3.04.2013

A Story of a Girl

This is one of those posts that isn’t an easy one to write. There are so many ways to put it, yet there is really only one right way to say it perfectly. I want to share, with the hopes that it will help just one person, but at the same time I’m scared and I desperately don’t want to do it. Drafts are written up and then fall back in the archives, gathering cyberdust as they wait to be published. I’ve written the first few sentences more times than I can count, but I erase them every time, out of fear of sharing something very personal, or from doubt that my words are the right ones. For months I’ve wanted to write and post this, and after months of butterflies in my stomach, fidgeting, or biting my nails every time I think about sharing it, months of wondering and worrying about what I’d say, and months of keeping in a secret that doesn’t need to be kept anymore, today is the day. So here goes. Bear with me, because this post is going to be kind of a long one…not for the faint of heart (haha just kidding J).

Everyone has struggles. We all have those experiences in life that we look back on and appreciate, but would never want to experience again. You can get thrown back into exhaustion just thinking about those hard times and what you felt—the hurt that leaves you numb, the tears that never seem to stop their flow, and the broken pieces of your heart that leave a small, yet infinite ache from the fact that you’ll never be able to glue them perfectly back together again. We all have these experiences, and I am no different. This is the post where I tell you about mine. This is the post where I tell you about my struggle with an eating disorder.

Up until my senior year of high school, I had been a ballet dancer for about twelve years. I’d heard the horror stories and seen the movies in health class about dancers who went anorexic under the pressure of trying to be thin. And I never truly understood because I didn’t care about my weight, and none of the girls in my classes ever seemed to be concerned about it either. I had always been the smallest of my friends and kind of just ate whatever and gained nothing from it, so it never seemed to be a problem. I never thought it could happen to me.

I guess it started from a combination of things though. Dance was my main after-school time commitment, where I spent three days a week or more in class for an hour and a half to two hours. I always loved ballet—it was my way to escape and think about nothing else but dancing for the time while I was in class—but it was difficult. Some girls are more naturally inclined for dance than others obviously, and for me the case was that I had to work hard just to be a mediocre dancer. When I was fifteen going on sixteen, from the end of my high school sophomore year to the beginning of my junior year, it started to be a problem because I wasn’t improving like the rest of the girls in my class were…I was kind of at a standstill in dance, and while I still loved it as much as I ever had, this made it all the harder. At the same time, puberty was hitting me strong and I was gaining some weight, and being the normally small and thin girl I was, it freaked me out. I remember looking at myself in the mirror in ballet class and desperately wishing I was thinner, thinking that it would probably make me a better dancer if I was.

So I started weighing myself. Not trying to lose the weight (because I knew nothing about dieting and I was not a girl who would ever in a million years starve herself—or so I said), just obsessively monitoring it. I started out weighing myself once a day, then it became weighing myself every morning and night, and eventually it turned into weighing myself every time I walked into the bathroom. I was crazy obsessed over my weight. If it went up one pound, my mind would go ballistic. There were so many nights when I’d wait until everyone was asleep, then quietly creep to the bathroom, pull out the scale from the closet and gently set it down onto the tiled floor. I’d weigh myself and then step off and then weigh myself again hoping the number would be less (it almost never was). Then I’d quietly run back to my room, get in bed, and often cry myself to sleep. Because on top of all of this, I was an insecure teenage girl going to school with people I hadn’t grown up with (I moved when I was thirteen) and feeling very alone. So while dance and puberty were huge triggers to the beginnings of my eating disorder, I think my insecurity was the main reason.

Somehow, I kept my habits well hidden. I remember one day at lunch with my friends, when I let it slip out that I weighed myself daily. They freaked out, and made it a much bigger deal than I thought it was, saying that I could easily develop an eating disorder and that it just wasn't healthy. I didn't really take them seriously, but they made me promise to stop weighing myself--which I actually did, for about a week. They checked up on me once or twice and then seemed satisfied that the weighing had stopped, when in fact I just started up again. After that I learned to keep what I was doing to myself, because I realized others weren't going to understand that what I was doing wasn't a big deal. I told myself constantly that I had it under control and that it would never turn into a full-blown eating disorder.

