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When I was a child, my step-sister was so severely anorexic she had destroyed some of her organs and lost the ability to have her own children. She and her husband had adopted a Korean boy, but shortly after he arrived, she ended up in a treatment center for eating disorders. At 5’5", she weighed only 85 pounds. After she recovered, I saw her and the toll anorexia had taken on her body. Pictures of her in her younger years showed a happy, long-haired beauty with rosy cheeks and a bright smile. Now, her hair was brittle and choppy, her skin pale, and with no smile to be seen. Something was odd about her back, like she was sort of hunched over. Even though she was in her thirties, she looked close to 50.
"I will never be anorexic," I told myself. Her desire to want to be thin had turned her hideous. I felt so sorry for her, and at age nine I had no understanding of how she had gotten that way.
In high school, two of my girlfriends suffered from eating disorders. One was so anorexic, I confronted her mother about how thin she was becoming. Another friend confided in me that she was taking excessive laxatives to lose weight. At the time, no one in my group knew that was actually bad for your health.
I’m not really sure when my disorder started. My first recollection was freshman year in college. A close friend showed up unannounced at my house and I was in the bathroom vomiting. When I saw him in my living room and acted way too shocked, he asked, “Are you ill or did you just throw up on purpose?” I can’t recall the conversation that followed, but I do remember him holding me tightly while I cried.
My eating disorder, or Ed as I now call it, rears his ugly head from time to time when I start feeling really bad about myself. I hide him really well from friends and family. Aside from that friend in college, no one else knew about Ed until I was hospitalized in December of 2006. I was so depressed and suicidal, but also taking orders from Ed, so I was placed in the Eating Disorders Unit of Sheppard Pratt Hospital.
For nine days inpatient and 16 days outpatient, I did not use the bathroom without permission, and even then a staff would have to inspect what I did in the toilet before it could be flushed. If patients did not make what staff deemed “ideal” weight in the morning, we were not allowed to take a shower for the day. There was not enough seating in the locked unit for the number of patients, so many of us had to sit on the floor. If we were caught tapping a foot, stretching, or doing anything that could possibly burn a calorie, we were yelled at like misbehaved children. Ed had put me in prison and I cleaned up my act as fast as I could to get out of there. Three friends knew I was hospitalized because I begged them to come visit me in hell. When I hadn’t called my mother in a week, she left a voicemail stating, “If you don’t call me back today, I am calling the police.” So I had to let her in on my secret about Ed too.
No one, including my parents, knew how to talk about Ed. It’s like he’s the white elephant standing in the room. Even today, if I bring Ed up to my parents, they change the subject like it is the most difficult topic in the world to discuss.
If they could ask me about Ed, I would tell them he’s an addiction. Just like smoking, I can’t seem to keep myself away from him. It’s gotten so bad that I beg my boyfriend to go grocery shopping with me so I won’t buy foods I would normally binge on. The nights he doesn’t stay with me are nights that I struggle not to turn to Ed. For me, it’s not so much about the struggle to be thin. It’s the short-lived desire to feel good about eating the food and then the short-lived desire to feel good about getting rid of the food. But afterwards, Ed makes me feel like a horrible, worthless, weak, stupid person who should definitely be able to stop doing this to herself.
For me, Ed is just as bad as depression. They go together and feed off each other to push me further and further down into a dark hole. At least there is medicine for depression. So far as I know, no one’s been able to combat Ed with a pill.
I’m not giving up and I know a few things so far. I know to ask for help because I can’t beat Ed on my own. At age 9, I didn’t want to become my sister and now I’ve almost become her. I don’t want people looking at me the way I did at her when I was a child. I’ve got to stop!