyond going to school and work. I realized the one area I could control was my weight and it was the least I could do since nothing else seemed to be going wrong. At the time, my mom worked full time and the rest of my family was busy with their own schedules, so I had plenty of unnoticed opportunities to not eat and started making a game of it, challenging myself to go longer without food. I sneaked out of the house in the morning without breakfast, picked at cucumber slices during school lunches and read during work meal breaks. Climbing on a scale to find I’ve lost a few more pounds was one of the few pleasures I had, it seemed to be the only thing I was succeeding at and I didn’t want to break the momentum.
I realized that I was changing and people would notice, so I started wearing baggier clothes, baggy flannel, long-sleeved shirts where the grunge style then and I had a collection of them. My work uniform was also baggy, so not many co-workers noticed what was going on. Unfortunately, my skin problems started to vanish, I guess being malnourished and hormone deficient played a huge role with that, and I convinced myself this was right for me and I could only be happy while skinny.
It started getting to the point where people noticed, co-workers commented on the weight I lost – not complimenting me, but more in judging tones. My mom began to notice my odd eating habits and the few meals we had together was her trying to get me to eat more though. Looking back, I’m pretty sure she had no idea how serious of a problem I was battling at the time. Being the youngest of 3 siblings with a large age gap, my sisters were very busy in careers and college when I was a senior and I had alienated myself from the few friends I had, so I truly felt I had no one to talk to.
I started to fear food, determined to stay skinny. In a seemingly short period, I forgot how to eat and feared anything I did eat would turn into fat instantly. I knew of “safe” foods I could pick at, like veggies and fruit, but would only go that route when needed for show. At my lowest weight, I was just under 100 lbs., pretty low for a 5’11 teenager. I was always cold, air conditioning made me miserable. Sitting on hard surfaces was horribly uncomfortable when there was no natural padding. And I started feeling jealous watching other people eat and wondered how they could not fear the repercussions. I remembered my happy-go-lucky days vaguely and wondered how I did it then, eating carefree meals at Taco Bell with friends and never thinking twice about splurging on a night out.
After about 4 months, I was miserable feeling like I couldn’t eat anything and therefore couldn’t enjoy life with family and friends, not rational at all. But I knew I never felt good and was not happy, so I forced myself to eat more regularly and came up with a low-calorie meal plan I was carefully following and obsessing over, I had a menu of light meals mapped out in my planner that I’d stick to, probably equaling less than 1,000 calories a day – a banana for breakfast, small salad for lunch, some tuna for dinner, etc. My plan was to feel better, but stay skinny. Just the thought of gaining a few pounds terrified me. This led to occasional binges when I got home late from work, I was still starved craving anything. I maintained these eating habits through graduation still convinced thin was the only way to be accepted, though I was still miserable not allowing myself to eat much and lacking in energy. Long work days wiped me out.
I got pushed into taking Taekwondo with my sister during the summer, something I thought was a great idea for more exercise. But, the classes were exhausting, I struggled to keep up with the older adults in the beginner class. Eventually the instructor pulled me into his office and started a very awkward speech about how hard the classes would get finishing that if I wanted to continue, I needed to eat more. At the time, I was mortified that he noticed and thought the solution was as simple as that. I continued on adding a little more to my diet, but not what it should have been.
I started college that fall while still living at home and one of the first classes I took was Health Analysis, a health education course as a general requirement. It was the first health class I had to take since junior high. I was actually proud that when it came time to measure all the students body fat, mine was the lowest, but envied the other students that weren’t obsessed with their weight. It really started helping that I was around more mature students that wanted to be in school, not at the beach and/or obsessing about their looks, and really began to realize how distorted my view of food and diet was. That started a long journey to get back to normal, I focused on a healthy exercise routine while incorporating more food into my diet. About a year later I was back to a normal weight and eating habits. But it was not an easy year, a lot of struggling with food, body image and what was normal. I observed other people’s eating habits while trying to fix mine and analyzed many foods at the grocery store I worked at.
I consider myself lucky that the worst of it lasted under a year and it didn’t not interfere with school. Another influence that really helped my recovery was a young girl, about my age, who I saw regularly while working as a cashier at the grocery store. She was always with her mom, very quiet and reserved – much like me during my depressed period, and very obviously anorexic. She looked to be much lighter than I got to, maybe in the 60-70 lb. area and looked terrible. Her hair would barely go into a thin pony tail because it was so fine and had so much breakage hanging out. Her eyes were severely sunken in with dark circles around them, her face looked like a skull with paper-thin skin stretched over it. The first time I saw her, I instantly knew what was going on and terrified that could happen to me. At this point, I was at or very close to a healthy weight, but still wrestling to find a happy balance with my eating habits.
A few months later, she was in one of my college courses and frankly, I was surprised to see her still alive because she looked very much the same and was wearing many layers of baggy clothes … in Florida, in a summer semester class. She disappeared halfway through the semester mysteriously and ended up in the hospital with my mom as her nurse – is that a sign or what? I get to hear a lot about my mother’s patients, we spent many holidays visiting her on her floor for meals and hearing about them over meals and this girl was no exception. She was in for a fairly minor problem, potassium deficiency I think, and didn’t stay long. What floored my mom was the odd relationship between her and her mother, it was like she was using anorexia to torment her mom. Each time she took a small bite from her meals, her mother gushed excitedly about it to my mom. Unfortunately, I never kept up with her after that, I moved to another job and never saw her at college again. I sometimes feel regret for not reaching out, but I didn’t view myself as healthy enough to do so. I know the doctor recommended serious counseling for her and the mother and I really hope she went because she truly looked like she didn’t have much time left at that rate.
About 2 years into college, I considered myself fully recovered, I had a healthy exercise routine, a new job at a computer store I loved and a new set of friends to go with it (one turned out to be my husband :-)) and was having a great time hanging out with them after work. I realized I couldn’t be a normal, socialable person with that illness and having a network of friends was a huge motivator. To this day I still don’t like to weigh myself and I’m still very driven to maintain my exercise routine, but I consider that normal and am well within a healthy weight for my height. I still love to prepare healthy meals and keep up with the latest health news, but that’s more of a hobby and not an obsession.
A few weekends ago, I caught Buffy the Vampire Slayer on TV – the movie from 1992, not the show. It was the scene where Buffy was in a leotard in the gym practicing gymnastics and I was a bit surprised at how, well, healthy she looked. Not fat, but not as skinny as today’s standards. That was a pretty big teen movie when I was in junior high and it’s amazing how much skinnier girl teen actresses are today compared to then. To think I still managed to wrestle with an eating disorder with healthier influences, I really feel bad for your girls today with actresses on the current 90210 weighing in under 100 lbs. while they were much healthier the earlier 90s show I watched. I have a lot of respect for female actresses refusing the to get wrapped up in the super thin trend.