I cleared my throat. “Um, so you guys are meeting me towards the end of my time here. It’s been a really long road to get where I am today.” I regretted the cliché, but continued.
“My eating disorder started this past semester in school. It escalated gradually but one day I woke up and knew I had a problem. I basically just crawled to the end of the school year and then my parents shuttled me into treatment. I’ve been here for seven weeks…” Pause for emphasis. Whenever new patients join us in the partial hospitalization program, we run through our story’s highlight reel. I knew exactly what they were thinking because when faced with veteran patients seven weeks ago, I thought it myself. ‘God, what a mess she is. I’ll never be in for that long—four weeks tops. Five if I’m feeling indulgent.’
“And like I said, it’s been a long and hard process. But I’m stepping down at the end of this week to intensive outpatient. I don’t feel anywhere near recovered, but I’m optimistic.” And with a stiff smile, I bowed my head in acquiescence of the next speaker.
I caught about half of what the girl next to me was saying as my attention drifted through the memories of this place. There were times when my mind was breaking and the only intelligible thought was ‘I want to give up.’ But there were other moments, marked by laughter and warmth when I was inspired to keep going. The following anecdotes came to me as I was reflecting on the end of seven weeks. Like every second of recovery, there’s an equal number of tragedies and triumphs.
3 times I wanted to give up
- ‘You are going to bloat in recovery.’ We all read it, hear it, say it to each other but somehow we think we will be the exception. So all of us are caught off guard as we clutch our swollen stomachs and move with an agonizing fullness. It is day 4 of partial hospitalization and I’m lying in bed on the verge of bursting. The pressure leaks into my chest and it’s hard to breathe. I’m crying and thinking ‘I didn’t sign up for this.’ I drink peppermint tea, the spicy oil catches on my lips and contort into digestive yoga positions. It’s not worth it.
- I cover the mirrors but my hands compulsively slide along my ribs and thighs, checking for bones and empty spaces. I can’t help it. At night I’m alone with the eating disorder and it whispers that my self-worth is my thigh gap, my small wrists, my gaping collarbones. It is week 3 and I start to see these all disappear. I imagine every bite of food trickling as fat onto my body. I desperately want to restrict. I hide in loose sweatpants and baggy t-shirts and turn my music extra loud to drown out the eating disorder thoughts. I miss my anorexia.
- ‘I’m tired of sharing and I don’t want to be here.’ It is week 6 and I’ve reached my limit. Therapists have picked scabs and dove deep into my mind. I’m meant to sit with a roaring discomfort and feel. I’ll tell you what I feel. I’m numb and exhausted and I can’t keep talking about anger and disgust and depression.
I realize then that the eating disorder shielded me from all of this. I didn’t feel anything as I took a bite of an apple and called it lunch.
3 times I wanted to keep going
- I thought I got away with it. At the first three doctor’s appointments, they asked me if my hair had started falling out. I smiled and said no, collecting strands in my hand and tugging as a demonstration. “We must have caught it early enough I guess!” Then one day in the shower I pulled out a tendril. From then on wads of it fell out each day, tickling my back and arms on the way to the ground. It is week 4 and I start seeing bald spots. I twisted what remained into a braid and thought I’m eating for my hair, for my heart, for my body.
- “I can see a big change in you,” my dad said at dinner one weekend. “You’ve got your sense of humor back, you’re livelier.” It is week 5 and I start to notice what I’ve been missing. What is this strange sensation filling my body? I’m buzzing with light and warmth. Oh, my god, it dawns on me, it’s energy. A completely foreign feeling that swells my chest and pushes me forward. My eyes are wider, my brain is sharper and I can take deep breaths for the first time in forever.
- Present day and it’s the morning. I wake up and I choose. I think, this is difficult but it’s worth it. I’m worth it. Some days it’s easier and some days it seems impossible, with the fat between my thighs burning and my stomach clenching shut. But every day I choose because I never want to defer my exams again, I never want to sway with dizziness as I walk with friends, I never want to be paralyzed by a deep sadness, I never want to see my sisters’ faces as they look at my frail body. I choose because it’s true—I’m worth it, and you are too.
Artwork by ©2016 defectivebarbie