Monday, June 25, 2012

ED Talks #7: Running on Empty--by Thessaly N.

I dont even know where to begin. I guess the beginning is a good place, but where is the true beginning of an eating disorder? I guess the first time I remember loathing my body was in 4th grade during class pictures. I was wearing what I always wore to school, a t-shirt from arizona that my mom got while on business, and cargo pants from goodwill. My classmates made fun of me for not dressing up, but all I remember was feeling ugly because I didnt have a pretty dress, and I remember feeling fat because I had gained weight over the summer. Soon thereafter, I began a babysitting job where I watched two kids, an infant of 6 months, and a 3-year-old boy (I was 10!! this woman had to be crazy!), every friday night for $10 a week. They had so much snack food, and I came from a home in which there was little food, much less yummy treats like fruit snacks and cookies. I remember one night that I ate and ate and ate, then decided to make myself throw up due to the uncomfortable fullness I was experiencing. Thus began a lifetime of disordered eating and self hatred.

Somewhere in the midst of dieting and purging I also began experimenting with cutting. I was in 6th grade! Even to my own mind this seems unfathomable, yet I recall finding a box cutter in our bathroom and dragging it across my hands to make tons of shallow cuts. When asked  about it at a parent teacher conference, I told my mom and the teacher that I had fallen into my neighbor’s rosebush. Why they believed me, I don’t understand. Obviously if that had happened, Greg, our neighbor, would’ve told my mom, and there wouldn’t be such uniform cuts. Furthermore, there would have been scrapes on my arms as well, but I digress. That just goes to show how not present my mom was in my life. The cutting was a common theme throughout middle school, and resurfaced again during my sophomore year of high school. Then, though, it progressed into making much deeper cuts, mostly on my arms and legs, and burning my hands, wrists, and legs. Also I started chocking myself with the chords from the blinds in my bedroom, which left marks that lasted for hours, but were not permanent. What does any of this have to do with having an eating disorder, you may ask. I shall explain.

Throughout the entire time I was self-mutilating, I was also binging and purging, as well as dieting. I tried every fad diet out there, much to the pleasure of my mom. She also thought I was fat, and never failed to tell me so. I clearly remember making bacon one day in 6th or 7th grade, and my mom saying “suck in your gut, thessaly, that’s disgusting!” Similarly, I recall having a bowl of chili with 4 slices of bread one night, and my mom commenting on my meal. “4 slices of bread is 400 calories, thessaly, plus a can of chili, you are such a cow.” Needless to say, I promptly threw away my dinner and went to my room. Whenever I would embark on any kind of weight loss effort, my mom would be my
“cheerleader” and would encourage my dieting by joining me. In 7th grade I lost a little weight due to having PE class daily rather than once or twice a week as we had in elementary school. My mom comment on my legs looking slimmer, and told my sister I looked good. While in school, though, classmates would make such hurtful comments. Harley, a boy that sat behind me in 4th period English, would often whisper, “thessaly’s fat” randomly. This was especially saddening since I had a crush on him. He wasnt the only one to make such comments, though. I was often told of my hefty stature by classmates and friend’s parents throughout my young life. Such comments are taken quite seriously by a young girl, especially one that had no real affirmation or love at home, and craved the approval of anyone and everyone at school, church, and in the community.

I often would make drastic resolves to finally lose weight once and for all during my first 16 years of life. I would start a diet, then lose willpower. I would throw away all of my candy and unhealthy food and survive on a ½ can of tuna that I shared with the cats for a week or so, then give up my attempts at weight loss. This yoyo dieting led me to steadily gain weight. My freshman year of high school I weighed 149lbs. Then, the summer right before my senior year, I was babysitting at a house that had a scale. I  had often weighed myself there since we didnt own such a luxury as a bathroom scale, and they asked me to babysit 2-4 times a month, on average. I slowly watched the numbers creep up throughout the summer. At the end of August when I was at their house, I weighed myself, as was common practice. I cried and cried that particular day because after seeing that you weigh 175 pounds when you are 17 years old and 5’4”, what else is there to do? I’ll tell you, you start a diet, with firm resolve to not give up again.

It started slowly. I incorporated more real food in my life, and I made myself go on a walk every day. I read more than ever about diets, and healthy food. I had a bowl of oatmeal with flax seed every morning for breakfast, and got by on as little as possible for lunch at school. I bought loads of diet pills, and started logging everything I ate. I also continued hanging out with a boy that was a terrible influence on my self-esteem. He made such derogatory comments about girls’ weights, and though he never directly called me fat, his comments about skinny girls being hot didn’t exactly make me feel attractive. As I started losing weight, he noticed, and once in awhile would make comments that left me in a deliriously happy state that would remind me that this weight loss thing was worth it. As my senior year progressed, I kept track of my food, water, and exercise. I religiously tracked and recorded everything. By the end of my senior year, I had surpassed my original goal to weigh 135 (the weight of the boy I spent all of my time with, and the weight of my best girl friend). I weighed around 125 pounds by the time I started college.

