What It Meant to Say, 'I Have an Eating Disorder'

I could say it all started with an email from my mother letting me know my appointment time for my admission to treatment on a cold December morning. Yet in truth, it wasn’t as free-flowing as an email through cyberspace. The beginning of my treatment was preceded by hours of fighting, crying and screaming. It started the day I was terrified to sit in front of one of my teachers and tell him, yes, I, his AP biology student, was struggling with an eating disorder. Everything began with the admission that I had an eating disorder.

When I was a junior in high school, I found myself in the middle of an intense battle with anorexia nervosa. I slowly reduced my intake, increased my stress level and tried to level out the pain I was dealing with on a daily basis. After explaining to my parents what was going on, seemingly countless times, I couldn’t make them understand. To me, the description felt so natural. Anorexia was living through me every day; I felt as though I knew my disorder better than I knew myself. I breathed, I slept, I lived anorexia. I “became” my disorder.

Fast-forward a year or so, and I was sitting in my last class of the day when an email trickled in. It was a message from my mom, telling me I would be admitted to a unit for an eating disorder the following morning. I think it was around this time when reality set in for me. I couldn’t comprehend what was happening, but I knew the battle I was enduring finally reached its climax. Eating very little each day and feeling dizzy each and every time I stood up, I thought I was ready for the next leg of my journey.

“Be at peace, daughter. You will go through this and come out on the other side healthy and happy.” These are the words my dad sent to me, trying to remind me of what was on the other side of treatment. These are words that, to this day, I hold onto, with the hope that one day I won’t be in the midst of such a struggle.

The next morning, I woke up with a conflicted mind and little knowledge of what was going to happen that day. I got dressed in something that seemed appropriate; slippers, sweatpants, a sweater and a Sam Hunt T-shirt to hide my pale skin and protruding bones from all angles. I traveled to the hospital where I would have my intake appointment, consisting of meeting with nurses and a psychiatrist, followed by the absurd amount of paperwork associated with an admission. I remembered writing down the names of those closest to me, permitting them to visit me during the 6:30 to 8:30 visiting hours on the unit.

When the paperwork was concluded and my insurance company had approved my admission, my mother drove me over to the hospital where I would spend 17 days inpatient and almost two months in a partial hospital program. These are two statistics I had no way of knowing at the time, and if you asked me then if I would make it, I would most sincerely have told you, “I’m not sure.”

The first night in a new place is often the hardest. I met some of the other patients, one of whom I’d met a week prior at a neighborhood card store, who wrapped a gift for my mom. When they say it’s a small world, they aren’t kidding. I ate the dinner that was set in front of me, followed by a long night of being extremely cold and being awoken around 4 a.m. so the nurse could get a reading of my blood sugar. I was woken up a little after 5:30 a.m. after barely sleeping through the night to have my vitals taken, followed by changing into a paper gown so the nurse could obtain my weight before I took a shower, totaling less than the permitted eight minutes.

I wish I could say treatment and recovery fit the picture-perfect façade that is often portrayed online. Treatment was waking up every day and writing in my journal that I wanted to leave the unit. It was exiting the sleeping quarters, not to return until 10 p.m. or so at night, when the mental energy being spent left me exhausted at 2 p.m. Treatment was the pain of reality setting in when the tears rolled down my cheeks as I explained I wasn’t happy at a higher weight, nor was I happy at a lower weight, and the problem may not really be my weight. Yet, treatment was not all pain.

Entering treatment for my eating disorder showed something about me: It showed I was strong enough, and brave enough, and willing enough to create a change in my life for the better. Entering treatment meant I would meet a wonderful group of girls, all of whom are some of my closest friends, who I can call or text anytime I need to talk, because we’ve all walked the same road. Entering treatment resulted in weight gain, yet I gained so much more; I gained happiness, health and a sense of freedom from the cage my eating disorder locked me behind. Entering treatment was one of the best decisions of my life.

Walking through the double doors, I never expected to become the person I am today. The days I spent behind the walls of Unit B-1 trying to heal via nourishment and hours of therapy seemed somehow worth the pain it took to get there. The hours of begging for help, followed by uncomfortable days and long, cold nights, eventually brought light to my battle — and recovery.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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