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Walking; I was walking across the huge black mass that enveloped the ground behind Adamsville Elementary School. With each small stride, I felt energy from the asphalt shoot up through my toes and squirm across my soles until I took the next step when the sensation would start all over again. My vision was partially blocked by locks of fine, brown hair grazing my face as the wind blew furiously and clawed at my skin. I watched the empty swing sway in the wind with undeniable grace and immediately felt an electric charge of adrenaline and anticipation course through my muscles. Taking a moment to inhale the faint scent of early fall, I slowly shut my eyes, watching the black-top, the trees, the laughing classmates completely fade out. As I breathed in blissfully, a sudden collision brought me out of my exhilarated, relaxed state. I reluctantly wrenched my eyelids apart only to find a forest of unruly hair in my way. I attempted to walk around whoever I had just bumped into and resume my journey to the swing, but before I could, the forest morphed into a face. And the person facing me, the person I had just obliviously walked into, was none other than Eric. At the same height as me, he glowered so fiercely that it seemed to scorch a hole directly through my self-esteem. His glare could always send stinging waves through my body, bone by bone. He stepped forward with a sense of masculine confidence and shoved his pudgy face in mine. The plethora of freckles that invaded his face overwhelmed my 6-year-old eyes. Unsure whether to dash in the other direction or to challenge Eric, I stood still, petrified. He parted his thin, red lips, while his eyes were still burning holes in my flesh. It seemed as if everything had frozen; as if the giddy children playing ball had suddenly halted, as if the trees blowing in the wind had completely solidified in mid-sway.
“Get out of here… fatso.” Eric snarled, his mouth twisting and contorting to form the hurtful words. Behind him listening intently were his friends John, Evan, and Marco all with a look of mean-spirited induced humor on their youthful faces.
“FATSO FATSO FATSO!” The boys all taunted, edging dangerously close to me. I backed up cautiously, emotionally injured and mentally distressed. Not looking behind me, my foot struck a wooden beam, sending me toppling backwards in front of what seemed to be every first grader on the planet. A howl of laughter erupted from the throats of all those watching as I observed my suddenly thicker-looking legs. Thoughts buzzing through my mind, I scrambled to my feet noting how my thighs shook and jiggled whenever I took a step.
Six years later and no thinner than six years before, I would find myself running back and forth from the television to the kitchen every day, inhaling all the food I possibly could. I would stuff abnormally large amounts of food into my mouth as fast as I could and swallow without even tasting a thing. Once I was full, I would lie on my back, forget about what I had just done, and watch more television. I would savor the feeling of complete fullness, the false belief that there was nothing missing anymore. I would enjoy the tingle through my body, feeling like little gnats were buzzing around in my muscles. I would convince myself that since I was full, everything was all better. But deep inside, I think I knew it wasn’t.
On a pleasantly cool March afternoon, I strode off the bus and headed down the street after a typical day at school; Stomach growling, mouth anticipating the food I knew I was about to shovel into my body. I marched up the steps and searched my bag until I felt the cool, rigid surface of my house key. I guided the key into the lock and turned it until I heard the familiar click. I shoved the door open and sighed as I slid into the silent, empty house. My body humming with ambivalence and conflicting thoughts, I decided to look in my parents’ mirror before I succumbed to my ravenous hunger. As I gazed into the lengthy sheet of glass, I frowned at my reflection and wished more than anything that I could be thin; that I could someday soon feel what it was like to be able to fit in a size Extra-Small. And at that moment, I made a radical decision. I said to myself: Jennie, you will not eat.
From that moment on, I began restricting my food intake. I would skip lunches daily and eat less that I truly wanted to in attempt to lose weight. By May, I had whittled my body to a slightly slimmer figure, but I still wasn’t satisfied. The restricting continued. I identified foods that were “bad” foods, and I tried my best to avoid them. But once I was finally feeling a bit better about my body and my weight, summer vacation hit.
I distinctly and vividly remember my feelings and thoughts in the first few hours of day camp. Ironically, the day camp was at Adamsville Elementary School. As I prepared myself in the morning for the day to come, I kept thinking “I will not eat lunch, I will not eat lunch, I will not eat lunch.” By the time lunch really did roll around, I was famished. I wanted so much to grab my sandwich and force it down my throat like a starving refugee might. But I resisted the urge to eat, relishing the waves of pain in my stomach that were trying to signal for me to eat.
