Alejandra s Story
“It was the last day of 5th grade and our graduation ceremony was over. All of my friends changed from their dresses into shorts and t-shirts to play outside for the rest of the day. As I was standing in the hallway, the next four words that I was about to hear would forever alter my perception of my body. A boy passed by and whispered to his friend,‘Her legs are big.’
Up until that point, I had never compared my body to anyone else- I was only 11 years old. From that moment on, I was painstakingly aware of how different my body was to all of my thin friends. I can’t pinpoint the exact period in my life when I went from being a carefree teen to someone that got physically ill at the sight of themselves in the mirror.
I refused to accept my predisposition to a fuller body. I wanted my hipbones to poke through my shirt. I wanted a gap between my thighs. I wanted to see my collar bone pierce through my chest. That was my idea of a ‘beautiful, ideal, desirable’ body.
My sophomore year of high school, I started to monitor my food consumption and joined the cross country team. It wasn’t until this year that I realized the only reason I began running was because I hated my body with a burning passion.
By the time I finally began to lose weight, I developed a severe stress fracture. I had to quit cross country and couldn’t run for eight months. I gained twice the weight I lost and I began to obsess over everything I put into my body. This up-and-down cycle continued for the next two years until I graduated in the spring of 2014: I’d lose weight, gain it back, lose weight, and so on.
I have never been hospitalized, but in the Fall of 2014, I was at my worst. I decided to take my 1st semester off from college. My mental state was weak, as well as my body. I was slaving away, working out twice a day: hot yoga in the morning and the gym at night. I counted every calorie.
I would have anxiety attacks if the food I ate that day was not an option in the ‘MyFitnessPal’ food diary log. I weighed myself everyday. I couldn’t bear to look at myself in the mirror. I was restricting my intake to 1,000 calories a day, and whenever I ‘failed’ I would throw up. Sometimes I would just chew and spit out my food.
By October, I was hooked on any and every method to lose weight. I bought Adderall from someone I knew because it restricted my appetite and brought my mood up. My family and I were about to go visit all of my extended family members in Colombia, South America and I was panicking over all of the delicious and fat-containing foods I knew I would encounter there. Adderall felt like the perfect excuse to not cave in.
I also didn’t want my family to see me so exhausted- it hurt to even move. Sure enough, when I got there, I was greeted by multiple comments, such as ‘you’ve lost so much weight!’ as is that was a good thing. I was never proud of myself. It was a sharp jab to me every time I heard it.
The first night in Colombia, after leaving the airport and stopping to eat at 10pm, I found myself in the bathroom, on my knees once again. This same routine continued for the rest of the trip. I didn’t hold a single meal down. I was always with family, so how did I get away with it? I taught myself how to throw up without using a finger. I taught myself how to do it without making a single sound. I taught myself how to use the right pressure, so my eyes wouldn’t get red. I even popped a blood vessel once, trying to hide what I was doing.
I finally sought the courage to get help and was diagnosed with a severe eating disorder in the Fall of 2015. For the first time, I finally realized that I am not my disorder. I have the power to take control over it, and that’s really important to remember.
I have been doing a lot better at The College of Charleston and I have an amazing support group to fall back on. My family also helps me a lot when times get hard. I spent four years suffering in silence, with only telling a few close friends throughout it all. I never spoke up because I was embarrassed of my nasty habits and I didn’t want to accept that they were true.
I also didn’t want to say anything due to the stigma around eating disorders themselves. I never reached a low weight that would cause people to whisper in the halls. Throughout the four years, you couldn’t actually see my bones. You could look at me and think I was perfectly fine. Who was going to believe that I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror? I imagined that if I opened up, I would be told to ‘get over it’. There is definitely a stigma surrounding mental illnesses, but I hope we are the generation to shatter it.
My advice to anyone suffering with any type of mental illness would be to speak up. It’s a cliché, but there is no greater feeling to know you are not alone. I know it’s scary. I still cannot believe I’m sharing my story right now with strangers I don’t know. But, we can all figure it out by speaking out and getting help. Until then, stay alive, my friends.”