College is where things started getting a bit out of control. For the first time in my life, I had unlimited access to a gym. I discovered the eliptical, and fell in love with my daily routine of watching tv (the only time I ever did so for those 4 months was when I was exercising) and burning calories. I also continued doing 20 minutes of ab work in my dorm room every morning and every night (something I first started doing in my room at home the spring of my senior year), and taking numerous supplements and diet pills. During my first week at school, I found out that I could have a free fitness assessment, and get my weight and body fat analyzed at the fitness center. My first weight in told me that I weighed 120lbs, and had a body fat percentage of 20%. I also gained an inch of height, putting me at 5’5”. I asked the fitness director what these numbers meant. He said I was in the normal range, and could stand to lose a little body fat if I wanted to. I was mortified! NORMAL? how could I be just NORMAL? I wanted to be EXCEPTIONAL, or athletic, or anything; but normal??? This was a horrific word to my perfectionistic ears.

I went research crazy. I looked up how to lose body fat. The most doable thing I read about was eliminating my intake of foods with more than 30% fat. I wanted to turbocharge my fat loss, so if I ate anything with any fat at all, I would purge. I also continued exercising vigorously, and ate a high protein, low fat diet. Likewise, I took laxatives and other supplements and diet pills daily, which would sometimes cause me to throw up due to an upset stomach.  A few weeks later, on October 12, 2008, I went back to get reweighed and have my body fat analyzed again. The result? 112lbs, with a body fat percentage of 14. Success!! I was thrilled, and the fitness teacher commended me on my progress.
In 2009 I was back in Spokane, due to lack of financial aid, I could no longer afford going to ISU. I was living with roommates, and dating the boy in which I had longed for for quite some time. I still purged, but my exercise wasn’t quite as rigorous since I didnt want to lose spending time with him. He left on a mission, and I lost it. I took classes and discovered that my enrollment entitled me to the use of our school’s gym. I lost the weight I had gained while dating him, and was semi-dating someone else. During that summer, I was at the healthiest I have been since this eating disorder took over my life. I gained back some weight (129 at the highest), I exercised when I could, but didn’t obsess as much as I had during the previous two years. I did normal things like weekend camping trips, game nights, and spontaneous fun activities with roommates and other friends. I still purged sometimes, but only when I was really hating my weight gain. That fall, I buckled down and decided this fat thing wasnt going to work. I had some spotting (I haven’t had a period since January 2008), which scared me more than it should have. In my mind that was failure. I was going to get fat again, and lose control of my weight and all of my efforts for the past two years would be lost. The job I had that fall was a nanny job for a family that had a treadmill. I also had a gym membership at a facility about .5 miles from my house. I would run at work when the kids were napping, and then go to the gym after work religiously. I also played weekend soccer games, and went on sunday walks with my roommate (impressively I never went running or to the gym on Sundays unless there was a race). I was eating restrictively, and discovered chewing and spitting to control cravings.

That October I contacted my dad who lives in Houston. We hadnt talked since I was 5 or 6 because my mom didnt allow contact. There was a brief correspondence during my sophomore year, but that quickly disintegrated when my sister told my mom about it. I went to visit his family for Thanksgiving, and then again for Christmas. I decided to move in with their family two weeks later, in January 2010. There, I had a gym membership, and no friends. My eating disorder went from bad to worse that April (I was in school and worked as a receptionist for the first 3 months of being in Houston, but school ended and my job was a temporary position, so that spring and summer I had nothing by time on my hands). I started my daily regemine of breakfast, gym, and binge/purge for the remainder of the day. I also started counseling, which one may think would be helpful. Wrong. It was a rather unsuccessful attempt at healing, as I picked up tips of how to binge and purge better from my counselor. I sort of look at that year as a wasted year of my life. The next year I started work at a daycare, and loved it. I was still practicing restrictive eating behavior, going to the gym every day, and purging, but at least I had a way to fill my  days. I still had no social life due to my need for sleep, and forcing myself to wake up early so I could work out before work. I started seeing a new counselor whom I adored, and a dietician, but after a couple months of being asked to eat too many things that I was uncomfortable with, I stopped seeing the dietician, and continued with the counselor but stopped progressing. In November, I went to live in a house in Monroe, LA, for girls with a myriad of issues, from drug abuse, to anger problems, to eating disorders. This was a tragic month. I was told I could not exercise more than walking 60 minutes a week (don’t worry, I somehow sneaked in much, much more), and was forced to eat WAY more than I was comfortable with (don’t worry, I’m a sneaky little bugger and threw away food, watered down my milk in the cereal, and feigned lactose intolerance so I wouldnt have to eat cheese). After Christmas break in Spokane, I decided I had had it with Mercy Ministries, and wanted to move not back to Houston with my dad, but back to Spokane. So I did.

