I came home from a 9-hour plane ride, alone, from Rome, and I was extremely nervous. I was scared to face my mom and genuinely felt horrible that I was coming home early, but I knew it was the best thing to do. No expectations of what was going to happen in terms of going to therapy or how my mom would restrict me were in my mind.
The first week home, I spun every morning and continued to restrict my intake. I spent the weeks leading up to soccer preseason, endlessly running, spinning, taking night walks, and hanging with my friends.
I could not go through my day without working out first, and the days that I did not wake up and workout, I simply could not function. I was forced to see the psychologist that I had seen once before after my dad died, but I had not seen her since. The first few sessions consisted of her talking at me and me not understanding that I really did have a problem. I was angry about the Europe trip and how I was not able to follow my crazy routines of working out 2 to 3 times a day while eating only chicken and salad. I was frustrated with the trip, thinking that they misled me by not having gyms in the hotels and not letting me run alone.
I also want to mention that it was leading up to the year anniversary of my dad’s death. It is not until now that I realize how clouded my judgment was. After a few weeks of the same behavior, I started soccer preseason where I would be practicing twice a day for almost three weeks straight.
By the third practice in I had earned my bragging rights of being able to hold the longest “plank”. I was more excited about this then anything else going on at the time. In the running drills, I was able to maintain the lead, and I felt great when people would notice my endurance and call me out for it. My coach had even said something to me in the beginning days of preseason that I looked thinner. All of these compliments just fueled my ambitions of becoming “fitter, healthier, and skinnier.” I would supplement practices with running on the treadmill and would eat the same thing everyday.
I remember I would run in the morning, eat watermelon, then go to practice and then eat grilled chicken and veggies for dinner. Despite my routine, throughout the entire time that I was consumed by my eating disorder, I allowed myself to eat a lot at night. I would wake up the next morning feeling extremely guilty about my late night snacking and honestly was confused why I lost control by the end of the day. My therapist explained to me that my brain was allowing me to do this, because I was not eating during the day and therefore was compensating for a full day of not eating with a few snacks at night. This night snack, however, was simply not cutting it as far as adequate nutrition.
After weeks of preseason, school was starting and I was ecstatic to be a senior. Even though Senior year was supposed to be amazing, I was worried about how I was going to be able to maintain my working out and eating little during the day so, inevitably, I came up with a plan. I woke up every morning at 5 am and ran for 50 minutes followed by an abs workout.
I had established a perfect routine and when it was disturbed all hell broke lose. I remember one day I had granola and yogurt for breakfast and did not workout that day, and I cried the entire day at school. I hugged my best friend, and I think that’s when she realized something serious was really going on. I spent days anxious, sitting in class and would leave class to go do push ups in the bathroom. I rarely would eat lunch with my friends, making excuses for why I could not go, and the days I did, I would eat raw vegetables.
I found that I began to isolate myself at different times of the day. I would do work whenever I could in order to avoid friends confronting me or eating snacks. I spent conference period, at the end of the day, in the gym rather than hanging with my friends before soccer practice. I was constantly restless and was rarely smiling, something I was known for previously.
Not only did my sickness manifest into little eating and excessive working out but I found if I was not doing work all the time, I felt like I was simply failing, that I was not doing “enough.” I felt guilty if I was just relaxing on the senior couches rather than doing work or working out. I could always be doing more.
I could tell my friends were beginning to notice, and as I talk to them now about it they recount to me how it felt for them. One of my best friends said it was really hard for her to watch me push myself. As a girl that goes to a top university in this country, she is all for working hard and doing her best, but she said I did so to a point that I was not having fun and never looked happy which was very hard for her to see. She and some of my other close friends desperately wanted to help but found that if they tried to intervene, I would just get upset and also plainly, they just did not know what to say. I was constantly asking my friends how I looked in pictures, and these were the “little things” that really made them worry. Another friend told me it was hard to see me willing to put myself through so much pain and knowing that I would rather do things that further injured myself than hangout with my friends or listen to anything my friends had to say about what was going on.
Just as I would reject anything my therapist would say, I would reject anything my friends would say. Like all other eating disorder patients, I was in “denial”. My friends knew the old Sydney was somewhere in that little, weak body, but “something” had taken that version over and truly changed her. It got to the point that even my close guy friends started saying things to me, wondering why I always looked sad.
Even while this was going on, I was getting compliments on how good I was at running and how impressed people were on my dedication to working out. These were things that just kept me going in the direction that I thought was “healthy.” After various therapy appointments, the therapist suggested I see a nutritionist. My first meeting consisted of me getting weighed and telling her my daily routine in terms of working out and eating. As I told her, her mouth dropped, and she was completely astonished that I could even workout that much given the amount of food I was taking in. She told me what I should really be doing, but the new Sydney completely disregarded anything she had to say, and I kept going through the routine I found suitable for my fitness and health goals.
After weeks of the same behavior, both physically and emotionally, I finally hit rock bottom during a family holiday. I thought I had eaten too much, and I cried the entire night, screaming to my entire family that I was fat and disgusting. My family was in shock and knew something had to be done. I remember seeing my grandmother cry, and I genuinely felt horrible but was consumed by a power much greater than any guilt. Given that my weight was going down rather than up, my mom and health team referred me to a program at a nearby hospital. The doctors collaborated after interviewing both with my mother and I, first suggesting that I enter a full day program, which would force me to be tutored at the hospital and be taken away from my friends. Given that my friends were one of the few things that did keep me happy and that I was open to confronting the problem, they offered us a different treatment called the “Maudsley” method that gave my mom full control of my meals and required me to go to the program once a week after school.
After a few weeks of no weight gain, they stripped me of all exercising privileges, but I begged them to let me practice with my soccer team for the rest of the season. I was allowed to practice but was not allowed to do any running drills and I decided to pull myself out of games given my fragile state. Exercising had inevitably become my “addiction” and now that the fuel to my addiction had been taken away my anxiety heightened…
To be continued.
If you or someone you know is suffering with an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorders Association (nationaleatingdisorders.org) supports individuals and families affected by eating disorders, and serves as a catalyst for prevention, cures and access to quality care. Call their toll free, confidential Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. In addition, Project HEAL funds inpatient, residential, intensive outpatient, and outpatient treatment for applicants suffering from an eating disorder who want to recover but cannot afford treatment. Go to http://theprojectheal.org/apply-for-grants/our-scholarship-progra/ for information about how to apply for a treatment grant OR VISIT WWW.THEPROJECTHEAL.ORG
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