Ironically, I had become friends with John within the past year, even though he tormented me all through elementary school. But just as I was becoming friends with him, he dropped a bomb: he was moving to California over the summer. Before I was aware, August of 2008 had knocked at my door, let itself in, dropped itself on the couch, and settled in. I tried to keep in touch with John; through text, e-mail, Instant Message, you name it. But he wasn’t responsive. Despite my desperate efforts to stay in contact with him, we quickly drifted apart and stopped talking all together. After months of restricting my food simply to lose weight, I started restricting because I believed it would fill the void that John had left empty.
As the 2008 school year began, I found myself sleepwalking through life in a state of deep depression. At the vulnerable, awkward age of 13, I had less energy than my 85-year-old grandmother. My motivation was long gone and my self-confidence was chipping away more and more every minute. Unsure of how to deal with all the unsettled feelings of longing, emptiness, and self-hatred, I took everything out on my body. Expecting my parents to realize I wasn’t eating, I came up with yet another close-to-insane idea. I told them I was experiencing severe acid reflux. Since I had acid reflux, I didn’t want to eat because I figured it would just come back up and burn my insides. I also needed to avoid certain foods that made acid reflux worse. As the weeks went on, I still complained endlessly to my parents and doctors who were befuddled at why my condition wasn’t improving. The only reason why nothing improved was simple. I never had acid reflux; the whole story was a complete lie.
Throughout autumn of 2008, I let my schoolwork rot in the back of my mind. I was constantly tired, barely awake enough to pay attention in class let alone do work once I got home. Meanwhile, I was being hauled around to specialist after specialist, my parents frantic to understand why I was suddenly having acid reflux. I was missing school frequently in order to either see yet another doctor, or because I felt “sick”. In truth, I never actually felt sick; I just simply didn’t feel like getting out of bed and going to school. I was still restricting my food intake, but finding it harder and harder to resist the urge to return to my previous habits and binge after school. After a few weeks, I felt helpless and weak, as if I had no choice but to pile all the food in the house in my mouth and swallow it whole. In the same position that I had been in less than a year ago, I sprung up from the couch, sprinted to the kitchen, gathered an enormous amount of food, stuffed it all into my mouth, swallowed and repeated the cycle multiple times. This became a daily routine, something I would look forward to throughout the day. I would walk out the door in the morning pretending I ate breakfast while my stomach growled and pleaded for nourishment. Throughout the morning, I would be equally distracted by the pain in my abdomen due to lack of food and by the masochistic side of me that adored the agony of starvation. I would sit at lunch, empty handed, arms crossed, staring at the table, the clock, the wall; anything besides the food surrounding me, beckoning to me. I would cruise through the afternoon feeling superior and more powerful simply because I had gone almost a day without eating. I would slither off the bus and trek home, unlock the door, tell myself not to eat, and then devour everything in sight anyway. Every time after I binged, I felt a nauseating wave of guilt rise up from my heart. A voice in my head would growl: “Ugly pig. Fat loser. Greedy witch.” Some days I would ignore the voice and drown myself in distractions. Other days, I would scoot into the bathroom, stick a finger down my throat, feel my stomach lurch, and chicken out. But after a while, I stopped being so hesitant.
