(May 25, 2013 –> August 10, 2014 –> August 24,2014 –> May 15, 2015)
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”
My story begins with a little girl who only wanted to fit in. I remember at a very young age, I began feeling insecure with myself due to the fact I started developing when I was ten. I was developing a woman’s body before most other girls and felt so much bigger. I never gave a thought to what I ate back then, just went home and had whatever I wanted and didn’t really exercise.
In the summer of 2010, I started a new school, since we moved out of state. I had such high expectations to meet a lot of people and to fit in. As a month went by, I didn’t feel as noticed as I had hoped. I started feeling a little out of place and lonely, as I missed my friends. I remember my brother getting the family to join the gym over the winter to stay active. This idea excited me because I wanted to start shaping my body. I began my awareness of nutrition labels and read up on fitness and health tips on the internet. Of course, with today’s technology I stumbled across many sources of fad diets: “Blast 1000 calories per hour” “Trim down this summer” “Eat this, NOT that”. This made me very aware of what I was eating and I knew if I wanted results I would do whatever it took. I am a very driven person.
When we went to the gym, the treadmill was the first place I went. That equaled burning calories and losing fat. I would eat ¼ cup oatmeal cooked in water with some cinnamon and called it breakfast. No one really noticed until my dad weighed me one day at the gym and I was 90 lbs. We were both shocked! I actually thought I hadn’t lost any but this was one of the first things of that I felt proud of. This was the day I met my ED.
A couple of months later in January when I lost more weight, my mom took me to a pediatrician. This was the day I was diagnosed with anorexia. I was in total denial. My mom didn’t really believe it either until I met with my first treatment team. They told me all I needed to do to GAIN weight, and that sounded absolutely crazy to me! I refused any advice they gave me. I would fill up my jeans with quarters before weigh-ins, even though it made my jeans fall down my shrinking legs. I would drink one or two water bottles before and hoped the number wouldn’t be lower. This only worked until one day the scale read 82.
There was no negotiating; treatment was the only option left. I was sent to Roger’s Memorial Hospital in Wisconsin. I was 13 and had never been away from my parents for too long. I still remember the tears on my mother’s face when she left me in the inpatient facility. I spent a week there and was then sent to the residential house which was a lot nicer and homier. I met a lot of sweet girls there. I began wanting to get better but I was still holding on to my ED. I tracked what I ate and never challenged myself. I was hardly ever able to meet with my therapist and didn’t focus on building myself a good foundation when I returned home. Once I reached about 96 lbs., I wanted to go home. I didn’t continue with an outpatient team because I felt confident. Obviously, I was young and naïve and relapse was just around the corner for me.
I lost the weight within a blink of an eye. At the beginning of my freshmen year, I was mentally drained and weighed around 80 lbs. My neighbor was a doctor and always was worried about me and my condition. He checked my pulse one day with my parents and it was extremely low. He recommended that I go to the hospital the next day because the chance of a heart attack was in my favor; I was terrified. How could I possibly be that sick again? I was checked into the ICU and had my first IV stuck into my arm which was absolutely horrifying. I was pumped with fluids and given pills the size of my thumb for electrolytes. I had to stay there for a week while my parents looked for another center to send me to. We didn’t really have many options around us. Another close option was River Centre Clinic in Ohio. After I was more stable from a week of fluids, I was sent there.
River Centre was probably one of the worst decisions we have made for my recovery. It began with counting every exact calorie. They were so strict with making sure I had exact calories that I had to eat frozen meals and packaged products. Nothing fresh was ever given to us like fresh produce or meat. Their philosophy was that if we challenged our eating disorder with all those “fear foods”, it would help us mentally in the long run by emphasizing that a “calorie is a calorie” no matter if from a chocolate bar or a big bowl of fruit. I cannot imagine how this mentally overwhelmed teens with binge/purge habits. I knew exactly how many calories I was on a day and had to make meal plans for myself. I sometimes had to eat Poptarts, Skittles, Little Debbie’s, and Hungry Man meals all in one day. The next day didn’t vary much either. This was not balance or moderation. I am only 5’1 and I left that place 2 months later at 110 lbs. and my therapist wanted me even higher! I should mention that she wasn’t a certified dietician. This was a huge set up for failure due to the fact I was already a huge perfectionist and this concept didn’t expose me to flexibility.
