I’m 15 years old, it’s 3:00 p.m., school is out and I can’t wait to get home and be alone. I’m dizzy, lightheaded, and cold. As I go to my locker to get the necessary books I need for tomorrow’s homework, I’m stopped by friends to talk and discuss afternoon plans. As usual I choose to go home and be alone. My energy is high and my face has its usual big smile. My frail body is hidden by layers of clothing and my mind is filled with nothing but thoughts of what I can eat when I get home. I’ve been a good girl — I have stuck to my eating plan that amounts to 500 calories so far.
I feel very anxious and pressure to start my homework. I have a Science test to study for and I must get a 95 or above.
As I open the door to the house I pray that my brother will not be home. God hears my prayer — it’s quiet and empty just the way I like it. I go straight to the kitchen, which is full of cookies, Ring Dings, ice cream, Fruity Pebbles and lots more. I stare at everything over and over again and hear voices saying: “These foods are bad”, “You’re going to get fat,” “Don’t be a bad girl,” “You will ruin everything”. After about 20 minutes I decide on a cup of hot tea and an apple cut into very small slices. I proceed into the den to watch TV and continually go over the calories that are on my plate. I sit down and pinch my stomach for any excess skin, I can still pinch some so I’m not perfect yet, just 5 more pounds and then I will be happy!
Fifteen years later, and I recognize these to be the “dysfunctional thoughts” that I so often hear from my patients now. That, of course, is the right label for the obsessive and irrational voice that ruled a life of rules, regiment, and control — the hallmarks of what I now know to be the disease Anorexia Nervosa — the Beast.
It would take eight years before I would beat the Beast, and then try and understand the process — so I could help others fighting the same battle.
What I and other health workers have come to find out through our own personal struggles and those of our patients, is that eating disorders are often not about food — parental control, relationships, responsibility, career, and marriage all can cause stress, anxiety, and depression in an uncertain world.
For me, the beast was not about eating — it was about having control of at least one thing in my life.
As early as 7 years old I felt like a burden. Beginning with heart surgery that was a life threatening for my whole family. I was hyperactive and struggled with the inability to focus and concentrate It was always something with me. My parents divorced when I was 11. My mom worked very late hours and my brother and I did not get along. Although I always seemed like a happy child I was unaware that I was already living in a colorless world so different from the one most people lived in. To me, it was twisted thoughts running in a circle, my pulse constantly hammering – to me it was hell.
At home there was a divorce, my Dad remarried, and I felt like a burden — even on those once-a-week visits. My mother tried to take over both roles, but to me, I thought my mom was super-mom, she can do anything. Little did I know for her the demands were overbearing. How could she help me when she was suffering too? I had learned that crying was not allowed. I had to be a good girl, I had to smile and be happy.
The beast had appeared, and I didn’t even know it.
In High School, I came to realize as an adolescent, that the events of my childhood were not happy, but I continued to put pressure on myself to work hard and get straight A’s. Then a preoccupation with food began. I joined the track team and started a diet that led to an obsession with appearance. I felt the pressure to be thin.
I had a distorted self image. I had no self esteem. The beast was in, and the beast was winning. I still didn’t know it.