And here I am, after almost 6 months of being back home, living with a gracious family that allows me to have a room sans rent, and working as a nanny. I am still (shocker) extremely restrictive with my eating, with the majority of my food intake consisting of vegetables. I purge when I eat too much, or when I eat frozen yogurt (my ‘sin food’ of choice). I run 15-18 miles daily (still impressively not on sunday, unless I have a race), and have decided to finally start tackling races that hold merit, (two marathons in the past month) since I’m good at running and need some form of concrete, recognizable validation in my life. My weight has hovered around 100-107 for the past 2 1/2-3 years. I still hate myself. I am not good at being social, and I keep a strict schedule so I can incorporate running every morning before work. If I dont run, I hate eating, but still get hungry. Sundays are hard, since I can’t run, but still must eat. I am trying to recover, but not whole heartedly. I am scared to get better, in all honesty. I dont want to be fat, and dont want to lose my athleticism. In my mind, gaining weight would be failing, and I dont want to fail at something that I’ve dedicated most of my life to, even though I know Heavenly Father must be heart-broken to see one of his children inflicting so much avoidable pain on herself. I hate to disappoint him, but I dont know how to escape this self-inflicted torment without hating myself more than I do now. So, I guess that’s where I am. Miserable, and floating along in life, with no conceivable escape.


  1. Resources:
    Geneed Roth tapes
    Surrounding yourself with recovered girlswho love themselves
    Remembering what really matters in the long run and realizing how crazy self loathing is (god, family true love)
    knowing how much better a marriage will be if you love yourself
    Ignoring naysayers, only listening to GOOD sources of information
    not allowing yourself to exercise, finding new hobbies for a year or two until you feelcomfortable exercising naturally and moderately :)
    reading uplifting quotes about body image from the famous, and NOT READING ALL magazines with anything to do with weight/loss/eating/diets/"health"
    also jenny schafer books are great.
    choosing to recover tobe happy is hard.
    letme know if you want someone to talk to :)

  2. Much love and prayers and sympathy. I can only hope that writing this can help start the long road to recovery.

  3. I'm really sorry that this is what you deal with on a daily basis. All I know is this. Heavenly Father created us in his image, and allowed us all to be different because we needed to be who we were to fulfill our specific roles on this earth and in his plan.

    It doesn't matter what anyone thinks of you, whether it's good or bad. Compliments and insults both have no merit. The only thing that is important in this life, is how YOU feel about yourself when you reflect on who you've become. It took me 28 years to learn that. I still forget it on an almost daily basis. I still have my days where I look in the mirror and think I look ugly, but what is ugly? It's all relative. Even if it's hard to remember, these are some of the only truths I've never been able to argue with.

    You are insanely tough to be living so long with this battle. That strength will be what helps you fight it and win when you are ready to let it end.

    One of my closest friends battled just like this for years. She is healthy now. Permanent damage has been done to her body, but she is healthy now regardless of those permanent issues. This book was one she read while in therapy (below in the link, I'm prettier sure this is the right book). She said putting a name to the disorder helped her fight it easier. Because it was no longer linked with herself. It was now Ed. It was Ed that insulted her everyday and Ed that made her do those rigorous diets and workouts. And Ed needed to shut up and leave her alone. So she made Ed shutup. It took a really long time, and it required all of her energy to fight Ed... but she won. You can too, you're tougher than you know. And more amazing than you give yourself credit for.

  4. Amen to what Lana said (parenthetically, Lana, it blows my mind that you could ever look in the mirror and think ugly. I thought you were strikingly beautiful from the day I met you. But there ya go!)

    It is important to realize that your eating disorder is not YOU, Thessaly. I know what it's like to have an eating disorder for so long that you begin to identify yourself with it, the line between what's you and what's you with an eating disorder becomes blurred. But don't fall for it. This is not a part of who you are eternally, and one day, you shall joyfully beat it forever. I have hope for you. Keep fighting.