I was extremely unhappy with my body. I felt repulsive and couldn’t focus on anything else but the fat rolls that developed at my mid-section. I never had been that heavy and since I didn’t do any activity, I felt lazy and like I didn’t deserve to eat those things. I began restricting my intake once again to lose a few pounds. I had no intention on relapsing at that point, but I wanted to feel better about myself.
Around this time, school hadn’t gotten much better. I was shy most of the time and definitely felt insecure since people knew about my eating disorder and I wasn’t “thin” anymore. A boy at school grabbed my arm one day and told me: “At least you have some meat on you now.” That stuck with me the entire day and even longer. I had a friend name Mary who started changing. She had a twin that was intolerant to almost everything from gluten to dairy. I noticed Mary started acting like that. She stopped buying the school lunch and started bringing salads and drinking diet drinks. I knew she had to be freezing because she became thin that winter and started bundling up more. She was sick a lot and missed school. I knew this was the start of anorexia. At first it didn’t bother me but I feel like on a subconscious level that this would have been a trigger for me on top of all the other stress I had going on.
I was more vulnerable to my ED around the holidays. Winter meant less time outside in the sun, less activity, big family get togethers with lots of rich foods, and the start of school. All of those things terrified the monster in my head. Restricting only worsened with these factors as I continued to try to mold myself to be like the other girls. The only thing I had to look forward to was my dad coming home one day saying that we could move back to Tennessee. I automatically agreed. I wanted to start new again and leave all that behind.
In spring of 2013, we made the move back to my beloved state. I felt happy and excited to be able to start over; however, ED did not stay in Michigan. My first day felt awkward because it was the end of the year and everyone was finishing up their course. I met Riley within a few weeks. He became my first friend. I first saw him in my English class and I still remember the chills I felt when he smiled at me from across the room. We started talking at school and on the phone. I thought this was going to be good and take my mind off the things that were eating away at me.
Unfortunately, I was losing weight quickly by the time school got out for the summer. I was sent to The Renfrew Center in Florida from June to August. This was a better experience from the others because of the increased freedom and a better support team. I had gained more insight about my problems and really tried to challenge that there. The thing I can look back at that I lacked was the coping skills. I still remained introverted most of the free time we had and instead of finding new hobbies and socializing, I spent most of my time in my head, doing crosswords, and not really fixing the one thing I needed to change to really feel better about myself. I still made friends but I guess I felt like I didn’t want to make too many close relationships if I knew I would lose it all. I continued with the day treatment when returning home for about a month until I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I was tired of the endless amount of supplements and being told the same things over and over. I wanted to start school like a normal teenager and be home with my family more. I wish I had listened and had been patient. I didn’t want to lose any of the weight I gained, but I didn’t want to gain more weight either. For once, I felt happy in my skin and was positive I could adjust my eating habits so I could maintain. Recovery only lasted 3 months this time.
Riley became my first boyfriend. This was probably the only thing that kept my spirits and motivation high through the cold, brittle winter until I got to the critical point again. I was losing weight like it was going out of style. I sometimes didn’t understand why it was so easy. Other girls didn’t eat breakfast or lunch, so why not me? Making the decision to tell my parents that I could not recover at home and to send me away for the 4th time was a bittersweet choice. It was the best choice I had made for myself in those past few years. My mom wanted me to take control of my life and choose recovery; she wasn’t going to force me to go anywhere. Even though I knew the struggles I would be facing in treatment, it was going to be better than having my heart stop in school one day.
Remuda Ranch saved my life. When I was admitted, the nurses were horrified by how severely thin I was. My heart rate would not even be found on the machine, nor could they draw blood from me for the first week. I was lucky that bed rest and a feeding tube were not forced upon me. This is where I truly made some actions to better my mind. I stopped counting calories. It was hard, but I did it because I knew that I would never get better if I didn’t stop the one thing that always made me relapse. I also wrote in my journal most days. I encouraged the other girls with words of wisdom from my past mistakes and made many good relationships while I was there. I felt like mentally, I was there, but the physical aspect wasn’t catching up as fast. This held me back from getting to the higher programs and made me very impatient.