On a windy October afternoon, I found a girl that looked remotely like me appearing as if she had literally collapsed on the couch. She looked sickly and disgusted with something. Clearly debating in her mind what to do, she pushed her body off of the cozy, blue mass and opened the door to the bathroom. All alone in a house with no one to witness what she was about to do, she slid her three middle fingers into her mouth. Pushing softly at first from the inside of her throat, she eventually became bold and started ramming her fingers down past her tonsils and somewhere into her esophagus. She felt her midsection quickly collapse inward as she coughed up a mixture of all the food she had gobbled up literally minutes before. Unsatisfied with the measly amount of vomit floating in the once-clear toilet water, she repeated the process until her stomach felt as empty as it had hours before she binged. With a feeling of contentment and relief, she flushed what used to be the contents of her stomach down into oblivion, not at all worried about where it was headed to. She turned the cool, silver handle next to the faucet and immediately had a stream of cold water running through her fingers. She then scrubbed at her teeth vigorously until her mouth was numb from the mint-flavored toothpaste and resumed her previous position on the couch, except this time looking happier than she’d looked in months. The muscles of her body that looked as hard as rock only half an hour before were now looking as loose as a rag doll. Her previously sour, pained expression was replaced by a pleasant, relaxed look. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have thought that she had flushed away all her worries and stress when she flushed away the impurities of her stomach. After I had blindly witnessed all of this, it suddenly struck me that this girl was more of a stranger than I had ever imagined; this painfully insecure girl that I’d never seen before, this troubled girl whom I couldn’t recognize even if I tried, this bizarre stranger invading my house was the one person I hated with a passion but could never quite understand. The girl who had just willingly made herself throw up right in front of my eyes was in fact, me.
From that day on, the daily routine of bingeing was followed by a seemingly more important routine of purging. Eventually, I no longer had a problem with staring in a toilet full of vomit that I had induced myself. I still used the acid reflux as an excuse, claiming that I tried to eat and keep it down but it just came back up “on its own”. More lies. Lie after lie after lie. Doctor after doctor after doctor. Therapist after therapist after therapist. I refused to admit that I never had an acid reflux problem. I refused to tell anyone that I had a problem with food, if not a full-blown eating disorder. After blood tests, an endoscopy and what felt like an interrogation inside a psychiatrist’s office, I still would not give the acid reflux hoax up. Hoping that the non-existent stomach problems were psycho-somatic, my psychiatrist prescribed me Adderall for my Attention Deficit Disorder, in attempt to help me concentrate and hopefully relieve some of the stress brought on by school. At that point, no one but me had any idea what my psychiatrist was really doing. “Side effects include lack of sleep and loss of appetite so watch out for those.” Doctor Dunellen said in his scratchy, peculiar voice. Loss of appetite, I thought. The words echoed in my head. Loss of appetite. Never in my entire life had I heard words that sounded as sweet. Loss of appetite. I could barely hide my smile.
By that time it was December. December eleventh to be exact. I was still bingeing and purging at least once daily if not twice, thrice, or four times. Even more depressed than I had been when John had initially left, I was basically in a zombie-like state. I felt as if I had no control over anything other than what I binged on and when I purged. At that point, I was seeing a psychologist named Mary Jane weekly, a nutritionist named Hien (pronounced Hin) weekly, and Doctor Dunellen the psychiatrist monthly. I wasn’t at all receptive to help, because I simply didn’t want it. In hindsight, I realize now that my real intention behind the self-destruction was to punish myself. In my mind, I was worthless and I was convinced the only way I would ever be worth something or ever be happy was if I lost weight. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
On December twelfth, I took the Adderall for the first time. Right before I darted out the door to climb onto the bright yellow bus, I swallowed the circular, blue pill with a single swig of water. I then proceeded to grab the breakfast my mother had ever so willingly made for me even though it would just end up at the bottom of a garbage can. Throughout the day, I had absolutely no appetite, no desire at all to put anything besides water inside my mouth. It was if the need to eat had simply vanished, as if I was now immortal and didn’t have to eat in order to live.
Throughout the weeks following that day, I continued to take the Adderall which actually did help with my concentration. But that wasn’t why I liked it so much, although I think the reason is quite obvious. With the Adderall, not only did I not feel hungry, I didn’t want to eat either. I could enjoy the hunger pangs peacefully without having to battle the urge to inhale the whole kitchen. And obviously, I lost weight. I would weigh myself daily, smiling if I lost and cursing myself if I gained. I was still obsessed with food, but I had so much more control once I could completely turn food down altogether. But I think my favorite part was that I never binged anymore; in my eyes, bingeing was a sign of vulnerability and weakness, both of which I strived to expunge from my body, soul, and mind. I was able to achieve what I can only describe as a high; it was a feeling of invincibility and power, as if I had a secret weapon that no one else had or knew about.
