It was the middle of September, 2014, I staggered out of the library, my legs shaking and my arms barely able to carry my knapsack. Students briskly passed by me on all sides. I stared directly down at the floor as I made my way to the elevator, feeling the stares, the grimaces, the looks of utter disgust and disdain from other students. I finally reached the elevator and pressed the up button. Yes, my 2:00 pm English Comp class was located directly above on the second floor, however I had no strength nor an ounce of energy to climb the seemingly mountain of stairs. Embarrassed, I stepped into the elevator and pressed floor two. Almost there, just a little further, and I would be able to slump into my requisite seat. Then I would breathe deeply and pray to the gods above to get me through the class. My secret was no longer, and I could not hide from my hideous truth of the pathetic and sick person I had slipped into. No longer able to recognize myself in a mirror or concentrate on anything more than sitting in my chair, trying not to pass out and ignoring the disgust of my fellow students. From the depths of my soul, I began to weep, no longer able to escape a pain so complicated and sharp. Believing I had been in complete and utter control, I sat precariously in my chair, a wave of being completely out of control enveloped my fragile, child-like body that was now me, created and designed through a twisted sickness of anorexia nervosa.
I started at school in the summer of 2014; I was on top of the world or so I thought. I was earning my requisite 4.0 in all my classes and beginning to cut back on eating just to be sure, I was perfect in every way a twisted and manic perfectionist should be. Getting up every morning no later than 2 am and working feverishly until 6 am, I was so proud of my “control” over my body, as well as what I thought was every other facet of my life. I was filled with the rushing sensation of adrenaline, like shooting up drugs as I have read about in so many other crazy poets’ stories. It is still a time I look back on with wistful nostalgia. It was for a “girl interrupted,” the single most acutely twisted amazing time I have ever experienced. I sought out this feeling; it satisfied me on all levels. I loved what I called my “body checks.” This was when I would lay down on the couch and run my hands over my jutting hipbones, making sure they were jutting out more than the day before and making sure my wrist bones protruded out, stretching my thin, malnourished skin. With just a little bit less weight, my bones would break through my hollowed body. Then I would go to the mirror, take my shirt off, and make sure every vertebrae on my back was nearly poking through the skin, along with my shoulder blades. My favorite part was a toss-up between my prized ribcage where I could take my fingers and run from the top of my ribcage to the bottom, as my rail thin fingers went bumping along the deep fissures between each rib, and looking at my face, one I no longer recognized but loved to look at as my already high cheek bones made a chiseled portrait that was hideous to others. However, it assured me that I was in control, getting closer to perfect. Sadly, missing those days tells me I am still held in suspended animation by this best friend who has steered me so wrong, who I trusted, and with whom for a brief time I experienced a high like only a seasoned junkie can describe.
The semester ended with a perfect GPA, with great relationships I carried forward with classmates and professors, and oh, by the way, 22 pounds lighter on a body that did not have a pound to lose in the first place. Yes, my family and friends were worried about my life-long struggle as a perfectionist of the extreme sorts. Calls for me to run not walk to the doctors were being tossed about, but I paid no attention to any of it. I could not wait to keep this party going right into the start of fall semester.
Fall semester began September 2, 2014. By October I was overtly struggling to hold myself together, continuing my nocturnal ways, losing more weight (down below 90 pounds), but of course achieving that necessary, nothing else is acceptable, 4.0 GPA. My biggest thrill since the birth of my daughter was the vile joy I got when 00 pants just slid off and I had finally reached being only able to wear kids’ clothes. It was a momentous day, one that I will always remember for the rest of my life. My fall from grace can only be summed up as the “The Tower of Terror,” a ride at Disney, which simulates an elevator plunging downward in free-fall.
It was not until the end of October with my family’s ever growing concerns and pressures, I conceded to see my doctor. As soon as I saw my primary care doctor, the “fire alarm” was sounded. My ill-fated decision to push through the latter part of the semester was instantly vaporized. Told by my primary care that I was, for lack of any better words, starving myself and on course that would ultimately result in my death. There was no other choice except to leave school and enter an in-patient hospital for eating disorders. I argued until I no longer could breathe that leaving school was not an option, adamant about staying in school and finishing the semester. I was not losing my GPA and all my hard work for a little bump in my road; I was absolutely dismissive and patronizing to my doctor and to the illness that held me ever so tightly in a death grip.
For the first time I no longer had the physical or emotional stamina to keep up with my course load. I was still clasping rigidly to the idea of staying in school, as my hollowed shell of a being was slowly but surely being swept out to sea, amidst waves that were rising dangerously above my head, threatening all the precious and priceless elements of my life. Entrenched in anorexia as it flowed rapidly through my constricted veins, I was consumed in a blinding wintery white out. I was holding and clinging on to each passing minute resulting in my self-inflicted denial of life-saving medical care, which the inner most sanctity of my soul longed to receive.
