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Mania: Part One
Amidst the cacophony of voices, the blend of uniforms, the sprawling tables, I saw her. Despite the several hundred students flocking to the cafeteria on the hazy September afternoon, my eyes caught on Carson. I’d seen her before, but for whatever reason I was drawn to her on this particular day. She was different from most of the girls who attended our school; dark, ebony eye makeup lined her eyes, her caramel hair fell in sporadic curls, and she wore an out-of-uniform jacket. Most of the other girls meticulously straightened their hair each morning and only spoke lightly of superficial topics. Whereas I liked these girls, I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my Freshman year—let alone the next four years—attempting to join their shallow conversations. I wasn’t content with gossiping about boys or teachers. So I judged a book by its cover and, rather than taking my usual seat next to the preppy girls, I slid my tray across from the girl I would come to know as Carson.
Because I knew a few of the girls sitting by Carson, I wasn't being a complete stalker. And Carson and I were somewhat familiar—we’d both auditioned for a school play. During that lunch, I observed the conversation more than I contributed to it, and most importantly, I observed Carson. I saw fiery red scars zig-zagging up and down her arms and immediately, I suspected that she was a cutter. If that suspicion was correct, I wondered if she had other mental disorders as well. I wondered if she, like me, had an eating disorder.
The opportunity to talk to Carson alone came sooner than I'd expected—she began riding the bus home rather than hitching a ride from her mom. As the bus emptied and the day became hotter, my desire to talk to her grew. Finally, I commented on the book she was reading. Although I didn't know it then, Carson was a voracious reader, something that we had in common. My simple comment about the novel she was reading blossomed into a conversation about books; subtly, I laced hints of my suspicions into our conversation. You like books about psychology? Me too—I’m especially interested in mental disorders. It didn't take long before Carson hopped into my seat and, in a secretive manner, leaned her head close to mine.
"How long have you known," she asked, gesturing to the cuts engrained in her arms. I shrugged.
"Since I saw you," I replied honestly. "But I'm guessing that there's more to the story than what I see."
Carson nodded. We sat for a moment in awkward silence and, because she'd just unveiled a large piece of her enigma; she'd revealed something very personal to me, who was still kind of a stranger. I felt the need to share something in return. So, although friends of eight years didn't know this, I leaned toward her and admitted that I had an eating disorder.
"Me too," was her reply.
My intuition whispered that there was still more she wasn’t telling me.
"Are you suicidal as well?"
Carson nodded. Although I wanted to continue my conversation with this oddly intriguing girl, the bus was entering my neighborhood. Hastily we exchanged numbers, and I stepped off the bus into the blazing sunlight. The walk from the bus stop to my house gave me a brief chance to think. At that point I was hopeful; finally, I'd found another girl who understood the hell that came with eating disorders. At last, I had someone who could relate to me.
I didn't realize the deluge of insanity I was unleashing upon myself. I had no way to know that madness simmered under a thinly concealed facade. And, unfortunately for me, I was about to unknowingly ensnare myself in the madness.
In the weeks that followed, Carson and I became closer; she invited me to sleepover at her house. I agreed—Carson was the first girl I'd met who was willing to talk deeply with me. So on a slightly frigid night, my mom dropped me off at her house.
On that night, our friendship was born. It was born quickly and effortlessly; Carson was in desperate need of someone to talk to about her many issues. I was a self proclaimed listener. That night in the comfort of her stuffed-animal filled bed, she told me her story, uncensored.
It began when she was ten or eleven and fell into the tangle of a nasty eating disorder. She was sent to treatment and upon returning, her grandma died. To cope, she began cutting. In the years to follow her eating disorder would make a reprise, she would attempt suicide a dozen times (literally), and her cutting would become severe to the point of hospitalization. She'd just returned from her second round of treatment and was having trouble adjusting.
As she told of her struggles I listened patiently. Afterward we sat in sleepy silence, and inwardly I thought okay, this is the part where you ask me what my story is. But in comparison to Carson’s, my troubles were nonexistent. I waited several minutes before asking if she wanted to hear my story. Sure, she said. So I told her that I'd developed my eating disorder at the age of twelve. I was a restrictor, and at my lowest was a few pounds shy of the diagnoses "anorexia." At the age of thirteen I admitted to my parents, whom I am extremely close to, that I thought I had a problem with food. Responding appropriately, they took me to a psychologist who declared I had eating disorder Not Otherwise Classified. I've been struggling through recovery ever since. I kept my story short, sweet, and to the point, fearing that she didn’t really care.
Although I learned Carson's story that night, I only dipped my toe into her surface of her mind. I didn't know what lurked further down in her deeper, murkier areas.
It wasn't long before I came to know the insane, manipulative Carson. She revealed that piece of herself slowly; at first the insanity only leaked through email. At all hours of the day she sent me emails consisting of desperate, crazed words. There was absolutely no logic in her. Carson ranted that she was the living devil, the antiChrist, the supreme evil. What have you done to deserve this? I would ask. I was born, she would reply. Carson would throw tantrums that she was so big and fat and ugly, "forgetting" that I weighed a good 15 pounds more than she. Carson's negativity rivaled that of the Grinch's, and often conflicted with my zest for life. Soon I found that her negative attitude was both venomous and contagious. Carson would constantly complain that there was no redemption for what she'd done so she should just die. I pointed out that rather than trying to kill herself to "save everyone from her evil nature," she should try to do something positive with her life—our school provides ample service opportunities. Her reply? Eh. Not now. I translated that to mean "I enjoy drowning in my misery and making other people feel sorry for me."
