*Warning: This story does contain trigger material. Please do not read if you are sensitive to triggers. Photo displayed is not me at my worst.
I would be lying if I told you I haven't had anxiety about sitting down and writing this piece of my life. I would be lying if I told you this didn't bring a wave of flashback and emotions I haven't felt in years. The truth of the matter is, this is the problem. No one speaks candidly about Eating Disorders or their experience- I used to be one of them. I used to feel such shame, weakness, and inferiority in telling someone I almost died of Anorexia Nervosa. Many people, including those close to me, thought that Anorexia is simply "just a phase" or "calling for attention". What most people don't know, due to lack of education and open-mindedness, is that Anorexia Nervosa is the most lethal mental health disorder one could have. The statistics of surviving it aren't that great, and the statistics of recovering from it are even worse. I would like to say thank you for those who have taken interest in reading my story.
I have more of an unusual story compared to most, I had an "Organic" eating disorder. Why "Organic"? My treatment said I had the most raw example of an eating disorder- I was a child, I sure as hell did not have any social media or access to the internet, and my only influences I saw on TV were cast members from Saved by the Bell. One common misconception is that media is to blame for all eating disorders. While there is definitely a heavy relevance, its not always the case. Eating disorders can manifest themselves and their characteristics without any external influence.
To give an example of this early manifestation, I can remember wanting to lose weight as one of my earliest memories. I vividly recall sitting in my bedroom at 5 years old, just learning how to write, and I took a notebook and wrote out "foods to make me skinny". I recall having slight "obsessions" such as seeing how far my stomach poked out, if I could see my toes past my stomach, and already displayed many symptoms of anxiety. So far, I did not have any childhood issues that I can clearly remember, but I do remember my mom being unhappy and my mother and father getting into fights. It wasn't until I was 7 that my parents formally announced their divorce- I remember it clear as day.
The divorce was something I internalized for a very long time. My dad ended up not being around, and my mother ended up working and going to school at night to make ends meet for my sisters and I. I, only about 7-8 years old, assumed major responsibilities such as care taking for my sisters, cleaning, attempting to cook, doing great in school, emotionally supporting my family- at such a young age I put myself last. It really hurt to see the emotional spot my mother was in. My mother worked so hard in a world of uncertainty for us, and its not easy raising 3 kids alone. There were nights where all 3 of us would try to console her, and we would try to clean and make food so she didn't have to come home and work more. We were so tight on money that most the time my mother would eat less to make sure we had enough food to eat, and she did her best to get us what we needed. I had to stay strong for my mom and my sisters, I needed to be the one that kept things together when it felt like it was all falling apart. This part of my life continued for 3 years, and thats when I ended up getting sick.
I can recall the exact moment my mental disorder fired up. We had a Christmas with family, and we headed to Mexico to celebrate. I don't exactly know why I did this, but at 11 years old I decided to weigh myself on my cousins scale: the scale said 103 pounds ( I am 5 foot 6 at the time, so this is completely normal). For some reason, reading those numbers tore me up- I thought to myself that no one my age weighed that much, and I needed to lose weight. Once we got home, I told my mom that I wanted to lose a little bit of weight and that I wanted to start going to the gym with her. Everything seemed completely normal at the beginning- my mom really did think that I just wanted to be a little more active and there is nothing wrong with having your kid develop healthy habits. I was hitting the gym and working out with my mom 3x a week, and we would eat healthy meals at home. I remember stepping on the scale every single week, and seeing the weight drop from 103, 100, 98, 95, 92... I became addicted. The best way I can describe to you the feeling, is like chasing a high from a drug. My life was a mess and I realized that the one thing I could fully accomplish and control was my weight.
I do warn you, please don't read this if you get triggered. I will describe in depth my Eating Disorder Tendencies.
*I am seriously breathing heavy just trying to type this*
Day by day, my healthy habits became and obsession. I have always been a perfectionist in my talents and school, and this was no exception. It is very common with eating disorders to have a mild form of OCD, or rituals essential to your eating disorder. I can't even give a clear example of when things went from healthy to sick since its all such a blur. I was obsessed with my weight dropping, and my eating disorder became my life. I was in such a bad place in my life that I channeled all my stress into myself and hurt my body slowly.
Some "rituals" that developed go as follows:
-I would wake up at 5 am before school to start exercising- I would go on a run, hula hoop for hours, do crunches in my room, anything to get me moving. I would do more exercise once I got home.
- I would obsessively download calorie apps on my phone in order to scroll through foods for hours and see what had the lowest calorie and macro content.
-I started to measure the size of my limbs with my hands. At my sickest, I could fit my thigh in between a circle made from my hands.
-I was obsessed with cooking and looking at food, but I would never eat it. I made mounds of food for my family and would get satisfaction out of watching them eat.
-I ate little to nothing: My teacher sat me aside in the 6th grade and asked me if my mom was feeding me since I would bring a couple of slices of turkey on a Wasa flat bread for lunch.
-I compulsively drank obscene amounts of water and green tea.
-In school we would get treats and I would hide them in my cubby and just stare at them.
Those are just a few of my rituals I had. At his point, I had dipped down to 65 lbs and my mother had no idea how to help me- she had tried everything to stop me. She had stopped taking me to the gym, made me eat in front of her, talked to my doctor, but nothing could stop me. I was waking up in the middle of the night panicked and would start to exercise or cook food I wouldn't eat, I would throw away food my mom made me, or give it to my dog. I would have full blown panic attacks sitting at my table when my mom and step dad sat down with me and wouldn't leave until I ate. I started to lie and be manipulative in order to get what I wanted so no one could interfere.
5 foot 6 inches, 60 pounds, my body started to shut down and show signs of malnutrition. One of the first and most tormenting symptoms was being cold. I had absolutely no body fat- I had swimming lessons and I would freeze in the middle of summer. My sisters would dress me in full winter clothing and bring blankets to cover me in after my lessons since I would violently tremble from my lack of body heat. This resulted in me growing a layer of hair all over my body (Lanugo), this covered every inch of my body in an attempt to keep me warm. My hair on my head became dry and brittle, and would fall out in clumps. My stomach started to bloat and look very distended from my body, with painful cramps. I was so painfully weak that I remember crawling up my stairs to reach my bedroom, only to force myself to exercise with what little energy I had. My muscles were wasted and I started to get permanent bruising on my back and tailbone from my bones rubbing my skin. The worst part was my anxiety- I had abandoned all my friends, was afraid to leave my house, and was very nervous at school.
My mother gave me an ultimatum, as she was told I had maybe a month or so before I entered cardiac arrest and died. Quietly she sat me down and told me "Julie, you're going to die. I know you can't control this, I have tried everything I can and I found you help if you're willing to take it. If not, we need to make your funeral plans right now." Those words are what changed my life- I told my mom I wanted to live, I just didn't know how to escape my disorder. Treatment in the U.S. was completely unaffordable and ineffective, let alone no one had dealt with such a severe child case. My mom made the ultimate sacrifice of sending me to top performing eating disorder clinic in Buenos Aires, Argentina (where my family is based).
I knew that getting better was going to be tough, but I underestimated just how hard it is to be in a battle with yourself.