Some weeks I looked forward to therapy, but most weeks I would dread stepping into Mary Jane’s office. Regardless of whether or not I wanted to go, I was forced to anyway just as I was forced to one memorable Wednesday. It was a windy, winter evening. Pitch black trees lined barely visible streets even though it was only 6 at night. Street lights cast an orange glow across the barely-living grass. Shivering vigorously and hugging myself in attempt to stay warm, I twisted the worn, gold doorknob and entered Mary Jane’s office. The office was obviously a house converted into a therapy practice. Multiple different therapists worked in different rooms of the house/office at the same time. Some would peek out of a dark hallway, obviously looking to see if their client had arrived. Mary Jane opened the door that revealed her tiny office space and motioned for me to come in. She was tall and slim, but not scary-skinny. Her features were very masculine with a broad jaw, long mouth, thin nose, and eyes that reminded me of bird’s eyes. Her thick, brown eyebrows matched her thick, frizzy brown hair that I suspected had never been color-treated before. She was convinced from literally the first ten minutes of knowing me that I had a case of untreated, worsening depression. I think “depression” was a bit of an understatement.
We proceeded with the therapy session, me sitting on a couch that could fit no more than two children and her sitting across from me on a couch the same size but with a different, clashing pattern. This therapy session was no different from all the rest, it was just me complaining about John, bawling until I thought my eyes would explode, and Mary Jane nodding in a clueless manner, unsure of how to help me. At that time, I believed John was the cause of all my problems. It seemed rational enough; my depression started around the time he moved, I was sad about him moving, I felt like he had abandoned me, so I figured that everything had just snowballed over the past few months leaving my family confused, my doctors stumped, and me in a depressed, anorexic, bulimic, heap of never-ending tears. But the worst part of all was that no one, not even me, knew what to do.
I fell in love with Adderall. It made me feel powerful and in control which was all that I had wanted throughout the past year. But after about three weeks, I felt the effects of the Adderall slowly but surely becoming less strong. I was beginning to space out more often, I was becoming impulsive again, and I was getting my appetite back. I was having a harder and harder time resisting food and the urges to eat, but I was sure that if I surrendered to my growling stomach, I would never be able to stop gorging. I was sure that if I ever even considered eating something over 100 calories, I would lose all of the control I worked so hard and starved for so long to acquire. But despite the deafening voice screeching in my face, commanding me to keep starving myself, my human instincts eventually conquered my body and drove me into what felt like years of never-ending bingeing on New Years’ Eve of all nights.
Slouching on the floor in loose sweatpants and a shirt at least four sizes too big, I couldn’t help but be completely consumed by self revulsion. My midsection seemed as if it was literally about to burst, splattering the cookies, chocolate, and cake all over the light blue walls. The familiar voice I would months later recognize as my “eating disorder voice” crept its way into my mind again, slithering through the rest of the thoughts crowding my already foggy brain and managing to scream over the earsplitting static inside my head. “You’re just going to sit there like a disgusting, obese man and let all that fat inhabit your stomach? ” it sneered. “You’re going to let all those filthy calories be absorbed by your already revolting body? If you keep this up, you’ll suffocate all the people in the world because you’ll be the size of a planet, you sickening waste of organs and blood.” I remember that night and I can recall how completely, utterly empty I felt. Even to this day, I don’t understand how I could have felt so alone and blank despite the raging tornadoes of self-hatred that refused to cease for years on end. After feeling totally degraded by a voice inside my own head, I decided that waiting around for my body to balloon into the size of an even bigger elephant than I already was, was not an option. I counted down the seconds until the New Year, cheered when the countdown hit zero, ran to the upstairs bathroom and vomited like my life depended on it. When I felt empty once again, I climbed to my feet and let the ghastly liquid swirl down, down, down. Farther and farther away from the girl who resurrected it. I gazed in the mirror with dissatisfaction as I waited for my eyes to stop looking so red. I lifted my shirt up to reveal just my stomach and almost gagged again from just peeking in the mirror. Disgusting. Fat.
Frantically swishing mouthwash through the small spaces between my teeth, a sudden realization jolted my whole body, launching a shock through each and every inch of my flesh. A voice scampered through my mind, whispering “The first thing you did in 2009 was puke your guts out. If that’s any indication of how well this year is about to go, you’re dead.”