By the end of my junior year blending into the beginning of my senior year of high school, the dieting began. I didn't think of it as dieting, really. I just thought of it as...necessary. Losing weight was something I needed to do but I didn't see what I was doing as dieting, and definitely not as an eating disorder. I started limiting my food intake to so many calories a day, and as time went on, that amount lowered. I wouldn't eat much at school and then I'd eat meals like normal at home when I was there for dinner and weekends, so I kept my parents from suspecting anything. I continued weighing myself multiple times a day and whenever I got dressed or came home from school, I'd look at my body in the mirror, criticizing areas with even the littlest bit of fat. Although I wasn't losing much weight, I was still losing some. I'd look at my stomach's reflection and hope to see it a little skinnier every day. I sucked in my stomach as much as I could, trying to make myself as thin as possible and hoping I'd see a little bone poking through. It was haunting, and quite a bit frightening to see what I was doing to myself, but I couldn't stop.

My eating disorder crept up on me so slowly that even though my habits were becoming extreme--limiting the amount of calories I ate more and more each day, I had a hard time convincing myself I had an eating disorder. I'd looked up countless amounts of websites to look at the symptoms, and I had most of them. It should have scared me, and I think deep down it did, but on the surface, I wasn't ready to let go. It's hard to admit, but I liked it. The summer after my senior year of high school I read all kinds of books about girls with eating disorders to trigger me and to get tips and ideas. I found things online like pro-ana and "thinspiration." It was awful. I found myself going deeper down the hole as I tried anything to help my eating disorder along.

I went to college, and it only got worse with no parental supervision. I found myself skipping several meals and then having small binges on things like desserts and sweets, because when I was in restriction mode, I wouldn't let myself have them. I wasn't losing much weight but the habit was out of my control. I exercised until my legs were so shaky they collapsed. Most days I felt like I was going through the motions as I walked to classes, too lightheaded or hungry to have energy to think. My legs would buckle underneath me with every step and I had to be careful not to fall down. It was honestly miserable. I carried the weight of my secret with me every day and desperately wished I could tell anyone about what I was going through, but fear kept me quiet. I felt numb every day and I walked around feeling empty, like I had no emotional substance inside of me.

As the beginning of my college freshman year progressed, I became very close friends with one of my roommates, a girl who I'd known before from my hometown. As we became better friends, I had a harder time keeping the secret from her. I wanted to tell someone so badly, but it scared me more than anything to let out a secret that only my journal pages knew. Through all of the late nights and partying that everyone does in freshman year, I'd get really moody some days. It was partially attributed to hunger and partially to the fact that I had a huge secret burning a hole inside me. On one of these nights, my roommate and I were walking outside and she realized my mood was something more serious, though I doubt she knew what was coming. I found myself fighting a battle in my head until a whisper came out and I told her. I screamed and I cried and my heart has never beat so fast in my life. The secret was out, and while it scared me to death, I felt freer than I had in a long time. It was one of the most vulnerable days of my life.

A few weeks after I told my roommate, I told my parents. It wasn't something I wanted to do but my friend said that if I didn't tell them, she would. I played it down like it wasn't so bad and after that it didn't come up very often. I felt awkward talking about it to them and I assumed I didn't need their help. At the same time, my roommate was completely ready to help me recover, but I wasn't so sure that I was ready to let my eating disorder go yet. It was a daily battle between us...her wanting me to eat and me never wanting to. I'm surprised she stayed my friend for so long, with how much I turned her help away. It was a huge blessing that I wasn't at the right stage to accept. I wish I could say that my eating disorder got better freshman year, but it seemed to only get worse. My weight went down fairly low, and then it went back up, never a constant in my life. This continued into my sophomore year and as my friend and I grew apart, or were more pushed apart by my eating disorder, I found myself hitting my lowest of all lows. I got very depressed, and because I was so miserable, I knew that I needed to get better. I felt like it was probably impossible for me to recover, but at that point I knew I had no other choice. I think sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can even begin to work your way back up.

