I Thought My Eating Disorder Was a 'Joke' — Until I Lost a Friend

This summer, instead of traveling to California, I returned to treatment for my eating disorder. My test results weren’t looking too good, and this combined with a new provider I did not see eye-to-eye with left me with a terrible attitude.

I went back on the unit angry. I was rude, arrogant and non-compliant. I did not believe eating disorders were anything more than a “joke.” I was convinced I and so many were admitted as a money-making scheme. They wanted to make us uncomfortable and plump and send us on our way.

My first day back I refused all meals. I remained in the dining room during visiting hours to watch the inpatients meet with their families while I stared at a supplement.

This is when I first saw Jessica.* She was young. She looked tired. Her mom, sister and 2-year-old niece came, and they were chatting across the room. Her niece ran around; Jessica smiled at her.

Less than a week later, Jessica joined my group. During our first lunch, we talked. She told me she was not returning. She hated this place. She couldn’t stand the thought of gaining more weight. Two days later, we laughed over breakfast at her return.

On breaks, Jessica slept. She was always so tired. She wore white Keds, black leggings and oversized long-sleeved shirts. She initially didn’t say much, but when she was comfortable she opened up. She wasn’t overly bubbly. She was authentic, and that’s why I liked her.

We bonded over our hatred of pudding and fruity desserts, and we encouraged each other over revolting spoonfuls. She would always get dessert out of the way first. I thought she was brave in that way.

I saw so much of my younger self in her. She wanted to be a special education teacher. I taught her Bananagrams and made her play even though she was convinced she wasn’t any good. We hated our treatment teams and threw fits when we were not granted time off.

It wasn’t long before other people on the unit started calling her my shadow and saying she looked up to me. She would always watch me color. The day I discharged, it caught us all by surprise when I was free to leave before dinner. She looked at me, shocked, and said in a sad, exasperated voice, “You’re really leaving?!” We hugged, and I promised she could come next month and volunteer in my classroom.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

We chatted on social media, and though she mentioned she was not following the meal plan, she was maintaining her weight. One afternoon at work, I received a call from a friend on the unit who broke the news. Jessica had died.

Days later, I learned it wasn’t suicide that ended her life. Her eating disorder killed her. She purged, and her heart stopped. She was 18 and a freshman in college. Her mom told me her last month was the happiest of her life.

One of our last conversations was about how we needed to beat this. I told her, “Please, don’t let this ruin the best years of your life.” She laughed and told me in a mocking voice, “Please, don’t let this ruin the best years of your life.”

Eating disorders are not a joke. Jessica was weight-restored; she was receiving outpatient treatment. Jessica was happy, she was young, and she appeared healthy. And anorexia killed her.

If you are struggling, please seek help. Recovery is possible. Equally, if you see someone struggling, please ask them how you can help. Never make assumptions. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask yourself this: If something happens, will you think, “I should have done more”? If the answer is yes, I recommend you say something.

I will miss you every day, Jessica. I mourn for what you could have been, and I cherish the moments I had with you.

To quote “Wicked,” “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

Please consider making a donation to the National Eating Disorders Association in honor of Jessica.

*Name has been changed.

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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