For the next month, I dragged myself through each day spending every moment angry at the world and perpetually on the verge of tears. At that time, I didn’t understand that I wasn’t really angry at the world, rather at myself. Why I was so angry at myself is still a mystery to me even to this day, but even though I’m unsure of the cause, I know that I felt completely worthless and because of that I had an unbelievably strong hatred towards myself. I remember peeking at the mirror and then regretting it the moment I laid eyes on the reflection. I distinctly recall the unfathomable amount of loathing that I felt towards myself, and I distinctly recall feeling even angrier because I knew there was no way I could ever escape myself, regardless of how badly I wanted to. But just when I thought my self-esteem could not possibly get any worse, something happened; something that I had never imagined happening at that time of my life, at all possible times.
I sat in the waiting room right outside Hien’s office. The walls were yellow and the wall fixtures were light green, orange, and another dark, aged-looking green. I fidgeted anxiously, shaking my leg rapidly hoping that it would burn off the calories from the previous day. Allowing myself to wander into deep thought, I subconsciously explored my own mind. With literally no reason behind the notion, I thought to myself “Something really bad is about to happen.” At that time, I thought it was that I was about to go into the hospital for more intense eating disorder treatment. I was not at all prepared for what really happened.
On February second, I had just climbed into the beige van and settled into the fuzzy seat, reflecting on that day’s play practice. Aware of the unmistakable tenseness in the car between myself and my mother, I shifted in my seat. There was a question lurking in my mind throughout the whole day, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask it. Before I had time to put words together, my mother took a deep breath and started speaking as I gazed out the window. The street was suddenly moving slower than a turtle. The bare trees towering over houses came to a complete halt. I knew what my mom was about to say, but I didn’t want to believe it. Not now, not today, not at this time of all times. My heartbeat quickened as my head seemed to rapidly get heavier. My breaths became swift and shallow, as if I was half in water and half out but still gasping for oxygen.
“Uncle Joe passed away this morning.”
My thoughts sped up, crashing into each other, exploding into tiny pieces, littering the space in my brain. My hands started shaking uncontrollably; my eyes began to sting as if a swarm of bees had begun to attack my pupils. Something snaked its way down my suddenly pale cheek but I was in so much shock that I didn’t even have the will to brush it away. I felt a hurricane arise inside my mind sending rain in the form of a downpour of tears, thunder in the form of shallow breaths, lightning in the form of unstoppable shaking. Not now, I thought, not now of all possible times. Not now, not now, why now? Why, why, why now?! Why’d he have to leave me right now?! Why is this happening to me? I must be a pretty terrible person for this to happen to me.
A few days earlier, my Great Uncle Joe was hospitalized for a reason I’m still unsure of. My mother said it sounded like he had had a stroke, but that the doctors weren’t completely sure. She also said that because they didn’t know exactly what went wrong, they didn’t know how to help him but that they would do what they could. Hours later, she assured me he would be alright. It wasn’t the kind of assurance that everyone knows is completely false, it was the kind of assurance that was genuine. I think everyone believed that Uncle Joe was going to be alright. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The next day as my mother, my brother, and I were just about to leave for church, the phone rang. We let the answering machine pick it up because we were running late, but the whole house froze when we heard the tone of my Grandfather’s (Uncle Joe’s Brother’s) voice echo through the house. My mother leaped for the phone and answered with a sense of major urgency. When she hung up, her face held an expression I had never seen before. It was a mix between petrified, shocked, and about to have a breakdown. She told my brother and me in a shaky voice that Uncle Joe had “took a turn for the worst” and that we had to stay home while she drove to the hospital to visit him. He passed away the following day.
February third, I was forced to lug myself through a day of school. Throughout the day, I felt quiet, exposed, abandoned, on the verge of tears, and confused. I felt exactly like I had when John moved, except five times more intense. The morning went alright although I basically sunk into myself. Come fifth period, language arts, I wasn’t feeling so sure. I remember typing quietly and intently at a laptop when the teacher placed a paper with a rubric face-down on the desk that looked like sand. Anxious and nervous as I always am when I get assignments back, I turned the pages over. It was an advice paper I had written weeks before. I had written it with John in mind, advising the reader to take advantage of each moment they had with a person because they never knew how much time they had left. On the bottom of the rubric, the word “Phenomenal” was written in all capital letters. Hidden by the dark gray laptop, I allowed myself to cry.
