Fighting for Survival – Kathleen’s Version

anorexia story

As a child I grew up knowing I was different. While I had a relatively happy family, there were things that were noticeably different, and as I grew up, I learned from my peers that being different, was not good (later, of course, I learned to value my differences).

My sister and I were not allowed to wear jeans to school, and everyone wondered why. I was sent to the fifth grade classroom to read when I was only in Kindergarten, and everyone wondered why.

As a child, I felt different from my friends because they all thought I was too much of a goodie-goodie.

I felt that I could never be good enough –that I was always expected to get the highest grades, to be the best piano player, be perfect in all I did; yet, I felt that I could never be perfect enough.

Ironically, I also felt that being perfect rendered me no attention because it was simply expected. Growing up I was also teased about my looks from both my family and my peers. A nickname given to me was “Gibeson”.

My College Life

Gibeson –that’s Big Nose spelled backwards. While I went along with it and tried to laugh it off, I was crying on the inside and desperately wished to change my looks so that I would be pretty like my friends. I felt that if I was pretty I would be more accepted and less “different”.

When I entered puberty, I remembered my mother’s warnings to my sister against gaining too much weight when she was going through puberty. Because I already knew my face was ugly, and I couldn’t change that, I knew I needed to make sure that I didn’t get fat, to boot.

I knew that I couldn’t be both ugly and fat –being overweight was not acceptable in my family. At that point I had no idea that my desire to fit in was about to change my life in ways I never imagined.

Eighteen years ago I watched a movie called, “The Best Little Girl in the World”. Those of you familiar with the movie know that it is based on a young woman who falls victim to anorexia.

In the movie, she gets ‘sick’, gets an exorbitant amount of attention, gets taken to the hospital where she makes new friends, and gets better by the end of the two hour long movie – her family and friends acknowledging her more, and her life going on more beautifully than before. The movie made anorexia look easy and attractive. The movie made it seem like anorexia fixed this girl’s life.

That movie, coupled with my feelings of being different, my lack of self-esteem, my desire to fit in, and the messages I received from media, friends, and family, compelled me to take a simple step the next day that would change the rest of my life.

The day after watching the movie, I threw away my lunch for the first time. I was twelve years old.

The next time I remember eating lunch was 16 years later at age 28. You may not believe that I can remember the exact day, but the reason I can recall exactly when I ate my next lunch, is because at age 28, I actually called my mother to tell her I was doing so.

When most people are 28 years old, they don’t call their parents every time they eat something – they call to tell them about a job promotion or a raise, or to tell them they’ve completed a graduate program.

I called because I’d eaten half a cup of soup. It was the first time I ate during the day (outside of a hospital setting) in sixteen years.

Eating this meal was both the start of my (true) recovery and the start of the most frightening two years of my life.

Just when I thought I had made a breakthrough in my sickness by eating, my heart sank. I was scared to death that I’d just eaten a ½ cup of soup –part of me wanted to rejoice in feeling healthy, but most of me, having lived so long without being healthy, did not even know how I was going to go into work that night on a full stomach.

That night I called in sick to work.I stayed home and wept about what a waste my life had become. I wept thinking about what a waste I’d been for 16 years. For 16 years I focused solely on food and whether or not I was fat. I wept because I had disappointed my parents, disappointed myself, disappointed my family, and lost all of my friends, save one.

I wept because I was asked to leave college, and after re-entering college I was asked to leave again because I was too sick to remain on campus. I wept because I had been lying all the time to hide my disorder –to the point I didn’t even know what was true any longer.

I wept because I had depleted my finances including an IRA and my mutual funds, as I was too weak to work full-time. I wept because I realized that I might never be able to get rid of the awful disease that controlled my life and made me miserable. I thought the thinness I’d sustained for 16 years would reward me. It didn’t.

The Beginning of My Journey

I finally decided that night, that if I couldn’t get better, I did not want to live. I wanted nothing more than to die because getting better seemed to be harder than being sick, and the toll anorexia had taken on my life and my mind seemed to be greater than my will.

This began my final fight for my life. I knew that I could not go on living with the self-loathing misery from my eating disorder. I also knew that my body would not allow me to go on much longer. I knew that I needed to try recovery one more time, or die.

Like most people with an eating disorder I had attempted, many, many times, to recover –and many times I failed. And when I failed I always swore, “This time is bottom.” And I would begin (again) the climb up. You might think hitting bottom is hitting bottom is hitting bottom –but with my eating disorder I discovered just how far down bottom can be.

As unique as the individuals are who suffer, so are our rock bottoms. During my rock bottom, I couldn’t figure out why my hair was falling out, why I was sick ALL the time, and why I had constant chest pains.

I realize now that I was dying. And I realize now that no one really knew. Unfortunately, many people were still complimenting me on my “model-like” thinness.

During those two years I spent my nights crying my broken body and my crippled mind to sleep –and praying for God to take my life. I prayed Psalm 6 over and over again, “Have mercy on me, for I am weak, o Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled.

My soul is greatly troubled. I am weary with my weeping, all night I cry and I drench my pillow with tears.” And through my tears I added my own verse to Psalm 6, which was, “God, you need to take my life!!”

I wish I could stand before you tonight and testify that my recovery is a result of the treatment I received or the effective therapy I went through. But that is not my case.

Unfortunately the treatment I received was inadequate and short-term, which is what many eating disorder suffers find available. My formal treatment consisted of an inpatient stay in a hospital setting for a 28-day program.

I was a teenager placed on a psychiatric ward where most of the patients were eating disordered, but not all. By the time I was hospitalized I had already been anorexic for four years. A 28-day stay was a joke to me. I did what the rest of the girls did –I did what I had to do to get out and get back on with my eating disorder It was not successful treatment. I also saw a variety of therapists.

I felt hatred toward each of them because they were all trying to take away my eating disorder. They were all trying to fix me, as if I was the problem –they were not looking to understand the reasons I began my eating disorder in the first place.

By the time I had suffered enough, by the time I wanted help and wanted to go for treatment somewhere like the renowned Remuda treatment facilities, I was no longer on my parent’s insurance and there was no way I could afford over $1,700 per day on my own –that is the reduced fee.

I tried outpatient therapy again, but wasn’t well enough to consistently work to pay for the $110 sessions.

Thus began my self-treatment. While I have learned to be extremely in awe of and thankful to God for the recovery I’ve made on my own, I have absolutely no doubt that because the treatment I had access to was inadequate, I have taken longer to recover than those who do get proper treatment.

I wasted, in many ways, years trying to recover –although I now know that the results of our journeys through recovery are never a waste; the result of my recovery is my life.

I am in a healthy state of my journey through recovery now, but I am by no means perfect in my journey. I don’t know that there is a perfect way to traverse on this journey. What I do know is that it’s not for me to worry about any longer.

God has me in the palm of His hand and I am free from my disorder because I finally let Him into my life to heal me. I do still have days when I revert back to my disordered thinking –but they are far and few in-between.

When I do have those days, I am healthy enough in body, mind, and spirit to turn to God and pray, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am still weak.” –Psalm 6, now with no added verse.

I now see why He didn’t listen to my added verse and again, I am humbled. He shows me through my struggles, that I need to depend on Him and only Him, and that He will provide me the resources, the healthy mind and body, and the support to continue living a life of recovery.