My Anorexia Story
I still don't know why exactly it started, why it happened to me of all people....and I probably never will. Throughout recovery, I have tried to dissect my past, looking at it like a specimen under a microscope, but my lens never seemed to quite focus on what exactly I was expecting. I never really knew what clue or insight I was so desperately hoping to find, but I do know that I never found it. I didn't have a messed up, horrible childhood. I wasn't abused or bullied. For the most part, my childhood was a time marked with warmth, laughter, and a carefree aura. I don't remember ever being concerned with my weight or what food I put in my mouth before anorexia. I was never even overweight...I was average.
Maybe that is where the problem hid though. That word average. In my mind, average was quite irrationally equated with a failure, a worthless waste of space and resources. Average meant that I could never accomplish anything meaningful. Average meant that my existence had no purpose. I am and have always been a diehard perfectionist, sometimes for the better, but mostly for the worse. I thoroughly remember one instance in third grade….I left my homework assignment at school one day and thus could not complete it. When I realized what I had done, I cried for hours and hours straight, an uncontrollable stream of tears drenching me. Most other children would just brush it off, realizing that it was just a mistake….but me, I couldn’t handle the fact of knowing that I was no longer the “perfect” student who always completed her homework assignments on time. And somewhere along the way, my perfectionist aspirations lethally expanded to include having the best—which society taught me meant the skinniest—thighs out of all the middle schoolers.
I guess the manifestation of my disorder was kind of like growing taller or drifting slowly to sleep. It was a slow evolution, an ever-so gradual transformation. One day my height is being measured at the doctor's office reading 5', and the next it is 5'2". I wonder how I didn't notice the two more inches of….me. One second I'm wide awake, thinking of tomorrow....the next, it already is tomorrow. I wasn't even aware what was occurring until after the fact, until I hit rock bottom. Slowly by slowly, day by day, I began restricting a little more and more, eating a little less and less, until there was nothing left to take away anymore. My anorexia crawled up on me, took microscopic steps, until I was completely adrift. I was 11 at the time. 11 & alarmingly oblivious.
I was 11, and I barely even knew what anorexia was. There was some hidden part of me that realized something was off with my behavior....I knew it probably was not healthy or "normal" to obsess over food constantly, consumed with making deceitful, manipulative schemes to avoid my next meal. I knew it was not healthy to deprive myself of something I not only craved with all my heart, but needed for survival. I knew it was not healthy to uncontrollably track my every eaten calorie, scared that even one extra chip would transform me into some obese animal. But I didn’t know what exactly it was that was wrong with me. I thought I was just inherently crazy, alone in my nameless struggles. So when I was officially diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at the age of 12, I was relieved. Now with a label, my problem was legitimized and I found a peculiar sense of comfort. Again, I was only 12 and hopelessly naïve….I had no premonition that the initially ravaging Hurricane Recovery would blow away the foundations of my life from right under my feet.
The summer before seventh grade, just after my diagnosis, was the first time I ever so longingly yearned for a bitter cold winter. Instead of going to camp or on family vacations, I isolated myself from the world. I lost touch with who I used to be. When I looked in the mirror, I only saw damaged remains of the vibrant and studious girl I once was. I would stare at the dark circles under my eyes and my thinning hair that just fell off my scalp with the softest touch of a finger, and I knew that the creature staring back at me did not radiate beauty or happiness or perfection. I knew that anorexia was not the answer but the root of all my problems….and yet, I couldn’t find the will within me to let my abusive “friend” go. I became addicted to that rush of adrenaline concomitant with pushing myself past the limit. I found solace in the numbness that restriction and the depletion of energy lended me. And as a pre-teen, I couldn’t have cared less about recovery. I thought I held all the answers, that I was above taking advice and receiving help from others. This distorted arrogance led to many nights of yelling at my parents and threats to run away.
I won’t go into much detail about seventh grade….it was basically a blur of being force-fed and many arguments. But for the most part, my disorder was kept under control. I did not get any better, but I did not completely spiral out of control. I still did not truly care about recovery, but I was just exhausted of all the tears and bickering, so I made compromises. Eighth grade was a completely different story. The fall of eighth grade was what I thought was my rock bottom (eventually, I would be proved wrong). If my parents hadn’t intervened and put me in a hospital against my will when they did, I probably would have died in my sleep a week later. Without my parents rescuing me, I would have reached the dead end of the dangerous path I was going down, one in which life was not sustainable. For the first time ever, I was hospitalized for weeks, hundreds of miles away from my family, friends, and school. I was thrown into the world of meal plans and group therapy and talking about my internal feelings, and it was all so overwhelming. I was not prepared to face recovery head on, but there I was. I decided to fake my way out of being discharged before Thanksgiving. Lying became so easy that I almost believed it when I said I was fine, that I truly felt like relapse had no place in my future. I conveniently left out the fact that I was secretly running in the bathroom after every meal to my therapist. Instead, I managed to convinced her that I was ready to leave this recovery bubble, ready to face a reality with inevitable triggers. So I went back home, back into the suffocating embrace of anorexia.