On November 8, 2014, my family drove me to Waltham, MA, to be admitted into an inpatient eating disorders hospital called Walden. The nurse who was handling my paperwork abruptly took all my belongings from me and ordered me into the nearby bathroom. She dryly instructed me to undress, including my underwear, socks, and any jewelry and to put on the johnnie left for me inside the bathroom. Once I was dressed to her specifications, I tentatively stepped out of the bathroom where she ordered me into a room where I was about to experience my first “weigh-in”- the Walden way. It is imperative to note the weighing-in process for a person with an eating disorder like anorexia. At home, I had a very strict ritual of getting up early every morning, peeing as much as possible, and getting completely naked before I stepped on my highly sophisticated scale and held my breath as I looked at my weight for the morning. Then I meticulously recorded my weight onto a long list of paper taped to my bathroom wall. I learned I did not ever get to know my weight while being an in-patient at Walden as the weight read-out is covered up. So stricken by the sickening loss of control I was experiencing, I did not hear the nurse tell me I was all set and to step off the scale. Clinging desperately to the churning in the depths of my very sick brain, I might be too fat or weigh too much to be admitted.
Finally, without any explanation or any words whatsoever, the nurse muttered something about following her as she quickly left the admitting suite, leaving me scrambling to follow her. Thankfully, she carried my bags, but a big balloon of trepidation ready to burst filled my head as the anxiety about entering Walden reached an all-time high. We approached the double doors labeled, “Walden Behavioral Hospital for Eating Disorders.” As I walked down the hallway following the nurse, people who did not look nearly as sick checked me out with a few muttered “HI’s” and faint waves of hands. I was told to sit, so I sat. Soon I discovered I was the thinnest (71 pounds) and sickest of all the patients on the unit.
From the get go I knew I was an outsider. I quickly discerned that most of my fellow patients had been to Walden before. I left Walden one day before Thanksgiving. I had not come in with the “right attitude” to get better and I needed to go home and regroup. I knew I would have to come back. The medical staff was adamant that I not leave. I had to resort to drastic measures to get out of there, such as starving. Yes, starving myself even further at an eating disorders hospital, losing six pounds and warranting my primary care doctor to require that I be released home into her care. I was the rock star of Walden for my punitive starvation towards the medical staff. Everybody wanted to know my secrets. So I told them, cockily knowing nobody’s mind was as maniacal as mine to be able to pull such a stunt. I was damn proud of my starvation tactic at Walden, and I know it is still talked about. It would be a lie if I said I write about this without a smirk or a gleam in my eye. My real secret: I was double-dogged dared and told I could not possibly do it. I left knowing I would be back in December and would be getting a very drastic measure: a feeding tube insertion.
I believe I lasted at home all of six or seven days before I could no longer manipulate my family and my doctors. Immediately I was sent back to Walden where they had been expecting me. Upon arriving, a naso-gastric feeding tube was inserted up through my nose and ran down into my stomach. This allowed me to be hooked up all hours of the day and night, except for when I was supposed to be eating real food, to a pump that continuously infused high caloric/nutrient dense liquid into my emaciated body. It was one, if not the most, humiliating experiences of my life. Still able to talk, and eat normally, but having this tubing running out of my nose and taped across my face was as bad as I thought it could get. This time I had played with fire and got torched big time. What I did not realize is that the whole time I was sick with anorexia, I was slowly destroying my future health. On multiple occasions, I landed in the ER where my life was in eminent danger, as well as my relationships with my beloved daughter, my family and friends, and school, which was so important to me.
I left Walden two days before Christmas. In toll, I had only gained three pounds and again the medical staff was adamant I stay. However, I knew I needed to get out of that environment, which only taught me all the tricks of how to be the “perfect” anorexic. There was a great need to do things differently than they had been done before. When I left, the medical staff was nice, tongue in check, and oh so patronizing because in their minds I would indeed be back. This is because everybody returns to Walden. Nobody ever gets better. Being at Walden, I realized I did not need this sickness anymore. I did not want this to be my life. I had too much to do, too much to live for, and, most importantly, a daughter who desperately needed her mommy.
My road to well began from a quote on a girl’s journal that read, “One day I woke up and decided I didn’t want to feel like this anymore…and so I changed, just like that.” The concept was coined, “Radical Will.” I attacked my illness as a full-time warrior. I deconstructed myself; I was finished being an anorexic patient-no long therapy, just a radical attitude adjustment to change the direction of my destiny. Most people involved in my healthcare doubted my unconventional method. However, I knew this was the only way for me to bury this illness and get back to a “new normal” that provided me the opportunities to engage my daughter as a full-time mom and successfully attend summer classes.
Now I have returned to school, resumed being a mom, and am filled with utter gratitude for all I have in my life that I was so precariously close to losing. No, my health is not perfect. I fear and know I will always on some level be battling this monster that lured me into its hellish cave, never to see the sunset in the same way ever again. I realize I am far from being out of the darkness yet. I still miss those body checks and kids’ clothes.
**First written by Corey Britton in the Fall of 2015. All Rights Reserved. Any use of this story or characters is prohibited by law.*****
BORN THIS WAY-2016