Most people have heard of anorexia nervosa, but not many people truly know the reality of the eating disorder. Like most mental disorders, this one requires a lot of therapy and self-reflection—not somebody forcing the sufferer to "just eat." In reality, anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental disorders and 1.0% to 4.2% of women have suffered from it in their lifetime—and it happened to me.
The medical definition of anorexia is "an emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat." My definition would also include waking up every morning and calculating your self-worth based on the number on the scale, pushing away everybody in your life, working out until you feel like you're going to faint, and being tormented by your own brain every time you try to sit down and eat.
Prior to high school, I had been happy and carefree. I was a performer my whole life, singing and acting, so I was never shy or nervous about anything. I grew up in the same elementary school as a close group of friends.
It all started in the ninth grade. That year, I went to a new private school. This was my first major life transition, and I was incredibly anxious.
Within that first month, I decided that since I couldn't control all the craziness in my life, I needed to control something else. I felt like I wasn't good enough in many regards such as academics, sports and looks, so I decided that I needed to lose weight. I'm a vegetarian and I've always been a picky eater, so my eating habits were easily dismissed by my family.
By December, I had lost weight and was loving the results. That said, I was always on the thinner side, and I was now eating a dangerously low amount of calories per day and recording all of it in a journal. I was also working out every single day for up to two hours. I obsessively weighed myself and measured all of my body parts with measuring tape.
In March, things really plummeted. I began to notice some side effects of the anorexia. I was cold all the time and my nails and hair were thin and weak. I began to bruise very easily and started to get a lot of headaches. Rumours began to spread around school that I was anorexic and I lost a lot of my friends. I was quiet and withdrawn, completely different from the outgoing and popular girl I had once been.
My parents started to notice that something was wrong, but my eating-disordered brain was convinced that I was fine. Despite being told that I was showing symptoms of anorexia, I refused to go to treatment.
Tenth grade started and I had a new circle of friends. I also started dating a guy in my grade. Everything was going well for me academically, socially, and romantically. This kept the eating disorder from intensifying, and things were normal for a while.
In January, the eating disorder came back for round two. I had spent first semester modelling and when I saw my photos, I saw that I had gained weight. I went for my check-up and it was confirmed—I had gained back almost all of the weight that I'd lost. This sent me into panic mode. Lucky for my disorder, I already knew how to lose the weight, so I just went back to my old habits.
This heavily strained my relationship and friendships. This time around, I had a great support circle and my boyfriend was supportive as well, but I was very private about my struggle. I was used to inconsistent people in my life, and my eating disorder seemed to be the only thing that was consistent.
That summer, it continued to get worse. I was fighting a lot with my boyfriend and had my first real job at a summer camp. I was gone all day and was able to decide what I ate, which was very little. I began looking for external validation, not unlike what I did in the ninth grade, and found it in all the wrong places. I made a lot of mistakes and used my disorder as a form of self-punishment.
I didn't love myself anymore—I had lost all of that. I started the eleventh grade quite sick but convinced that I could stop any time I wanted to. That was a major flaw in eating disorder logic. I had no control, but yet, I thought I had all the control. I started seeing a therapist briefly, but I wasn't totally honest with her, so it didn't help me. My disorder steadily worsened as the semester dragged on, but it didn't hit a low until December.
My boyfriend and I broke up after over a year together. This being my first love and my first break-up, I was completely shattered. I wasn't sure how to cope other than to stop eating. I threw myself into that vortex yet again, and this time, I let it take over with a vengeance.
That's when I started to hit rock bottom. I was unable to feel hunger because it was replaced by excruciating stomach pain. I was withering away to nothing. I was weak, dizzy and unable to walk up a flight of stairs—let alone run in gym class. My heart would flutter abnormally and occasionally hammer so hard in my chest, I had to lie down. My entire body was hurting, and yet, I pretended that nothing was wrong to everyone in my life.
That May, I finally saw myself the way everyone else did. I was thin and pale, I wasn't eating, and I was obsessed with working out. Thoughts of food and numbers plagued me every second of the day. Food was no longer enjoyable to me and meal times became a chore.
I finally realized that I had no control. The more things changed in my life or stressed me out, the worse I got. I was compensating losing control by trying to control my body, but I wasn't in control of it anymore. It was in control of me.When I finally went to the doctor's, I was immediately referred to a treatment centre. That was how I started senior year.
The first step was a very lengthy physical examination. I was put in one of those ugly hospital gowns and I had to answer a thousand questions about my disorder and how it started.
Then, the physical side started. A variety of tests showed the real damage anorexia was doing to my body. My heartbeat was, in fact, irregular. My heart was working too hard to supply oxygen to my body. They informed me that had I kept this going, I could have had a spontaneous heart attack. Being told at 17 years old that your heart was close to quitting was quite the wake-up call.
My blood work showed low levels of basically everything. Iron, B vitamins, calcium, you name it. My fingers were constantly turning purple. I had gotten used to it, but the doctor told me it was poor circulation. My stomach pains weren't in my head, either. They were caused by a shrunken stomach and stomach acid constantly churning around with no food to absorb it.
After the physical exam came the therapy. I was outpatient, so I only had to go in once a week to get my weight checked and talk to the psychologist. I had my heart and blood checked periodically.
Living with anorexia wasn't really living, it was just existing. Despite the challenge of treatment, I wanted my life back so badly. I guess I had some sort of epiphany, because I suddenly realized that I could have whatever life I wanted. I got to choose, and I was going to choose a life free of anorexia.
The summer after graduating, I felt like I had truly beaten this disorder. I was nervous to start university, afraid the transition would trigger a relapse, but I decided to be fearless and jump right in.
It was a rocky start and having to be responsible for myself and my food was difficult at first. Normally, my mom would tell me my meal plan for the day and prepare my food. In first year, I had to figure it out myself. It was hard, but with my determination to beat anorexia, I put all my effort into staying healthy.
I'm now in second year and feeling so grateful that I was able to beat this. It changed my life forever and will probably always be a part of me, but I'm no longer afraid of it. This was a huge part of my life, but I didn't let it kill me. I grew from it and will continue to grow.Anorexia chose the wrong target when it chose me, and I'm proud to say that I fought it. I finally feel lighter now, and in the right way.