I suffered from Anorexia and Bulimia for almost eight years. While in the past I tended to focus on everything I lost because of my eating disorder, I've now been able to turn my experience into something more positive. Although I suffered a tremendous amount of pain when I was struggling with my disorder, I also grew stronger and gained a sense of direction during my healing process.
Growing up, I did gymnastics for several years and was naturally petite. After I quit gymnastics, however, I began to go through puberty, and while my weight increased, my height remained the same. It was also about this time that I entered a competitive arts school. Never having been a person who works extremely well under pressure, I didn't think that I measured up to my peers and I didn't believe I deserved to be in the school. I was constantly comparing my abilities, my grades, and my body to those of other people, judging myself unworthy, and feeling depressed.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly when my eating disorder began, but shortly after entering the arts school, I lost someone who had been a mother figure to me for ten years. I didn't attend her funeral and for years after I lived with the guilt of missing it and of pushing her away as I grew older. The emptiness I felt as a result of her loss remained with me for years. I had difficulty expressing those feelings and was sinking deeper and deeper into depression.
About a year after her death, I tried to take control of my life by restricting my food intake. I started by skipping meals, which ultimately led to days of fasting. In eleventh grade I began to abuse laxatives and spent quite a bit of time doubled over on the floor during classes. Ironically, the one thing that had given me a sense of control (my eating disorder) became the very thing that spiraled out of my control.
In retrospect, I realize that I no doubt had a genetic predisposition to developing an eating disorder. My mother also suffered from Anorexia, and my grandmother most likely had some type of eating disorder, but the stress and guilt I was experiencing were the triggers that set mine in to motion.
At first, no one addressed my weight loss, which led me to believe it wasn't noticeable. I strove to lose more and practically lived on the scale. The scale served as a sanctuary, yet it could also be a tormentor. I felt proud of my motivation and accomplishment when I lost a pound and I punished myself if I didn't. While I was aware that I had some kind of a problem, I didn't realize its severity and was not ready to seek help.
After graduating high school, I entered a local university because I was afraid to move out of my parents' home. I became more and more depressed, unable to focus or concentrate, and even passed out from time to time. I knew I was going to crash at some point, but I didn't know how fast it would happen. Early in the first semester of my freshman year, I received a letter from an old friend from high school confronting me about having an eating disorder. She said that several people had wanted to contact my parents but were afraid I'd be upset with them.
After several years of carrying this "secret" alone, I broke down and told her I was struggling with food issues. My friend then told me that there was an eating disorder screening at my university and said she would go with me.
I was fortunate to meet a wonderful person at the screening, a woman who had struggled with an eating disorder herself. Years later, she still served as a mentor, giving me strength, hope and love. She took me to the counseling center where, quite frankly, I manipulated and lied to my therapist for several months. I was leading a double life, smiling in public and breaking down in private.
At this point, I knew I was very sick. My body was weak and I had difficulty concentrating, walking, and even speaking. My blood tests were abnormal, my finger nails were purple, and I was constantly in pain. As I was leaving my therapy session one day, I was literally unable to hold myself up and fell to the floor. My therapist and her supervisor said that I needed to tell my mother about my eating disorder immediately. If I didn't tell my parents, they said, I would be involuntarily committed to a hospital.
I felt betrayed and backed into a corner, but the scare tactic worked. Feeling exposed, ashamed and terrified, I told my mother that I had an eating disorder. After that, I immediately entered therapy with an eating disorder "specialist," which was quite possibly one of the worst experiences in my life. It quickly became apparent that my therapist was still active in her own eating disorder and that it was affecting her work. She complained of low blood sugar, walked out of group sessions to tend to personal problems, and encouraged us to have liposuction and use diet pills.
My physician was also monitoring me closely, and when my weekly weigh-in showed that I wasn't adhering to my contract to maintain a particular weight I admitted that I was using laxatives again. My lab work also showed several abnormalities and, in addition, I was severely dehydrated. The doctor informed me that we would have to discuss treatment options—including an inpatient facility—with my mother or else she would be forced to terminate my treatment.
My parents fought long and hard with their insurance company to cover my treatment as an inpatient at an eating disorder facility. Looking back on the situation, I realize now that I needed to be there because I didn't care if I lived or died. However, at the time, I was furious that people were trying to take away my "friend," the eating disorder.
While my parents were still fighting to get me the help I needed, I began to go on bingeing and purging episodes with other people, which left me feeling disgusted, helpless, and hopeless. After my mother informed the insurance company that I was going to kill myself, they finally approved two days in a treatment facility, which just caused me to feel extremely pressured to cure myself in what was clearly an unrealistic time frame.
In the end, I was very fortunate that my parents were able to find the money for me to remain at the treatment facility for as long as necessary. I stayed almost three months, during which time I gathered coping tools, gained a better understanding of myself, and worked with a good therapist.
Recovery was a rollercoaster ride and I suffered several relapses after being released. However, several years later I had made tremendous progress in my recovery and entered a doctoral program in clinical psychology. While I still had lingering concerns about the pressures I would face in such a program, I pushed them away and moved forward with my dream, which was to work with children with disabilities.
During my third year in graduate school, I began to have several setbacks. I once again became focused on my weight and body, and started struggling with feelings of depression. I felt myself crashing shortly before defending my dissertation and re-entered an eating disorder facility.
This time I was motivated to change. I stayed for about thirty days before my insurance benefits ran out, and I know I was fortunate to have stayed that long. Before being discharged, I was told that I had inspired many of the other patients there. I do not say this to brag, but because of how shocked I was to hear that! How could someone who had been so depressed and hopeless for years and years become an inspiration to other people? For once, I was not afraid of what the future held or even of letting go of my eating disorder. I had experienced periods of being symptom-free and I knew how incredible life could be.
At this time, I have been completely symptom-free for four years. Incredibly, I am now a doctor of psychology, a wife, and a mother. I consider myself 100 percent recovered and cannot imagine ever going back to my eating disorder. I want to be a role-model for my daughter and I want to break the cycle of eating disorders in my family. I accept the challenges life brings and allow myself to feel everything I should. I am in a place I never thought I would be, and I would not change it for the world.