Once I finally got medically cleared, I was able to move up. I embraced the freedoms and challenges of everyday life. I even got to ride horses which cleared my mind. However, there was nothing I wanted more than to just go home. I called my parents every night, but only having 15 minutes to talk wasn’t enough when I had so much to say. I had honestly never felt so mentally healthy and free from my ED at this point. I was comfortable eating a variety of foods even though I still had a lot to work on. I tried so hard to convince them I could come home and continue gaining weight until I was healthy. As much as I begged every night, they still wanted me to wait longer.
My therapist came up to me with shocking news one day that my insurance had been cut. I had to go home or my parents would have to pay out of pocket. As exciting as that was, I suddenly felt like I wasn’t completely ready; I knew I would have to face it sooner or later. Before I knew it, I was on a plane to go home. That was my first time flying by myself and it was quite an adventure. I would miss the warm Arizona days that I fell in love with. However, seeing my parents and being home was a dream come true, as if God had been listening to me.
I promised my parents that I would continue with an outpatient program since I wouldn’t be returning to school that year. The stressors of school would have caused me to struggle and possibly relapse- something I have learned from past mistakes. I was homeschooled to get the rest of my credits. I did end up leaving the program after about two months. I felt like it was getting me nowhere because they never challenged me there and I was among older adults instead of girls my age. It was monotonous to hear other people’s struggles when I was already past that. That summer I spent a lot of time trying to get myself together. I didn’t really do much but I think it was what I needed to work through some things and adjust to reality.
That summer, I began my recovery account on Instagram. This account has really helped me more than most support groups I have been in. I have met so many strong people that have inspired me every single day. Not only do I receive good advice, it makes me feel like I’m not alone. That there are girls in different places in their recoveries but we all are working our hardest to beat the one evil thing we have in common.
In my free time I made “recovery bracelets”. Being creative and making these really kept my mind occupied and I got to reach out to so many individuals. I have sent over 100 bracelets to recovering girls around the world. This was a life changing experience for me. No one made me do it nor did I ask for any money in exchange. I wanted these beautiful girls to have something that represents their strength. A reminder that no matter how hard they struggle, they could stay strong. Also, to remind them that they are never alone and that they are GOOD ENOUGH. I will never forget some of the responses I received. I still keep in contact with a lot of people that I met through that because they helped me in so many ways. I tried my best to provide them with the most honest advice I could give. I don’t wish for anyone to go down the road I have.
Recovery is a work-in-progress. You have to fall on your face several times before you can walk on your own. I may need someone to hold my hand sometimes so I don’t slip, and that is okay. I have learned to be patient and to not beat myself up if I don’t make the right move. I sometimes wonder why God chose this path for me. Maybe it was to grow as a person or maybe it was so I could help other people. Whatever the reason, I don’t have regrets. I feel that every struggle makes you stronger and I have matured greatly through all this. (I even learned how to do laundry which is an IMPORTANT life skill)
Yes, I am also still working on some issues because I am far from perfect. I have different goals in my life now. I want nothing more than to be strong and healthy. I love to work out because it actually makes me feel good instead of just to burn calories. I may not have a “flat stomach” or rockin’ abs, but that’s not something that should control my happiness. I want to work with people to help them better understand nutrition and to be able to reflect on my own experiences.
I strongly feel like God has sent an angel to watch over me. He has given me so much faith and so many chances to beat this. There were so many times that I could have just collapsed on the floor or never woken up from my sleep, but I have been protected. I won’t let myself down anymore. I started my own self recovery called Minnie Maud and it’s been so beneficial! My metabolism is on fire and so fast now! I don’t do that much exercise but some strength training at the moment and I am feeling so strong! 💪 In short, eat lots, exercise to feel good, and learn to trust your body. I don’t freak out if I miss a workout because your body needs breaks and it uses all you feed it. I hope you realize you have the power to overcome anything that brings you down. I know I have.
I am Emily, and I am stronger than I ever have been.