Returning to school after my mysterious absence was so anxiety-provoking and awkward. Everyone questioned me about my whereabouts, but I was ashamed to disclose the truth. Only my closest friends knew what happened, but the rest of my school thought I was in the hospital battling life-threatening pneumonia. To make matters even more socially awkward, I was forced to eat lunch and my morning snack in the nurse’s office everyday, receiving weird glances as I ate my Strawberry Pop-Tarts and drank my Ensure from the occasional kid who needed a bandaid for a paper cut. The stress and overwhelming nature of being tossed back into the real-life routine fostered the maintenance and growth of my eating disorder behaviors. I became distant, apathetic towards hanging out with friends. Instead of going out to dinner with my friends and partaking in other social teen activities, I sat in the dark under my covers day and night watching TV shows by the seasons. My obsession with Netflix was not just a mere pleasurable past-time or a “treat yourself” type of thing—instead, it was a way for me to escape my bleak reality and the prospect of recovery. It was a place I turned to because it helped distract me from my fear of acknowledging just how much of a grip my illness still had over me. Instead of finding warmth in this escape, I only grew lonelier, more aloof, and more indifferent towards life.
The summer before high school was my worst one yet. I thought I hit rock bottom before, but this was miles below that. When I pictured prison, I pictured a place a thousand times better than the mental hospital I was admitted into. This place, with its gray cement windowless corridors and pungent odor (which came from the schizophrenics who relieved themselves on the floors), traumatized me. I was on my unit alone for a month, unable to have any contact from the outside world. I didn’t even have any fellow inpatients to connect to or lean on for support. This loneliness was unbearable like no other….it forced me to sit in the deafening silence of my thoughts, to hear the constant begging of anorexia for the complete dictatorial sovereignty it once possessed. Night after night, the screaming and attacks of the schizophrenic patients on the unit above prevented me from sleeping and receiving a much-needed break from my thoughts. I remember that one day at lunch, a lady from a different unit began to scream at me for losing her cat at the supermarket. I had never met that lady before. This mental hospital was actually so hellish that it catapulted my recovery because I was so terrified of going back.
Looking back, I think that it was that hospitalization that marks the climax, a turning point, of my anorexia story. I don’t want to make it sound like one morning something inside me clicked and I suddenly did a 180, because that is not at all how it happened. My embrace of recovery, although catalyzed by my horrific experience, gradually built up over the course of two years. However, although I faced many damaging bumps in the road, from around that point on, I genuinely wanted to recover. There was no way in hell I was going to allow myself to become that 60-year old woman from the adult inpatient unit who I saw briefly as she passed by in a stretcher on the way to court to fight against the hospital over her involuntary feeding tube. There was no way I would allow myself to literally sue against my own life, with my death being the prize if I won the case. Yes, I was still put in treatment centers after that, but my outlook on recovery became so different. I began to realize that no matter how much it tried to trick me, my disorder never had my best interest at heart. I realized that although recovery was going to be the most trying of all processes, the steepest uphill slope I would ever have to climb, it would be worth it. Any amount of adversity or discomfort was worth it if it meant being able to hear the sound of pure hearted, guttural laughter once more or to feel the freedom of being completely at ease in the present.
After about two years of immersing myself in the spirit of recovery, of pushing myself to become stronger and more resilient than I ever thought possible, I was able to say that I recovered for the first time without feeling that domestic, instinctive pang of guilt. After countless therapy sessions and liters of pen ink used up during my numerous journaling exercises, I was finally able to eat and enjoy freely, with no limits confining me. I was able to break down the walls I built for myself and truly live. Not exist but live. I became a tougher and more self-aware version of the lively Simran I once knew. I was able to travel halfway around the world, giving back to the community and bathing myself in something bigger and more meaningful than anything I had ever previously experienced. I was able to go on spontaneous ice-cream runs, enjoying the refreshing lick of a Graham Cracker Ralph’s Ice on a warm summer evening. I was able to start this blog, using my own struggles as tools for empathy and receiving the high of knowing I may have impacted even one person out there. I was able to live more, laugh louder, and love harder than I could have ever imagined.
My story is one that encompasses everything—highs and lows, failures and triumphs, hope and fear. My story started out as a work of horror, dictated by anorexia’s villainous nature. My story ended like classic fairytale books usually do—a relatively pleasant “happily ever after,” in which the villain is defeated and there is peace in the kingdom. It really isn’t about the beginning or the end, though. The heart of the story comes from the middle, from the journey that tested my inner strength to its very core. The heart of the story comes from the mornings where I felt like my world had fallen apart but I still managed to get up anyway. The heart of the story comes not from perfection, but from progression. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”