I joined a support group on campus. I almost skipped the first meeting, but my friend pushed me in the elevator and practically forced me to go. My stomach was tight with anxiety and I was afraid I was about to go into a room where I didn't belong. I expected the room to be full of girls shriveled up, bony, and dying--girls with actual eating disorders and not like me. I was afraid everyone would think I was a fake. Instead, when I walked in the room, it was full of completely normal-looking girls. Most of them I'd be able to pass by on campus and never even wonder twice about them having a problem. That group changed me as I continued to do it in my sophomore and part of my junior years. We'd share successes each week at the beginning of our meetings. Successes could be anything like, "I haven't weighed myself for a whole week!" or "I ate dinner on Tuesday even though I really didn't want to and still felt guilty afterwards for doing it." They were things that any other person did day to day, barely thinking about them, but for us were huge, and sometimes really hard. We discussed different topics every week in group and shared our struggles and our stories, things so personal to us that no one outside that room knew. Sometimes everyone in the room would be crying after one person talked because the emotions were so strong. We were vulnerable in that group, but it made us close and it helped us grow within ourselves. I made some amazing friends through it, and I feel like we all shared a bond that made us close like sisters. I'm still really good friends with some of those girls today.

Therapy sessions also became part of recovery, and I went to see a therapist in the on-campus counseling center for about a year and a half. I loved my counselor, who specialized in eating disorders, but therapy was extremely difficult. It took me so many sessions to open up and really talk about what I was going through. Therapy is one of those things that really hurts you, but in a good way. It makes you more vulnerable than you've ever been, and I'd leave some sessions and have to go cry in the bathroom just because I was feeling so much emotion all at once. I was stripped of my outer shell as we wormed our way into my inner core.

Recovery was not an easy choice. It was a difficult and long process and took me years to become fully recovered to where I am today. There is no special process and no magic spell that will change it and make everything go away. I had to make the decision over and over again to leave my eating disorder behind, and while it sounds like it should have been a no-brainer, for me it wasn't. It isn't for most girls recovering from an eating disorder. I'd start on the path to recovery, trying to eat normal meals every day and not skip, but it was so hard. I felt awful for eating so much, and I'd break down and cry multiple times a day. I filled up more journal pages than I can count about my frustrations and how I didn't think I would ever be able to recover. I'd read and heard so many stories about girls who'd beat their eating disorders, but mine seemed unconquerable. There were times when I wanted to go back, and many of those times I did, and I'd seep back into the same habits for months at a time. And every time I went back, I remembered how much I hated it, and how miserable it made me. So as difficult as it was, I'd pull myself back up again, hoping that this time I'd keep on recovering.

Without God, I wouldn't have been able to do it. Every day started and ended with a prayer and had several in between. I leaned on Him for support and trusted that what I was doing was right and would somehow end well. Somewhere along the whole process, I got better. Not instantly, but gradually, I found the pieces of my heart putting themselves back together. I'd look back and read things I'd written when I was really struggling and see how much I had improved since then. I had a hard time seeing my progress as I went through each individual day, because I still struggled greatly even after improvement. It was strange and almost miraculous to realize that I was getting better, because I never believed it could have happened.  But it did and it's been that way for about a year. Recovery wasn't easy, but it was possible with a lot of faith and support. I learned about myself and had to change the way my mind worked around food and about life. I learned that shedding a few pounds doesn't also shed the problems--if anything it just causes more of them. I learned to be happy in my own skin and be confident in the beautiful person that I am. I'm not sure where I'd be or what I'd be doing today if I hadn't continually made the decision to recover. But let me tell you that I'm grateful for that decision every single day. It was all completely worth it.

This post took me about a month to write and put together, with all the emotions involved in it and the magnitude of sharing something this personal. It was something I wanted to share for a long time, but every time I thought about it, I chickened out. It's scarier than you could ever imagine to have everyone know about something like this. I kept wondering if I'd lose a bunch of followers on my blog (I know, petty), if people would think badly of me, or if my friends would feel betrayed or stop talking to me. But at the same time, I want people to know, regardless of what they think, do, or say. I'm sorry to any of my family or close friends who didn't know. There were so many people I wanted to tell about it, and this seemed like the best way to do so. Just know that I wrote this post because I wanted to be open about my experiences, so don't be afraid to ask me about it; I want you to.

