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Opening Up

Essay By: Hannah

This is an essay about my experiences battling anorexia and the things I learned from this eating disorder.

Submitted:Nov 27, 2008    Reads: 73    Comments: 2    Likes: 1   

"Hey! I'm Hannah…I'm anorexic," I say as I'm shaking the hand of a person I am meeting for the first time. Okay, so maybe I'm not quite that direct, but I do have an uncommon tendency to be very open with people about my life. Many people are ashamed to talk about their problems to other people, but for some reason that I have yet to figure out, I will pour out my heart to people I barely even know. For a lot of people, my openness makes them uneasy. I can see them thinking to themselves "Why is she telling me this?" I was not always this open about my eating disorder but now I talk freely about the problems I have been through.
I can still remember my mom trying to explain the concept of anorexia when I was younger. We stood in the pouring rain at the Morganton Cemetery and she told me the story of my Aunt Sarah and how her refusal to eat healthily caused major health problems which ultimately resulted in her untimely death. As Sarah's body was lifted into the cold ground, I just could not grasp the idea that people would want to starve themselves. At the time I was unconcerned with my body image and counting calories. I confidently told my mom that I would never be like that. I was thoroughly convinced that I would never suffer such a problem-I liked ice cream too much.
I continued to eat with a carefree manner until the end of my freshman year in high school. That is when it all started. What some people might not understand is that the onset of an eating disorder does not just happen over night. It creeps up on you slowly before you realize what is happening. It starts with just wanting to lose a few pounds here or there. Before long, the control you have over your body image becomes too powerful to resist and it becomes more than just a habit, it becomes a lifestyle.
I can clearly remember the week that changed my eating style permanently. I was on a school trip at the end of 9th grade. It was a group of gung ho science fanatics going to the University of Illinois to participate in the National Science Olympiad competition. I was with a group of my friends that I always hung out with but I could not stop feeling like I did not belong. I will never forget the feeling of trying to participate in a conversation and being completely droned out in favor of someone else's story. I had been friends with the same people for years but I suddenly started noticing how much I was being ignored. I contemplated what was wrong with me for several days and finally decided that I must be the outcast because I was the fattest. I thought if I changed the way I looked and my weight that I might be more accepted in my group of friends. I started cutting little things out of my diet. I quickly progressed to claiming that I was not hungry when it was mealtime or lying and saying that I had already eaten when in reality, I had not. Over that summer, I got the art of excessively exercising and avoiding food as much as I could to near perfection. The next few months I developed better ways to get rid of my food.
It was kind of sick; I would feel the growling in my stomach and cherish it because I knew that with every meal I skipped, I would get skinnier. I marveled at the rate at which my clothes became too big for me with the all the weight I was losing. I thought my methods were fool proof and that I was incredibly sneaky, however, my methods did not go unnoticed by my parents or my friends. My mom started a daily routine of weighing me each night to monitor my weight. I would come up with ways to try to appear heavier on the scale such as sticking hand held weights in the pockets of my sweatshirts and putting on lots of heavy clothes and jewelry. I quickly found that these strategies were ineffective. The more I lost weight, the more worried and upset my parents got and eventually they sought help for me.
It was right after my sixteenth birthday when my mom told me that I had an appointment the next Tuesday to go see the doctor about my eating problems. My entire neighborhood was together having a party for one of the NFL playoff games. There I was just lying on the floor faking interest in the advances of the Panthers when my mom came and sat next to me. I knew that I was in trouble again when she started talking quietly to me about my how she was still worried about all the weight I was losing. Then, she dropped the bomb. She and my dad had talked and decided they could not deal with this by themselves anymore; I was going to a professional for help.
"Oh thanks mom, what a great birthday present! A trip to the doctors, just what I was wanting. I really appreciate that" I can remember saying coldly to her. I can still see the hurt in her eyes. She only wanted to help me and I was being unreasonable. Anorexia blinds you to the reality around you.