The next day was Uncle Joe’s wake and the day after that was his funeral. I attended both, stony-faced and glassy-eyed. I mingled when it was appropriate to mingle and bawled when it was appropriate to bawl. The next week was an all-you-can-shove-down-your-throat binge fest. It was my way of coping; trying to strangle the overwhelming sadness and constant salty tears with sugary, fattening food. It didn’t work. I told myself that I was stupid, fat, worthless, ugly, a waste of space. I told myself that I wasn’t worth anyone’s time and wouldn’t be until I lost weight. I told myself that if I was thinner, Uncle Joe would have lived longer. But the worst part of it all was that I truly, genuinely, and completely believed every hateful thought.
The next month is completely wiped out of my memory. The next thing I remember after Uncle Joe’s funeral was walking down my street in an oversized sweatshirt on a quest for something I knew would need to hide. When I reached my destination, Rite Aid, I strode in trying to look as innocent as possible. I sauntered down each aisle, skimming the shelves, searching for my prize. When my vision collided with what I was searching for, I smirked and took the box off the shelf. I placed it in front of the cashier who gave me a funny look. Before she could question me, I opened my mouth and let even more lies fly: “My mom has been looking everywhere for these pills! You guys are like, the only store who had them!” I exclaimed, anxious to hold the box again and hear the diet pills rattle form inside the bottle. The cashier then smiled at me just as I dashed out the door with my new best friends. I sprinted home, tore open the box, ripped off the bottle cap and swallowed fourteen more pills than the recommended dosage of six.
The next thing I remember after that day is being in Hien’s office for what would be the last time until May. She informed me seriously that I had two weeks to turn myself around and if I was unable to cease starving myself, bingeing, and purging, I would be admitted into the Eating Disorder Unit at Somerset Medical Center. Knowing that two weeks would not make the slightest difference, I told Hien that a mere fourteen days wouldn’t change anything and that I would rather begin more intensive treatment sooner than later. The following Wednesday, my father and I trekked through the hospital lobby and up to the First floor, West wing where I would begin my first experience of Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP). We were greeted by two elderly women, one with short, frizzy, jet black hair and purple lipstick and one with a smooth, cute bob, a perpetual mile-wide smile, huge dark blue eyes, and a cackle that could be heard across the country. Their names were Mary and MaryLynn. My father and I proceeded to fill out papers with an overwhelming amount of tiny, black letters covering almost every white spot. I was given a blue binder that contained “everything I needed for recovery”. Too bad I don’t want to recover, I thought slyly.
My first “group” was psychotherapy where each patient sat in an all-white room with pitiful, faded collages on the wall. Girls of all ages sat in the green chairs that were pushed up against the wall. Throughout my entire two-month stay in the Eating Disorder Unit (E.D.U.), I befriended people from age 11 to age 63. Each patient vented, gave advice, and comforted those in need. I barely opened my eyes once throughout the hour. When psychotherapy was finished, the patients all stood up, some stretching, some mingling. I decided to introduce myself to some people since I was going to be trapped inside that revolting, stuffy box for who-knows-how-long. I shook hands, smiled, and answered question after question. When asked how old I was, I replied “thirteen”. Mouths dropped, bewildered. I was told countless times that I looked sixteen or seventeen. I smiled politely and shrugged my shoulders.
We had different groups each day starting with psychotherapy at ten every morning. I was quickly introduced to my new therapist, Shannon and nutritionist, Michelle. Shannon was young, tall and tan with long, dark hair and clipped back bangs. Her teeth were white, her eyebrows were arched. She reminded me of the girls you see on television that obsess over boys, makeup, and gossip. I didn’t like her at all. She made me feel like I was being attacked, that I was being singled out. When I feel like I’m being targeted, I get very anxious and defensive so therapy with Shannon was never a pleasant experience. Michelle was slim and pale with shoulder-length, blond hair. She looked very frumpy to me and she didn’t seem at all genuine. Nonetheless, I smiled and nodded my head, pretending to listen to their obnoxious voices while secretly planning ways to avoid eating once I got home.
