Columbus, OH USA
“As long as I can remember, I always wanted to be thinner. I first distinctly remember wanting to lose weight when I was in 4th grade, running more on the playground and starting to run in my backyard for extended periods of time, as well. I kept track of the days that I ran in a journal.
In 5th grade, we were asked to log our food intake for a nutrition project, and I remember my teacher telling me, ‘Well, that must be why you’re so thin’. Those words ran through my head over and over and over on an endless loop. In middle school, I gained weight. On a trip out-of-state with my grandmother, she commented, ‘What happened? Did you get tired of being skinny?’ That comment also stuck with me.
I joined cross-country and track, initially as a way to run all of the time in a socially acceptable environment. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I made so many friends and precious memories, and even started to believe that what I was doing was normal. I constantly compared myself to my fellow teammates. They were so much thinner and prettier than I was. My high school and middle school careers were not marked by any significant weight loss or gain, and I slid under the radar, though I never felt comfortable with my body, and fixated on calories, numbers, and exercise. My illness went undiagnosed. The thoughts were present, but the illness had not taken complete control yet.
In between my senior year of high school and freshman year of college, I trained for and completed a half marathon. I was congratulated, felt on top of the world. I had a new goal set- complete a full marathon. I started college, went with the flow. I began exercising more and more, and food started to feel… excessive all of the sudden. I don’t know how long this took exactly, but it wasn’t long. I found myself running upwards of 10 miles at 5am before class on an empty stomach. I would come back from my runs and shower before anyone else was awake, feeling my heart wanting to take a nap. Passing out became a fairly regular occurrence for me.
I would allow myself breakfast: an apple and black coffee. Lunch was inexcusable for me- I told myself it was unnecessary. I would have lettuce with tuna and cottage cheese for dinner. I told myself it was okay because I was somehow different than everyone else; they needed 3 meals a day and I was just different. I told myself that it wasn’t that I was harming myself, I just had a different set of guidelines for my day. That is how I rationalized it.
My clothes were hanging off of me, and I began weighing myself at my college’s recreation center. I watched it go down at an alarming rate, but it simultaneously filled me with ecstasy and fear. I began to grow fuzz all over my body, but the hair on my head began to thin. The man I was with at the time became increasingly concerned. He did everything he could to help me, and I could see the hurt in his eyes, but I couldn’t stop.
I stopped running as much, since I was afraid of passing out on the river trail by myself or somewhere else far from my dorm. I supplemented it by taking to the stationary bike and doing sit-ups. My tailbone and spine were almost always bruised from the sit-ups and the seat on the stationary bike. I hadn’t had a period for months.
It began to feel like there were two voices at war in my head: the eating disorder and myself. I was waging war with myself. I pushed people away, and one day, I found myself hunched over a trash can after eating a cracker I wasn’t supposed to have. It sent me into a full-on panic, and I called my mom and told her what I did. She told me to call the counseling services at my college. I did.
They set up a phone appointment with me, but left me with no immediate help. I had a phone consultation later, then they gave me another approximately 4 weeks before I could see someone. I was frustrated.
I kept exercising, restricting, and pushed even more people away. I became isolated and obsessive. I managed to get straight A’s that semester. I finally got into the counseling services during finals week. I met with someone, and she listened to me. I told her everything. She called the student health center and told me to go there straight away, that someone would be expecting me. I left in a daze, and went to the health center.
Next thing I knew, I had an EKG strapped to my chest and a woman telling me that I was almost a full degree and a half under normal body temperature, was orthostatic, and my heart rate was at 42 bpm. I was eighteen. I had exams to take care of, papers to complete, and a jury the next morning where I had to perform. The doctor came in and told me bluntly, ‘You have anorexia. Increase your calorie intake and stop running so much.’
I received no follow-up from any of my college’s affiliated health services. I called my parents, and that was the first time I cried about it. I finished my finals, and when I went home to see my family, they sobbed. I didn’t know if my little sister knew, but my parents said that they told her. I was upset. ‘Why?’ I asked. They told me that I looked like a different person, and that she deserved to know the truth. My parents were under the impression that they could ‘love it away’, and so for a month, I tried to get better on my own. It only got worse. I dropped below 90 lbs.
