I’m crouched in a corner with my knees in toward my chest. I open my eyes, and it’s completely dark. I try to move my legs, but there’s no room to budge. The floor and walls are freezing, and cold air buzzes around me. I scream “Help!”, and feel my hot breath blow right back in my face. I wiggle one of my legs from underneath me, and I force a kick.
A door cracks opens, and light fills the space.
I look around to notice that I’m curled up in my kitchen’s Frigidaire. I slide to sit on the edge of one of the shelves. A hand reaches in. Tentative but compelled, I jump atop a small bowl, and I’m carried to the warmth and camaraderie that lies just a few steps outside.
I wake up. My eyes are blurry, and I’m crouched on a floor with my knees in toward my chest. I try to move my legs, but I have no strength. I try to yell for help, but it sounds more like a whimper. I am weak and my throat is hoarse.
This is my reality. It’s my rock bottom, and it’s a nightmare.
The only thing colder and lonelier than waking up on a chilly linoleum bathroom floor is being trapped in a refrigerator. And I’m coming out of it.
One doesn’t just get help. You have to ask for it. And it’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do or admit.
The Mayo Clinic defines an eating disorder as “a group of serious conditions in which you’re so preoccupied with food and weight that you can often focus on little else.”
I call my eating disorder the phonetic spelling of its acronym, E.D.—Edie (or Ed for those who prefer male pals). Edie has always been there when I was most alone. She’s not my ideal friend. She’s the kind of gal you have a hard time telling you really don’t want around. She is self-centered and has no social tact. Edie’s the girl that uses her loud cell phone voice, always, especially at the bank or post office. She puts her feet up on the chair next to you at the movies, doesn’t use her blinker, and never waves if you let her into your lane. She’s always changing her look and coming by unannounced and always, always stays a lot longer than you expect. She thinks she’s in control, when really she’s just a hot mess.
I met Edie in high school. I was overweight and bullied by the popular kids when I was young, and I couldn’t bear it as I got older. My mom took me to Weight Watchers the summer before my sophomore year. I loved the structure and solidarity of it. Celebrating the wins of others inspired me to win too. For each pound, you’d get a star. For every five pounds, you’d get a ribbon. Such great incentive, really—who doesn’t want to get a prize!?
I was the only kid, but I looked forward to those meetings, because I wasn’t the only fat person. There were other people out there struggling with their weight, and it made me feel safe. And I lost twenty pounds on the program!
When school started, I couldn’t make the meetings, so my mom just kept me on the program by making me healthy breakfasts and lunches.
The first time I saw Edie, she was standing outside the cafeteria. I imagined her tall and beautiful with thick blond hair in loose curls. She was everything I wasn’t, so we became fast friends. She told me that I would lose weight faster if I just tossed my lunch. My mom would never know.
What a brilliant idea, I thought. Within a few months, I had dropped thirty more pounds. It didn’t matter that the period I had just gotten for the first time a few months before had stopped or that my hair had started to fall out. I weighed myself in the nurse’s office every day and watched my success. My grumbling stomach was replaced with a hollow feeling of quiet. Loose clothing and a slow retreat from spending time with friends allowed Edie and I to get to know each other better. She kept me focused on my path to skinny.
On a random school day, a counselor had called me into her office. I imagined she wanted to talk to me about my stellar grades, my perfect attendance, working with the underclassmen, or my involvement in numerous extracurricular activities. Instead, she asked me if I had a problem with food. My weight had gone down exponentially and some were concerned. I told her I had no idea what she was talking about, and unless it affected my grades, should anyone be concerned? I had never heard of anorexia before, and I definitely didn’t have it.
I continued to get smaller, but needed to act smarter. I didn’t want to gain weight but didn’t want to call attention to my mission. As luck would have it, all it took was tonsillitis. My throat closed up, and I was in pain, but I achieved my goal weight—just under one hundred pounds. I was so excited. I looked in the mirror. No one was around with congratulations; it was just same old me staring back, and the shadow of Edie beside me smirking with glee. It didn’t feel like anything other than sad and lonely. There were no ribbons, no stars, and it was brutal to maintain.
Then, one day, I saw him—the cutest boy from school running with his Sony Walkman. I thought if I get home from school in time, I could throw my sneakers on and “run into him.” Then maybe he’d be my boyfriend.
I laced up my Keds (I know, but it was the early 90s), and it was love at first step. I never did catch up with the cute boy, but I ran. I even remember the first song that played on that Walkman. “Just Like Heaven” by the Cure. I ran and left Edie in the dust. I got better shoes. I ran races. I liked the idea of being in a pack of people, running along a path, slapping hands of strangers cheering you on from curbside. I felt a high from that energy that I didn’t want to lose it. I had to eat to maintain that energy. I felt like I had snapped out of a bad daydream. Eating and running brought me back to balance and clarity.
I regained my appetite and found a hunger for something healthy—exercise. I felt strong, empowered, and motivated, and Edie became just a teenage phase.
Only one in ten men and women with eating disorders receive treatment. Only thirty-five percent of people receive treatment for eating disorders at a specialized facility for eating disorders (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, anad.org).
In college, everyone around me was eating pizza until three a.m. while studying biology or painting their masterpiece. I couldn’t eat like that without feeling ill, but I never wanted to be left out or considered a loner, so I joined in and indulged.
I saw Edie running along the Charles River in Boston where I went to school. She looked so collegiate with her fuzzy hat and mittens, her slick windbreaker, and rosy cheeks. In Boston, the marathon is an institution. I started training. I trained myself thin. I longed for the curbside high fives as hour two and three of my training would pass, burning off last night’s late-night binge on cookie dough with the girls in my dorm, the beer from the frat party two nights before, the bag of pretzels between classes the day before that, the stick of gum I chewed on to suppress my hunger during my run, and the one that followed that one, chain gum chewing while my feet kept moving.
Some people throw up. For me, I purged in miles. I didn’t know anything about exercise bulimia. So what if the marathon was done and I was still running? I didn’t have it.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness (anad.org).
In my 20s, I was living in Los Angeles working in television, hosting, and reporting for a major network and cable station. I was young and living my dreams. One month, both shows I was on were canceled. The following week, on Valentine’s Day, I was in a major car accident that totaled my car and left my body injured.
I couldn’t physically run, and I was in a rut. I got a temp job in an office. This time, Edie took shape as my real life boss, Kerry, a knock-out in a tailored power suit, Manolo Blahniks, and a Victoria Beckham bob that would freak out Frederic Fekkai. She was in her 40s and fabulous. I asked her how she looked so great and had such boundless energy. She reached into her Birkin bag with her freshly manicured nails, and handed me this tiny green and yellow pill.
Stay tuned for part 2!!