I continued my act for two weeks, but my parents were not about to let me fake recovery without a fight. With frequent reports of me still using what the patients called “eating disorder behaviors” (i.e. bingeing, purging, restricting, etc.), I was admitted to the inpatient side of the eating disorder unit. My roommate Amanda was sixteen, from Wyckoff, and very much like me. We joked and shared secrets and made fun of the nurses with accents. She introduced me to the video camera in the top, left corner of the room. It watched the room every second of every day, silently preventing anyone from exercising or harming themselves in private. I was notified that I was officially diagnosed as Anorexic with Purging although I didn’t look the least bit anorexic. I became acquainted with rules that would seem utterly ridiculous and uncalled for to anyone who’s never had an eating disorder. I was informed that bathrooms were almost always locked and unless they were unlocked, you would have to ask a nurse to unlock the bathroom for you. Not only did each patient need permission to relieve themselves, but the bathrooms would need to be checked after we finished our business and we had to wash our hands with the door open. We would be woken up every morning at 5 to get our vitals taken and to get weighed. From there we could either shower or go back to sleep until breakfast. Every meal would be supervised by two or more nurses and we had to finish everything we were given. We had a strict meal plan with a specific calorie levels and rigid guidelines we needed to follow in terms of the food groups we had.
Everyday about a half an hour before a meal, we would be called to check our menus. This was basically just telling us what to expect so we wouldn’t have a panic attack when the nutritionist decided to add chocolate cake to our meal. I dreaded each and every bite of my food for the first few days of inpatient; I had never realized before how petrified I had become of food and gaining weight. Eventually, I felt like I was part of the E.D.U. family and was no longer as hesitant or scared to eat.
Although inpatient sounds like a concentration camp for eating disordered people, it was one of if not the best experience of my life. I was lucky and got admitted when there was a very supportive, positive group. My favorite memory from the mere eight days I spent inpatient has to do with my friend Seema the nurse. Seema was a short, Indian woman, probably in her early fifties. She had a thick accent and a bubbly personality. When I first entered inpatient, numerous patients told me that I would have to ask Seema about “the popo”. Apparently, Seema “got in trouble” with the police (or as she called them, the “popo”) for driving too fast. As I think about it now, I’m not quite sure why an Indian woman being pulled over by the police was and still is so humorous to me. Regardless, I doubt I’ll ever forget Seema, the popo, or anything else that I experienced while inpatient.
I realize now the reason why I enjoyed inpatient so much was because I was able to reunite with true happiness there. Throughout the past year, I have been numbing myself by method of starvation. Somewhere throughout the course of any eating disorder, there’s a point where the patient basically loses all emotions because their body is working so hard in other areas. With proper nourishment for the first time in over a year and the support of thirteen other eating disordered people, the ice around my heart melted and I became human again.
I was released after eight days of being inpatient and was instructed to return to PHP. The second time around, I followed the meal plan I was given, I actually talked in therapy, and I barely used any eating disorder behaviors. I was discharged from PHP about a month later and was finally allowed to return to school full-time. I still see Hien every week in addition to a different therapist that I met in the Eating Disorder Unit named Sherri. I still visit Doctor Dunellen every month and put up with his breathy, scratchy voice. I understand now that I used my eating disorder as a way to deal with my problems, and I’m just beginning to find alternative ways of coping. John and I now exchange a few texts every once in a while and I’ve discovered that he was not at all the source of my misery. There are some days when I still wish more than anything that I could feel the pangs of hunger again or watch my meal make a return trip. I still struggle with managing my depression and forcing myself to focus. I am not at all “cured”. I am not rid of my eating disorder. But I recognize now that maybe I don’t want to be completely rid of my eating disorder. Of course, I would like to be completely rid of the symptoms and negative thoughts, but my experiences with Anorexia and Bulimia have taught me so much. I’ve matured well beyond my thirteen years throughout the course of my illness and I have gained knowledge that some people may never gain. I have obtained an understanding for others and a great sense of empathy that I never imagined I could have. My recovery is not and has not been perfect, but the whole experience has given me a new appreciation for life. I now know that whittling my waist by starving myself will not solve anything inside my mind. I now understand how beautiful everything I’ve ever laid eyes on, ever touched, ever heard, ever smelled, ever tasted really truly is.