And, I distinctly remember going on a camping trip with my boyfriend. At the time, we had been together for years. There was a place to swim at this campsite, and I started to get nervous, since this was the first time he had seen me without clothes in a long time. We went to the swimming area and I slowly took off my clothes, revealing the true extent of the damage I had done to myself. He turned away. It was so hot out, but goosebumps covered my body. I didn’t have enough fat left to insulate myself. He grabbed my hand and we swam for a bit. Later that night, we were trying to go to sleep, and I was shifting around, trying to find a position I could sleep in that wouldn’t bruise me. I heard him sniffle quietly, and I asked him what was wrong. ‘Nothing’, he said. We were silent. A few moments passed, and I asked ‘Are you even still attracted to me?’ and he said ‘Honestly, Lexi? No. Not like I was. You’re dying.’
We came home the next day, and I kept to myself. I couldn’t see what everyone else saw. I was okay, right? I knew I wasn’t good, but I wasn’t as bad off as those around me thought, right? Later that same week, I was laying outside, trying to get some color. The sun warmed me up and made me feel normal. I heard voices come around the side of the house. I sat up, startled, and made direct eye contact with my grandparents. They hadn’t heard of what I was going through, and there I was. I couldn’t hide it, and I quickly grabbed a towel and covered myself, greeting them. A couple of days later, I almost passed out in the bathtub (the water was hot) and I got up and wrapped myself in a towel and looked at myself in the mirror, and for the first time in months, the part of me that was my actual-self saw the truth. I cried, I screamed.
I couldn’t believe that I had let it get that far. I called my best friend and told her that I hated what I had done to myself and that I still didn’t know how to stop. I called my mom and told her I couldn’t do it on my own anymore. That summer, my parents and boyfriend sat down with me and basically had an intervention- either I was going to the hospital and they would put a tube in me or I would agree to go to treatment and try to get better. I eventually agreed to treatment.
We went to the Emily Program in Cleveland, and they agreed to take me as a partial-inpatient. For three months I had an incredible team of doctors, nutritionists, psychiatrists, counselors, and nurses that were with me every step of the way. I met some amazing people that I consider lifelong friends. While I was there, I was diagnosed with co-morbid anxiety and depression, and was prescribed medication for both.
Recovery is not glamorous, and neither is the eating disorder itself. Recovery is not linear. It is not purely physical and not purely mental. Gaining weight was hard, but wanting to live a normal life was harder. I hadn’t been able to focus long enough to read a book in months, and I finally began to read again. It was the hardest time of my life. Insurance companies were ruthless.
Many places glamorize the illness.
Watching your hair fall out in clumps is not glamorous. Watching your family cry when they hug you is not glamorous. Breaking down over a saltine is not glamorous. Having monitored bathroom time is not glamorous.
I left treatment early because I thought I could handle going back to school for the following fall semester. Although I had gained around 15 lbs, I was still severely underweight and not medically stable. I went back to school and had a therapist set up at a local mental hospital.
A therapist I worked with told me that I had to step on the scale in her office- I told her that seeing numbers would send me spiraling. She had me step onto the scale, sobbing, and I told her that I wasn’t comfortable. She told me that she didn’t think I wanted to recover. After these appointments, I had to go to class and pretend everything was fine. I started to self-harm. In no time, I stopped attending my therapy sessions and slid back to square one in a matter of weeks. I was self-harming, restricting, and exercising slightly less than I was in the spring semester.
My voice professor knew my struggle and eventually intervened after I told her that I had taken too much of my medication. I wasn’t attempting suicide, but needless to say, it was a cry for help. She asked me if I could call my parents and tell them. Call them and say that all of their time and money and love had been squandered because I couldn’t feed myself? I told her I couldn’t do it. She called them and the next day, they were down in Columbus in her office. She told them that she couldn’t watch me deteriorate each week and barely be able to make it through a lesson. They agreed to take me home. We went back to my dorm and took everything out and moved in mid-October of my sophomore year. I called my boyfriend, at the time, and told him, then texted my friends from treatment. I came home with a renewed strength- I had to fix it this time.
I gave recovery all that I had. Months were spent just trying to convince myself to live. In that time, I found myself. It wasn’t just about eating. It was about control, punishment, and fixation. It was about so much more than what I saw in the mirror. I had nightmares for months- my eating disorder personified in different ways sometimes a demon, sometimes a little girl.
Slowly, the voice got smaller. I won’t lie and say that it goes away. To this day, the numbers are still there, the thoughts are present. It isn’t easy. In fact, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But, I can honestly say that seeking recovery was the best decision I have ever made. I am continually so grateful for the life that I am now able to live, and I am so thankful for the incredible support system that has surrounded me through my journey, and continues to stand by my side today.
I can promise that recovery is worth it. Reach out, have faith, and trust the process. It gets better.”
Story & Photo Submitted By: Gabi Winter, Ohio State University Campus Rep