I wrote this for every girl out there like me...for those with eating disorders and for those who have recovered from them. For any girl who looks in the mirror and doesn't like what she sees, for any girl standing on a scale worrying about the number it shows, or for any girl wondering if she's going to have dinner or not that night. I wrote this for all the girls who are going through their lives day to day and struggling in secret, no one around them knowing. I know how that feels, because I've been there. I had an eating disorder...and sometimes that is still really hard for me to admit, especially to myself. I want you to know though, that I wouldn't change any of it. Yes, it was awful, the hardest thing I've ever been through, and I'd never in a million years want to go through it again or ever want anyone else to go through it, but I'm so grateful for it. I'm grateful for the strength it gave me, for the lessons it taught me, and for the people I met because of it. I'm grateful because it made me more...me. What more could I ask for? :)

*If you're struggling with an eating disorder or know someone who is, you can go here for more help and info. Or if you just need someone to talk to, you can always email me. :)

13 comments:

  1. Kailee, I just wanted to be sure that you know that I love you tons and I have always looked up to you! You are amazing my dear :)

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  2. You are so great :) Thanks so much for posting this. I know that it's scary, and I'm proud of you!! Love you!
    I actually have a similar post sitting on my hard drive that I've been debating posting. You've given me some extra courage to do it.

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  3. This is amazing. I think it really covers the process of going through anything hard, anything secret, anything that you don't want people to know. It's so true that sometimes you don't want to give things up even if they're hurting you. You really have to become aware of how much it's hurting you before you can decide to recover.

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  4. Awesome job sharing your experience! It's a hard to share such a personal story but I bet you feel relieved to have it out in the open. You are a stronger person for having gone through all that! I love you!

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  5. Kailee, thank you for sharing this post on your blog. Any time you open yourself up to vulnerability of posting in cyberspace, it's scary. But I promise it'll help more people than you know. I admire your courage for posting something so personal and close to your heart. You're an incredible person!

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  6. That is amazing. Thank you for sharing your story. I admire you so much for telling everyone. Seriously, thanks!

    Madison
    Looking Up

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  7. Hey! I just stumbled across your blog. I really appreciated your post, especially being someone that struggles with similar issues. Thank you for sharing, it was very beautifully expressed.

    adventure-on.blogspot.com

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  8. I really have an appreciation for anyone who goes through such difficult personal trials and comes out so much better in spite of them, or even because of them. I truly believe if you can make it through, you will end up loving yourself and others more than you would have before. Some trials are just so awful, but there is always a reason why we go through them. Even the most difficult, painful ones can make us stronger and happier if we can endure, persevere, and make our way through them. Of course it helps a ton to rely on God for strength and comfort as well. I also want to say from reading this that we have to remember that we never know what is going on in other peoples' lives. That's one reason why it is important to have love and compassion for everyone. There may be someone going through something difficult and we may not be able to see it. I really appreciate you sharing this and I really hope that you are happier now.
    Btw, have you seen this/heard of Lindsey Stirling? She is someone who went through something similar and is just such an amazing cool person. Here is the link to her mormon.org profile:
    http://mormon.org/lindsey/

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  9. Thank you so much for sharing this. I know how hard it is, having gone through something similar in high school. I don't own a scale because I know how dangerous the numbers game can get. I have learned to rely on my inner gauge, judging how healthy I am by the way I feel physically, mentally and spiritually.

    I know this is a hard thing to talk about, but I'm so glad that beautiful, strong young women like you are doing it. So many will be empowered by your example and may seek help for the first time in years.

    THANK YOU!

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  10. this is so inspiring! i too struggled with dieting in the past and monitoring everything i ate. Becoming a Christian broke the bondage that i was in and i found new freedom in Jesus! thanks for posting this!

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  11. This is a beautiful post, and I'm so thankful that I found it! I am so happy to hear that you are on the other side of your eating disorder, and I know your story will touch so many. I recently just wrote about my eating disorder, too. I know it took a lot for me to write out my story, so from one to another, congratulations on getting your story out :) Beautifully written!

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  12. It's hard for me to picture you that way because you were so happy, fun, and of course tiny back when we went to school together! I'm glad you shared your story, it's nice to see that I'm not the only one who makes mistakes!

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