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Posted Oct 18 2007 12:00am
There are some things in life you think will never happen to you. That’s the way it always is…until one day you look at yourself and say, “It DID happen to me. I’m exactly like that.” That’s how it was for me in college, the day I came to the realization that I had an eating disorder. I’d gone off to college with all the usual hopes and worries. I made new friends, went to classes, and had fun, but something just wasn’t right. I panicked over things, was more homesick than all my friends, and became more and more miserable. The whole new experience of college got to me and scared me. I adapted well, but it seemed to me that my once-tiny life was going every which way and I searched for something to control, without even realizing what I was doing.

I began to count the calories in everything I ate. It didn’t seem dangerous at the time, but soon I made limits for myself. It didn’t help that I was constantly critical of the way I looked. I needed a tan, shinier hair, more muscle, more height. I would tell myself that I had dry skin, dull hair, small breasts, not-white-enough teeth, and any other criticism I felt was true. I even went as far as to make the declaration that my eyelashes were too short. But of all these, the criticism I told myself the most was that there was too much fat on my body.

Thus, the restrictive behavior began. I cut back on food and I kept lists of what I ate, tallying every calorie like a never-ending math problem. During my second semester of my freshman year of college, I was thoroughly aware of how easy it would be to skip meals. There would be no parents keeping a watchful eye on me and I had any number of excuses ready if asked to dinner in the dining hall by one of my friends. I was hungry, but I just considered it a great accomplishment that I could conquer my hunger.

The semester progressed and so did my eating disorder. I ate 500 calories a day—on days I actually ate. I began to fast completely for as many as four days at a time. Then, ravenous with hunger, I’d eat a normal meal and feel horribly guilty. “Now you can’t eat for another four days,” I’d say. I knew I had a problem, so I went to the counseling center at my university and told them about it. No one else knew—not my parents, not my friends, not my then boyfriend—no one. My eating disordered behavior worsened. My friends were worried about me. They watched me all the time. It wasn’t long before the best friend I’d made at school confronted me. Sarah knocked on my door one day while I was crying in bed (a common occurrence in those days) and asked me through the door to let her in. She wanted to know what was going on, but I was afraid to tell her…afraid she wouldn't like me anymore…afraid she wouldn't want to live with me next year. She didn’t judge me at all and she didn’t think I was crazy. She sat there on my bed with me and listened while I cried out everything I’d been keeping to myself. She hugged me at the right moments and told me she would help me. She was relieved that I was going to counseling.

Spring break was approaching and I knew that when I saw my mother, my thinness would not be able to escape her intuitive eye. I contemplated keeping my eating disorder from my parents, entertaining the idea that I could “get better” by the time I went home. As my disorder only got harder, I came to the realization that I had to tell them what the dark circles beneath my eyes, my smaller breasts, and my pallor would tell them anyway. When I went home, things were emotional, but again none of my fears became reality. My mom found me an eating disorder specialist and scheduled me for counseling in my city.

I was surrounded by support and coping was easier, but my eating disorder was still there. I went tanning so I wouldn’t look so sick, I slept often, and I didn’t do very well in my classes. With the help of others, I stopped fasting and tried to eat at least one substantial thing each day. I stopped listing, but I was always mentally counting. When summer came, I was doing slightly better, but I was obsessed with weighing myself and my mom hid the scale because I smiled when I found out I was XX pounds. As the summer went on, I got better and better and I went to counseling regularly. I saw a nutritionist and decided to eat normally on and off. I found that counseling helped a lot and when my sophomore year of college began I was in a good place. I ate fairly well, had brought my weight up, and was still having sessions with my therapist over the phone. My boyfriend was back at college too and away from me, but I had the support of Sarah, now one of my roommates. Things went well, but only for a few weeks. I slowly slipped back fully into my eating disorder. I ate less and less and lost weight. I became irrational and emotional again. I took naps to save my energy. Everything was going downhill.

I couldn’t understand myself. Generally I was a happy young woman. I had good friends and a loving family. I had food and shelter and clothing. I was continuing my education. All these things were positive, but who was I? How did I classify myself? I could decide in an instant. The thin girl…actually, the skinny girl. I felt that I needed to keep that persona intact, especially in a big place like a university where I was no one. I began restricting again, making myself full with carrot sticks and dying for a scale. I was scared.

When I went to an amusement park one weekend with Sarah, I got colder and colder until I was shivering and my teeth were chattering. I felt miserable and the worst part of it was that everyone else was fine. When we left the amusement park that night I saw that my lips were blue and it took me at least half an hour to get warm inside Sarah’s heated car. When we got back to our dorm, I almost passed out, which happened sometimes, so I immediately sat down on the floor and knelt with my head to my knees to make the feeling go away. Sarah got me water and demanded that I tell her what was wrong. We talked for a long while she said she’d never leave my side throughout college and that she would help me in any way she could. It meant a lot to me to have someone say that.

A few days later when I took a shower a lot of my hair came out. With many long dark strands wrapped around my hands and my pink towel around me, I called Sarah to the bathroom and showed her. Meaningfully, she said, “This is your worst nightmare, so you know what you have to do.” She meant: EAT. I nodded and laughed nervously to cover my alarm that came from seeing my long hair somewhere other than on my head.

I wished it was as simple as saying “EAT” and doing it. I was losing weight and when my parents came to visit me they noticed. I couldn’t even buy this pair of boots I loved, because they slipped down my legs. My weight dropped to about XX pounds. I was at that physical stage where every pound mattered a lot; I was so thin that even one pound less made a difference in my health and strength. I didn’t feel like myself at all. I liked to avoid calling my disorder Anorexia, but that’s what it is. The word sounded nasty. It also seemed scary and powerful and I didn’t like to think of myself as “anorexic.” I was Arielle and Anorexia was what had me in its clutches. I wanted more than anything to be stronger than Anorexia. Later on, instead of criticizing myself in front of the mirror, I began to tell myself what great people were sticking by me. Instead letting Anorexia have the upper hand, I told myself I would be stronger if I had control over myself.

I still consider myself to have an eating disorder because I’m still dealing with a lot of the mental and physical aspects of it, but I feel stronger and I try to remember that there is more to being me than being thin. All I want to do is live, and knowing that people in my life care about me is one of the things that kept (and keeps) me alive.

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