Thursday, October 18, 2007

Work In Progress

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 xxx 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.



Emily Jolie said...

Hi Arielle,

Thank you for sharing. You write beautifully, and I agree that it's tremendously helpful to read about the experience others have had with their ED... and inspiring to read about how they've pulled through and left the ED behind!

The blogworld has been so instrumental for me in feeling less alone with my disorder! I have connected with such wonderful individuals through blogging and even met a number of them in person! It's amazing how the Internet can connect us!

much love to you,


Arielle said...

Thanks for visiting, Emily. Hopefully this blog will grow and grow. I have high hopes for it. :) It is definitely true what you said about the internet connecting people and inspiring people. There are so many ways to share and help. I hope you'll stop by again.


Anonymous said...

Hi Arielle,
I found your blog by accident, but the truth is...nothing is really ever by accident is it?
Five years ago I started counting, listing - always mentally. I knew the calorie count for *everything* and lived on water, apples, and sometimes vegetarian soups. I was running five miles a day - burning tons of calories, eating maybe 800 on average. It seemed FINE to me at the time, even though I was already tall and thin, I wanted to be 'smaller'.
I was emotional, irrational, and totally out of control. I lost my friends, my boyfriend, I started failing classes I'd pulled As in, I stopped wanting to go to work. But I thought I looked great so I didn't care.
I left the country a year later and stopped worrying about food so much simply because I was surrounded by strange things and had to eat something.
I'm back in the States now and find myself starting to calculate what I'm eating, feeling guilty over bread and cheese (things I never touched when I was in my disorder.) I guess it never really leaves us...I want to be healthy, to feel good, but I love food...there's got to be a healthy balance.
My hair started falling out about three years ago but I ever realized it was because of the lack of nutrition - duh! :)
My hair is the one thing that keeps me eating now - it was gorgeous, lustrous - and now it's thin and makes me wish I'd seen what I was doing to myself sooner.
Keep writing! XO.

Arielle said...


It's so true that nothing is ever by accident. I'm glad you found this blog and I hope you will visit again; I'd love hearing from you. Thanks for sharing all that you did with me in your comment. I know what it's like to feel the need for understanding. I know where you're coming from and I wish you all the best. Stay strong and keep striving for that healthy balance. I am rooting for you. Come again soon. You are always welcome. :)


Anonymous said...

I can't really think of anything i need to write, or need to express...I think being able to write as you do on your blog might really help me find out what is even going on in my head. I had a similar experience to you...and I'm still trying to figure out what it was that i was family? confidence? comfort? I transferred colleges and thought the new one was going better...but once the regular routine set in again, i feel the cloud of depression over me again. This time, because i'm being so carefully watched, i feel a pressure to eat more. and i do. I still recognize that I restrict my eating during the day, but sometimes at night, when im alone in my dorm i get so soo hungry. and i eat a LOT. to the point where i feel sick. has aaanyone else experienced anything like this? it scares me, and i dont know how to stop.

Thank you, thank you, though, for starting this site. knowing annnyone is feeling something remotely near what im feeling is enormously encouraging.

Arielle said...

Anonymous (from Oct. 27th),

I'm glad you found this blog! I'm so happy you came here and I hope you'll visit again often. If you can't think of anything to write, I think it's great that reading can help you figure yourself out.

It sounds like you're going through a rough time. I know how difficult it can be to struggle under the watchful eyes of others and all alone in your room at night. I can only offer my ears if you need someone to talk to, but I hope that if you really feel alone you will email. At the very least, know that you are not alone.

You said: "I still recognize that I restrict my eating during the day, but sometimes at night, when im alone in my dorm i get so soo hungry. and i eat a LOT. to the point where i feel sick. has aaanyone else experienced anything like this? it scares me, and i dont know how to stop."

I used to restrict so badly that sometimes, when I would allow myself to eat after days of fasting, I would shovel food in my mouth as though I would never eat again. I recall a time in particular as I write this to you when I allowed myself to eat a muffin after a class (in college). As I sat down outside of my next class, I dropped the half-eaten muffin and it rolled away from me on the hall floor. I was so terribly upset that I was almost near tears because I was so hungry. The fact that I did not get to eat the rest of the muffin made me so damn mad. If people hadn't been around, I think I would have eaten off the floor. As it was, I threw it away. But the incident made me feel sort of crazy.

Anonymous, even if you are not sure what is going on with yourself, there is always some kind of help available. I feel obligated to say that because I hate that you feel so down and out. But if all you are looking for at this point in time are open ears and some friendly words, please know you can find it here.

Even if you only have a question (or two or three:) you can email me at any time. I wish you the best and hope we can "talk" again soon. Have a good weekend...I am thinking of you.


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