It didn't take long to discover that Carson was obsessed with the spotlight. If she wasn't the center of all conversation, I could expect an extra large and suicidal cyber tantrum. When she and I first became friends, I had hoped for someone to talk to when I was stressed, someone who would understand. However, Carson couldn't mentally handle hearing about anyone else's problems; she felt the need to keep the title of Sickest and Most Mentally Disturbed. She said that she wasn't good at anything but her disorders and because that was her forte, no one else could be “good” at it.
Despite the cons of our relationship, I forced myself to see Carson in a positive light. We began writing a novel together and starred in our school's play; the sleepovers continued.
The way I saw it, Carson was, in a sense, broken. I was her crutch. After some time, she’d mend and learn to walk on her own but until then, I was helping her out.
A large turning point in our relationship occurred on New Year's Eve. Her family hosted a party and invited my family; we donned our nice apparel, brought a dish of cookies, and went. Carson and I escaped up to her room, which was very familiar to me by then. As usual, her mental issues cropped up in our conversation (in fact, it was rare that we talked about things other than her disorders). This time however, my intuition—which had proven time and time again to be painfully accurate—told me that Carson was tap dancing around a bigger secret. One of her favorite games to play was "I'm going to hint at what's wrong but not tell you so you ask me and I get more attention," but I was fed up with that game. Despite my annoyance, I cajoled and probed until she came clean; Carson admitted that she’d been lying to her parents and had been cutting again. Calmly, robotically, I responded that she could either tell her parents or I could. I didn’t know what else to do.
Carson went absolutely ballistic. First she tried crying, pleading me not to tell her parents. Teary-eyed, she sobbed that she’d be sent back to treatment. When I remained firm in my resolve, she switched to the next tactic—she threw threats at me the way players fling Angry Birds into buildings. Carson threatened to spread rumors about me at school, tell mutual friends about my eating disorder, tell my parents that I’d been cutting (which was not true). I shut down—I blindly played a game on her laptop while listening to her yell. I didn’t know how to act, what to think, but the one thing I was sure of was that I would tell her parents. Nothing she could say would change that and if anything, her childish behavior made me more determined to tell her parents the truth. While in her room, she also accused me of not loving her/caring about her because I sat playing Tetris on her computer as she had a mental breakdown. Playing Tetris was my way of momentarily numbing myself; I didn’t want to deal with the drastic challenges of life, so I lost myself in the shifting shapes. She also screamed that if she was sent back to treatment it would be my fault entirely.
That accusation was the final straw; I snapped her laptop shut and left her room. On the way downstairs I realized that my iPod—which I’d kept in my pocket—was missing. Angrily I ran back into her room and demanded that she give my iPod back to me right now. Carson produced it and handed it back to me, glaring as she did so.
On the car ride home, I was silent. After my siblings, who had gone to the party to, where out of earshot I gave my parents the edited version of what had happened. I told them the bare minimum and asked that they please call the Dafontes and inform her parents that Carson had been cutting.
Then I went upstairs to my room, locked the door, and cried until my face was puffy and red. I cried until my eyes itched and I felt that there were no sobs left in me; I cried until my tears stained the carpet and mascara soiled my cheeks. Then I wiped my eyes, stood, touched up my makeup, and decided I was finished with the pity party. Time to move on, I told myself. Her tantrum was over, life goes on.
But Carson didn’t agree—my phone contained several angry messages from her. Great.
Later that month, our relationship was going further downhill. Our relationship wasn’t walking downhill, trying to maintain a decent pace; it was rolling unstoppably down a very, very steep hill, and picking up momentum. Carson’s tantrums were becoming wilder and more frequent. I became friends with a girl named Hayley, but she and I had to be careful about when we hung out—if we laughed in front of Carson, she’d get jealous. I needed to be prepared for Carson’s fits at any time of the day—in school, while I was doing my mountains of homework, at 2 am. During the second semester I began an AP course and consequently was up at all hours of the night to maintain my A average; I had no time for myself, let alone time to deal with Carson. At this point she was more of a burden than a friend. But I kept telling myself that things would get better, I was being a good friend, she’d be there for me if I needed her. I was lying to myself.
One day, I snapped. Lack of sleep, legions of homework, Carson’s tantrums, and other factors drove me to a point of maximum stress. In a trance I walked to the kitchen and began putting food in my mouth. At first I was eating normally, but as I spooned globs of mellifluous icing into my mouth I realized I was mini-bingeing. I looked around in horror at what I had eaten, and anxiety burst through me. Unthinkingly I ran to the kitchen sink, jabbed my fingers down my throat, and for the first time in my life, threw up what I’d eaten. Afterwards, numbness crept over me like a shadow slinking up a sidewalk.
I put everything back in order, as if nothing had happened. When my parents arrived home they’d never suspect anything. Guilt resounded in me, strong and potent, but the apathy I felt overwhelmed the guilt.
As I trudged back up the steps to my room (where my homework was waiting), I thought about my relationship with Carson. Long ago, I’d decided that I was her crutch. But what happens, I wondered, when a broken person leans on a breaking crutch?