Web-only article from "Women" issue of Visions Journal, 2004, 2(4)
"Cow!" Justin shouted at the top of his lungs. "Go graze in the field with the rest of your family," he added. Everyone laughed and pointed at me. My head instantly shot down in shame. There I was, sitting on the bus on the way home from school, alone with no one to defend me.
It started at the age of five, when I met Justin for the first time. His mother introduced us and, as a friendly gesture, he punched me in the face. Unfortunately, he lived just a few houses up the road from me, so there was no way of getting away from him. We took the same bus, went to the same school and lived in the same neighbourhood.
The teasing and bullying didn’t affect me again until grade five.
I was a young girl, going through puberty and trying to find out who I really was. I didn’t like dresses or the colour pink. Instead, I played hockey and soccer and dressed in large baggy clothes. I tried to fit in with the girls, but that didn’t work.
I was left with one last resort—the boys. I did my best to fit in. I cut off my hair, and I became tough. I even joked about the girls with them. It wasn’t good enough. Instead of being accepted, I was rejected.
Justin started to make fat jokes about me, and the rest of the boys followed suit. Endless comments about being fat or eating too much were followed by physical abuse. Fights broke out between me and Justin or anyone else who had a problem with me. I ended up in the principal’s office more than once that year. I would try to explain my reason for hitting one of the boys, but instead of listening and understanding, the principal accused me right away and I was usually the only one punished.
My parents did everything they could to stop the bullying. They complained to the principal, my teachers and even Justin's parents, but nothing was done. Grades five and six passed, becoming worse each year. I often came home crying and resorted to the ice cream in the freezer or the bag of cookies in the cupboard for comfort. I often faked being sick just to avoid the comments for a few days. Nothing was working, and something had to change.
By grade seven my personality had totally changed. I wore pink and I was the quiet little girl in the corner. I tried my best to be invisible to Justin and the rest of his friends, but it only made things worse. The fat comments poured out and I wasn't fighting back anymore. Instead, I began to listen. What if I really am fat? I could afford to lose a few pounds.
I began to diet, eating fresh fruits and vegetables and cutting out junk food. Once I had lost about ten pounds I felt great, but according to Justin I looked the same. I took a salad to school one day for lunch and he commented: "Mo-o-o. Cows need their greens."
I wasn't trying hard enough. I needed to cut more out of my diet. I erased protein and anything with more than three grams of fat. As the days and weeks went on I cut back more and more, not realizing that I was slowly starving myself.
My parents took me to our family doctor in November and explained to him my recent weight loss and the absence of my period. He responded with: "All young adolescent girls lose weight as they grow, and as for the periods, they are always inconsistent at first." So I kept on dieting, and playing hockey and basketball. I read diet and health food books, and exercised to the extreme, spending hours on the stationary bike. By the end of December I had lost 40 pounds.
My parents decided to get a second opinion and took me to another doctor. She had blood work done, as well as an ECG. Once the results were in, she told me I had a weak heart and liver and would need to be monitored in the hospital overnight. That wasn't a problem. One night in the hospital wasn't so bad, was it?
I ended up spending two and a half months in the hospital. When the doctor told me I had anorexia, I denied it. "Only girls that drink water have anorexia. I eat," I responded. I had no idea what anorexia was or its characteristics. I only knew the word from teen movies.
In the middle of March I switched schools for the rest of grade seven. Justin still harassed my family from a distance, with help from his younger brother Kyle. My parents called his parents and the police, but once again, his parents denied everything and nothing was done.
My weight went up and down constantly, until I was hospitalized again in January of grade nine. This time it was for only two weeks. I continued on with my high school life, playing sports and participating in school activities, but my constant attempts to lose weight had prevented me from developing any true friendships. By the beginning of grade ten I weighed 88 pounds.
In September of 2003 I began treatment at the Capella program in Vancouver at BC’s Children's Hospital. I spent five months gaining the weight back and undergoing intense therapy. I returned home to Vernon at the end of January, ready to overcome the anorexia.
Unfortunately, the stress of finishing my correspondence courses and trying to ‘fit in’ took priority over trying to get better. By April, I was already thinking of ways to cut certain foods out of my meal plan. Over the summer I became much worse, going for a few days without any food, and only eating a few hundred calories on the days I did eat. My parents knew the anorexia was back. My counsellor, doctor and dietitian were on vacation. And no one could not force me to eat.
I desperately needed a sign to show me the way—and I soon found it. I was babysitting for neighbours that lived across from Justin's house. He and his brother and friend came over and mooned me through the porch window. I jolted up, ready to explode in anger. I opened the sliding door and yelled: "When is this going to stop? When are you going to leave me and my family alone!"
Justin's friend called back: "Who are you?"
I responded with the simple answer of: "I am the girl that Justin made anorexic."
Justin then yelled at me: "I wasn't the only one who teased you!"
Sick of him denying the fact, I went back inside and thought about what I had just done. That wasn't good enough, and I wanted answers. I went out on the porch and called Justin over. I asked him straight up: "Do you think I am fat? Did you ever think I was fat?"
"No, I only called you fat in retaliation," he responded.
I was shocked. All those years of starving myself and not actually being fat! I felt empty inside.
Justin and I continued talking. He was also being bullied at high school. Before he walked back over to his house he asked how I was doing. I told him that I wasn't doing well—and I finally heard the words I had been waiting for, for so many years: "I'm sorry," he said.
I thought that would be the end of it. The whole reason for this disease was a sham. So now I could get better, right?
When August rolled around I weighed in at 78 pounds and was severely dehydrated. My doctor told me I could have a heart attack at any minute, and die. I didn't care and refused to go back to the hospital—but this time I had no choice. I was at my lowest weight ever; my heartbeat was too weak to measure and my organs had deteriorated.
After two weeks in the Vernon hospital, I was able to get a spot in the Capella program again. I arrived in Vancouver on August 31, my father’s birthday. By the end of September I couldn’t take it anymore. Being away from home was not helping, and it only made me more depressed and angry. I was sick of hospitals, sick of people telling me I couldn't do it on my own, and just plain sick of anorexia.
Now, at home, I still have 20 pounds to gain, but I am sure I have the power and strength to do it, and to prove to everyone how strong I really am.
About the author
Amanda is a young woman recovering from anorexia. She lives in Vernon, BC