I woke up one morning when I was 15 and decided to stop eating. Was there a specific reason for that decision? Not really. I don’t remember saying to myself, “Well ___ happened so now I have to starve myself.” But looking back, armed with the knowledge I have now, I clearly see how the development of an eating disorder (ED) coincided with the early symptoms of my bipolar disorder and in my particular case ended up becoming my primary coping mechanism for dealing with the total chaos that had taken over my teenage body and misfiring brain.
I was extremely sensitive — as many teenage girls are — but imagine that typical sensitivity intensified exponentially by a blossoming mood disorder. Add to the equation a natural tendency toward perfectionism along with a competitive drive to be the best at EVERYTHING…well let’s just say for me it was the perfect storm.
The need for attention, the insatiable drive to compete with other girls on every level and desire to maintain a sense of control certainly contributed to my illogical thinking. Regardless of what led me to the decision to stop eating I ultimately used it to cope with my out of control emotions which in reality just intensified my mood swings. Walking around starving all the time heightened the anxiety and agitation that was already present. Checking the mirror literally 100 times a day to see if I got fatter from the 3 carrots I ate tired me emotionally and defeated me. I became obsessed with food and how I looked compared to everyone else around me. This obsession took over my life to the point I no longer cared about getting straight A’s or winning races because I had no energy left to care. Anger would rage one day while numbness and apathy overwhelmed me the next. I never knew which part of me I would wake up to. I was trapped in a vicious cycle.
During the early stages of my ED I suffered mainly from depression and would often have no desire or energy to eat. But I clearly remember one day flipping through the channels on tv and stumbling upon a show about eating disorders. The girl being interviewed was there because she made herself throw up after every meal. At first I was appalled but that didn’t last very long before I was convinced that this behavior was the answer to my struggle. Was it really possible to actually eat — a lot — and then get rid of it and not have to feel guilty for eating? It seemed so perfect!
One characteristic of my mania back then was a sense of invincibility. Consequences for my actions did not exist in my mind. When I heard about bulimia that day I only paid attention to what I believed to be the answer to my prayers and immediately fell in love with the idea of bingeing and was overcome with excitement to finally eat.
Looking at my reflection in the mirror I simply said, “Screw this not eating crap” ran to the kitchen and ate everything I could get my hands on. It was such a rush being able to do whatever I wanted knowing there was a way to deal with it afterward.
It was not long before my ED became entangled in the vicious cycles of my mood swings. When I was depressed I starved myself. When I was feeling invincible I decided it was ok to eat whatever I wanted. Giving myself permission to eat whatever I wanted granted me an overwhelming sense of relief and intensified the high of my mania. Either way the end result was an out of control teenager who began making extremely bad choices.
I was sensitive to everything and everyone around me and often blew up at the drop of a hat. Grades? Sports? College? None of it mattered anymore. Even when I received acceptance letters in the mail from colleges I blew it off and felt no joy about my accomplishment. All I knew was I was miserable, moody and trapped in a full blown ED. Yes, I was well aware that my eating habits were abnormal but the point is I did not care. Even when someone scribbled in my yearbook under my senior picture “bulimic asshole” initially I got pissed but then accepted it as the truth. That was my identity and I believed every word of it.
This pattern was prevalent all throughout college and my early adulthood. Once I became pregnant though I was able to remain healthy and stable which to me is ironic given the hormones that rage throughout a pregnancy. It wasn’t until several years later that I experienced a full blown relapse that coincided with my bipolar diagnosis and several hospitalizations…one at an actual eating disorder facility.
Today I still have tendencies and sometimes find myself going back to that mindset but through a lot of work and management of my bipolar I am, for the most part, able to keep myself in check. In hindsight I have learned so much and it has always been a part of my mission to share this portion of my story.
The time has come for me to share this other facet of my life. I want those who are trapped in an ED to understand that they are not alone. I want to share the coping tools I have learned with anyone who is suffering with this mental illness — yes, it is an illness — give insight to parents and teachers who need to be aware of the intricacies of this disorder especially since far too many girls (and boys) are dealing with this struggle. The statistics are staggering. BUT…it is treatable and recovery IS possible. Just like any other mental illness we have to become informed, aware and empathetic in order to make progress and ultimately save lives.
Thirty years ago I never ever believed I would get married, have children and a successful career. I only envisioned dying. I was convinced I was “crazy” and would never be able to survive. However, there were many defining moments that helped me recover and gave me strength to keep going. My mission is to openly and honestly share so you can see that a healthy life truly is possible and that no matter how helpless and hopeless you feel about yourself or a loved one there is HOPE. Continue with me on this journey and no matter what DO NOT GIVE UP.
~~ You are not what you’ve done
and this is not who you are
no matter how far you’ve run
you have not gone too far ~~ For Today
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4