Five years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, my English class watched a movie titled "Speak." The movie was about a teenage girl who was raped at a party, but instead of telling anyone, she kept quiet. Her life was full of misery. She was abandoned by her friends, her grades slipped in school and she simply stopped caring about life. When I first watched this movie, I asked myself, "why on Earth would you not say anything?" Well, just this past week in my Living Writers Series class, I had the opportunity to watch "Speak" for the second time. My thoughts about how the teenage girl handled the situation had completely changed. I now knew why she kept quiet and refused to reach out for help. I understood her choice because over the past five years, I too had developed a dark secret I wished to keep hidden from the world. My secret was that I suffered from an eating disorder.
For five seemingly endless years, from my freshman year in high school to the summer leading up to my sophomore year at Oswego State, I had been suffering from anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that involves intentionally limiting the number of calories being put into the body in order to lose weight. Just hearing or typing the word anorexia brings physical pain to my body. The word sends me into a state of paralysis for a split-second as my mind races through the hell that I put myself and my family through.
To anybody who believes that anorexia nervosa is something that you simply just grow out of, it is exactly the opposite. If you do not confront the disease at the beginning, you are slowly consumed by it. The disease, which eventually becomes a demon inside of you, takes complete control of your body and mind while you become nothing but a prisoner. In those five years, my life did a complete 180. Prior to the disorder, I had a great social life filled with friends, a healthy body and a happy life. Now, as a "recovered anorexic" since August, my social life is non-existent, my body is damaged and my life is in a rebuilding period.
In the thick of my eating disorder, I was running anywhere from 90 minutes to 120 minutes every day and eating as little as possible. The gym was the only place I would go in public outside of school. In the summertime, it was like I didn’t exist. I never hung out with friends because I was so consumed with losing weight. Eventually my phone stopped ringing and I found myself all alone with nobody but my family to talk to.
Once the eating disorder "seed" is planted in your body, it keeps growing until you seek professional help. My parents tried hard in the beginning to help me through my problem, but my disorder would see to it that nothing changed. My father and I would get into heated arguments about my low body weight and my mother would try to stay composed in front of me, only to start crying the moment I left. Heated arguments in my family are extremely rare, but during that period they became more frequent.
Last year, my health became so withered that I withdrew from Oswego State in mid-April to receive specialized care. On May 29, at 5’8" and only 115lbs, I was admitted to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.Y., where I spent the next 17 days in an intensive eating disorder program. The first night I did nothing but cry in my bed, scared to death about what was going to happen to me. But the program proved to be a blessing. I was discharged healthier than I had been in over three years. I owe my life to Dr. Richard E. Kreipe, an adolescent and pediatric doctor who specializes in eating disorders, whom I still go to regularly for check-ups. I left Strong Memorial Hospital with a clean bill of health, but the damage was still done, both physically and mentally.
While I appear healthy on the outside, medical tests would say otherwise. According to bone density scans, I have bones similar to those of a 70-year-old man, something that will take years to repair. While the physical aspect will heal over time, I fear that the emotional problems caused by the disorder will not. I live in constant fear that the disorder will come back, which prevents me from wanting a membership to a gym ever again. I fear that if I start exercising again, it will spin out of control and I’ll end up back in the hospital. It’s difficult to sleep at night because I constantly think about the emotional turmoil I put my family through. I have nightmares on a weekly basis about my past.
Easily the worst part of recovery is dealing with the guilt and depression. Every day is filled with grief for what I have done to myself. The teenage years are supposed to be the best years of a person’s life, but they were my worst. Depression follows me around much like my shadow. It tells me that I should give up and go back to my old lifestyle, letting the disorder retake control so that I can feel some sort of satisfaction. My past haunts me and unfortunately plays a large role in how I conduct myself today. The one positive, however, is that it has made me a stronger person. I have stared death in the face, symbolized by the wristband I wear every day on my right wrist, and luckily had the chance to talk about it.
For those of you out there who suffer from anorexia nervosa or know someone who does, feel free to contact me because I would be more than willing to listen to your story and try my best to help you. Don’t make the mistake I made in taking five years to admit to yourself that you have a problem, because the damage caused in that time may be irreparable.