When I hear the words “Eating Disorder”, so many things go through my head. A sort of obsession around the topic has plagued my brain since I was thirteen years old. As a twenty-one year old young adult, I can now recognize where it all went wrong, how a lot of minor meal constrictions turned into a full blown illness. As long as I can remember I have always been weird about food, not wanting it to touch, not trying new things or eating anything with sauce on it. When I began eighth grade this became more apparent. Middle school is a weird time, half of your friends are turning into women, while some are still girls in the eyes of doctors. Regardless, everyone thinks that this time period is the end of the world. During my eighth grade year, my middle school introduced uniforms, collared shirts tucked into khakis with a belt. I still hate uniforms, but as a thirteen- year-old who was not pencil thin, the idea of tucking your way to tight Hollister polo into khaki pants made my skin crawl. I began obsessively checking myself in the mirrors at school, comparing how my curvy hips looked compared to my friend’s thin legs. I began saving up and spending fifty plus dollars on shape wear from Belk, skipping meals and researching “crash diets”. This is the first time my mother asked me if something was wrong. I can still remember the day she cried, asking me if I could leave the house without wearing the ridiculous shape wear under my uniform? Of course I said yes, but I am pretty positive I put it in my book bag.
High school was no easier than middle school, it just brought cars, boys and more intense extracurricular activities. At this point in my story, I was continuing to try to restrict my diet, but kept giving in. I didn’t understand how some girls could completely stop eating, but I couldn’t keep it going for more than a few days. This is when I resorted to diet pills. I was around fifteen, so I couldn’t legally buy them from CVS, but I could order them online with a debit card.
I remember receiving my first package of the Oxi Elite Pro (now discontinued for causing liver failure), my mom wanted to know what was inside the package, but I convinced her it was a sample of Bert’s Bee’s body lotion.
After the diet pills began, I became addicted to losing weight. The diet pills kept me from feeling super hungry, so I could finally see I was losing weight. I began compulsively weighing myself, probably up to five times a day. However, once I began running low on the pills, with no income, I needed something else.
When I was sixteen, I got my first job. I remember being beyond excited to start making my own money and have extra money for gas. The girls I worked with at work often talked about diets and cleanses, as many girls do. However, given that I was already falling into a dark hole, I probably should have removed myself from the situation. When work would get slow, I would look the calories up in certain foods we served. I began being able to recite how many calories were in a BLT with two pieces of bacon compared to four pieces. This intensified my obsession and created a need to calorie count obsessively. I downloaded a fitness app and constantly tracked what I ate. The app projects your weight in five weeks, based off of your calorie intake and I loved it.
At this point in my life, I did not know much about bulimia. I knew that it was a type of disordered eating that involved throwing up after eating, but other than that I was ignorant to the whole concept. Fast forward a year and it would be the one thing that almost ended my life.
My first encounter with bulimia was accidental, I found an article about it online and read it. Then I googled more and more and eventually ended up on a thinspo website (terrible websites that should not under any circumstance be allowed online) that had tons
of tips and tricks. I finally tried it and became hooked. As the year went by, I began purging up to forty times a day.
I had no idea how serious of a problem it had become, I swore to myself I could stop, but in reality I couldn’t. It became a way for me to release stress, it something that’s hard for people to understand who have never been bulimic, but it made me happy.
People began to notice the weight loss, it was no longer five or ten pounds here and there, but a total of about fifty or sixty pounds. I began getting asked how I was so successful in losing weight my senior year of high school, I remember my teachers making comments about wishing they “knew my secret” and my fellow dance class friends telling me I looked great. The only down side, was it was beginning to physically catch up with me. My hair was falling out, my body was bruised from a lack or nourishment and I was ghostly pale all the time.
By the time I was in the first semester of my senior year in high school I had a relatively serious boyfriend. The day I hit rock bottom, I was eating dinner with Max and went to perform my ritual that followed every meal, however something went terribly wrong. The constant stress on my esophagus from purging had created several holes in my esophagus, causing it to bleed. On all the sights I had visited, they always said if you begin seeing blood, you could be in danger. Distraught and scared, I told max a very quick version of what was going on. His face did not look completely disgusted like I had imaged all the times I wanted to tell him before. He quickly called my mother and told her she had to meet us somewhere quickly. I remember my mother trying to call back and not answering, but she now says she was sure we were trying to tell her I was pregnant.
I remember Max telling my mom I was bulimic. She had so many questions, but I just put my shirt over my head. I physically couldn’t get the words out. That night, I spent the night in an emergency room with my mother and Max. I felt shame to the point of not even being able to talk about it to the doctors and nurses. That’s what mental illness does to you, it creates a shame in you that is crippling. I felt as if I was the only one who had ever experienced this and that nobody else would understand. After my first hospital stay, I was transferred to UNC Chapel Hill Eating Disorder Clinic. When I was admitted, my pulse was 32 beats per minute, my weight was the lowest it has ever been and I was overwhelmingly sad. I felt as if I was forever going to be known as the girl with bulimia. I spent my eighteenth birthday at Chapel Hill, Max and I’s first Valentine’s Day, My sister’s birthday’s and tons of other senior year lasts.
However, through the stay I became stronger, more aware of my personal triggers. I learned that the shame we feel from being sick is caused by society’s stigma around mental illness, not because we are broken. I began to see myself as beautiful, no matter my pants size. I met tons of individuals, male and females who were going through the same things I was. These people will always have a special place in my heart. My stay at Chapel Hill made me appreciate my family and friends. I was absent for so long, picking my illness over them, but when I physically left school for help, they were still present in my life. I learned that I was blessed with my support system, because some people are not as lucky. My family never saw my illness as a phase, but as a part of me that needed work. My family often feels as if they should have noticed, but the thing about eating disorders is they’re good secrets. If someone you know comes to you, saying they need help with disordered eating, don’t blame yourself. I can’t stress that enough.
If you or someone you know are suffering from an eating disorder, know that recovery is worth it. It’s hard to get there, its stressful and you might have to reach rock bottom like I did, but I promise it’s worth it. I have been in recovery for three years now and I still have bad days. I still screw up or fall into that way of thinking, but I am equipped with tools to help me now. I no longer feel as if being bulimic defines me, it’s just a part of my past and present that I can openly talk about. I believe it’s important for people to start talking about eating disorders, they’re a silent killer. Everyone knows somebody, so start talking, become informed and remember your body is your home; take care of it.
Madeline Claire Crawford [email protected]