That first doctor's visit marked the beginning of my long road to recovery. I adamantly claimed to everyone that there was nothing wrong with me. At this point in my life, I was not so open about what I was going through. I tried everything I could think of to hide my problem so that I would avoid getting in trouble. Despite my efforts, the people around me could all see that the disease was taking over me; it actually is defined as a disease. People seem to think that eating disorders are just problems and the person diagnosed with them is the problem, but in reality, they are attributed to imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Part of the reason my situation was difficult to get over was because my eating disorder was coupled with depression. The two conditions tag team in a nasty cycle of self deprecation. The anorexia fuels the depression and vice versa. According to my therapist, once your body has been starved for long enough, your brain starts to see things in different ways, this being why anorexics look in the mirror and see themselves as "fat" even if they are not. The result is a feeling of hopelessness which only makes the person more unsatisfied with their appearance and fuels them to work harder to improve their body image.
Depression also greatly affected my running. I started running track in seventh grade and since has become a huge part of my life. If you take someone who worries about everything to the extent that I do and put them into a sport that demands intense mental and physical strength, the result can be an unreal amount of pressure and stress. My depression certainly did not help me deal with this stress effectively. In fact, I was consumed by the pressure to run well to the point that it became an obsession. It did not help when my times eventually began to get slower because my body did not have enough fuel to burn the extra calories. As it turns out, food is an essential part of any sport and cutting your caloric intake to a couple hundred calories a day did not mesh well with the demand of track.
I was in a half daze as I ran the sixteen laps of my four mile hard run around the track on the cloudy day in early April of 2006. My head was spinning and my legs were wobbling, but I kept going, infused with the desire to get faster and stronger. I knew that it was dangerous; I had only eaten 200 calories throughout the whole day, but I ignored that fact. The lines on the track criss-crossed across my field of vision, blurring into each other as my feet pounded unsteadily. After I finished, I remember stumbling onto the football field with the rest of the team to do drills. I suddenly could not stand up straight anymore. Everything I could see was in patches and fading into a blur. The coach came to see how I was and I tried to explain how terrible I felt, but he just urged me to continue along with the team. He did not realize just how bad I was until I was on the ground a minute later, completely passed out.
That day was about half way through the spring track season. My doctor and my parents insisted that I take a break from running. It was really hard for me to do because although I had more free time and less stress, I lost a huge part of my life.
I was under the impression that I was hiding my depression just as I thought I was concealing my ways to avoid food. As my situation progressed, I began to understand just how attentive the people in my life are. They all say I was a different person during that time period.
In my depressed anxiety, I could not bring myself to listen to my friends and family when they told me that there were people who cared about me and that I was putting myself in danger. I never stopped to recognize how much my friends really did care about me. I got lost in the disorder and completely forgot the reason that this whole issue started. I thought my friends did not like me because I was too "fat" or too "ugly". It never occurred to me that I was only making relationships with my friends and family worse by putting myself in danger and putting them through a lot of pain. I felt utterly and completely alone and hopeless. I thought that I would never be able to connect with anyone else again. Looking back, I can see how much support I had, even when I felt like I had no one in the world.
I recognize now that without a doubt that the love and support I had helped me tremendously through this period in my life. Knowing that there are people who care enough about you to protect you and guide you no matter how annoying you are acting, is a comforting feeling. Despite all of the backup I had, there was still something very daunting about the situation. I realized that people can help me, they can talk me through things, but ultimately it was me who had to make the change to solve my problem. There was not one person in this world who could fix the situation for me. This realization was frightening but it was also empowering. It was from that point on that I became more self-reliant and open.
These days I laugh easily and talk freely about the ordeal I suffered in those years. I joke about what I call my "happy pills" (otherwise known as the depression medication Prozac). I have put all the pain behind me to be able to reach this point. As for my relationships, I have seen an incredible difference in each of them. I am more outgoing with my friends and actually feel accepted and welcomed in their presence. I can confide my feelings in my parents and work through problems more effectively. It was strange to realize not too long ago that without this eating disorder, my life now would not be so comfortable, open, and easy-going. In a way, I owe a lot to that disease; it shaped who I am today.


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