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Mental Health

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

My Life

From one extremity to the other

Michelle Dean

Reprinted from "Treatments" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 3(1), pp. 15-17

stock photoHow did 'it' happen?

Food, at times, has been my ‘friend’ and confidant (over-eating). Other times it has been my arch-enemy, out to ruin my life (anorexia). I don’t think I’ve ever experienced normal eating on my own—only with my first hospital ‘visit’ back in grade eight.

I was physically, mentally and sexually abused as a young child. I numbed my pain away by binge eating. This led to weight gain and ridicule, which lead to more bingeing, weight gain and ridicule—a vicious cycle indeed.

When I was just shy of 12 years old, I got up to 150 pounds. The harassment was unbearable. So, after finding a Weight Watchers book in my home, I told my mom I was going on a diet. My mom was completely against it, but I did it anyway.

The more weight I lost, the more people loved and accepted me. The compliments came one after another: “You’re truly a beautiful girl under there!” or “Oh, wow, you’re actually gorgeous now!” So guess what folks? I kept on with it. And things got progressively worse.

Over the next year, I lost 60 pounds. I’d corner my mother in the kitchen and lecture her on what she was putting in our bodies and how much it appalled me. Someone suggested to her that I might have an eating disorder and recommended that she get me a referral to BC Children’s Hospital. In October 2001 I was assessed as having what was blatantly obvious—anorexia.

I started as an outpatient at BC Children’s, but by Christmas I was an inpatient. But because I was forced to go into treatment, I chose not to get much out of it.

When I got out of the hospital, I hit a new all-time low. I needed to gain weight and picked up bad eating habits—figured I may as well enjoy myself. I ballooned up a good 90 pounds during grades nine and 10, reaching as high as 200 pounds.

Eventually the overweight got to me, however, and I began making “better choices” again. By the summer of 2004, I had lost about 30 pounds. That was the summer I met my current boyfriend, who had come out to the coast from Winnipeg; we had a mutual friend. I felt incredibly fat and disgusting standing next to him. I told myself that the next time I saw him I had to be size x—and thus began another battle with bingeing. I’d get to my desired weight, then would set myself a goal for the next time I saw him. Once again it was achieved—but it was never good enough. My boyfriend never put pressure on me to be thin. This was all self-induced.

Things continued to snowball. I wanted to see if I could get sick again. I had forgotten how physically and mentally agonizing anorexia is, and I welcomed it back into my life with open arms. I lost 45 to 50 pounds—excluding the healthy-start weight loss—by not eating, purging and exercising four to six hours a day.

So here I am, in the spring of 2006, back as a patient in BCCH’s eating disorder program for youth. I’ve been on the inpatient ward for five weeks and on weekdays I am part of the day program.

In treatment: realizations . . .

This is my second shot at healing, and this time it was my own initiative. Every day was the same tedious routine, and when I looked into my future, I saw nothing for me. I just wanted to be dead and that petrified me. Also, contrary to many anorexics, who feel as though they’re in complete control, I felt incredibly out of control. No matter how much I wanted to stop, I couldn’t. My relationships were deteriorating—I didn’t want to be alone with myself, let alone have other people around getting impacted by what I was or wasn’t feeling. And, physically, I felt atrocious. I didn’t have any energy, yet still gave 110% when it came to working out for hours on end. I’d look in the mirror and see a yellow, dark-eyed, bald-spotted, bruised-up person that was supposed to be me. I couldn’t stomach it. I knew I was far from being healthy.

I’m confident when I say the program is working for me. Yeah, sure, I do go home on weekend passes and muck up here and there, but it’s not intentional. The way I see it is, I worked hard to get where I am—it was my lifestyle for so long—that it will understandably be a long journey to get well. I’m not resisting the groups and other people like I did my first time around.

My days here in BCCH are structured. We eat three meals and three snacks, and attend various support groups. These include a nutrition group, in which we select our menus for the upcoming week and discuss diet myths and other facts to help us make wise eating choices. A few hours of schooling are also incorporated into each day, as the majority of us still need to complete our studies—I’d lost a lost of my grade 12 year.

DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy) is one of the more helpful groups. It helps us control our thoughts and not let them overpower us and run our lives. We typically start with a mindful exercise, in which we sit completely relaxed while listening to soothing music and become aware of our feelings. Most patients have trouble expressing feelings, and some are unable to distinguish between different emotions. This group helps us get an idea of what we’re feeling and how to properly assert ourselves.

I’ve learned a lot about myself. My eating disorder is a way of shielding myself from the real world. The thought of finishing grade 12 and getting to a new point in life was horrifying and daunting. It still is. Part of me thought that if I was sick I wouldn’t have to deal with things—I could just spend my days in treatment facilities or in my own world at home. But I’ve learned that’s no longer what I want out of life. Life is too short. In two years I want to be able to travel to different parts of the world, and in five years I want to be finishing university, and in 10 years I want to be started on my chosen career path. I don’t want to be asking myself in 10 years, what have I done with myself?, only to realize I haven’t done or achieved anything because I’ve been sick.

A good state of mind and good health will enable me to hold down a job to make money so that my dreams can become reality. Previously, working out was a priority and every other eating disorder habit took precedence over my job, so I quit working. I want to be able to think clearly so I can do well in my university courses. Since I’ve been working on things, all my relationships have benefited.

I’ve been able to pinpoint some things that I’ve felt out of control with. For example, I can’t control my long distance relationship and I can’t control the fact that I’m going to have to face the real world in a month’s time. But now I’m more willing to accept the fact that I just need to go with the flow of life. The thought of that, though still a bit frightening, is exhilarating.

So here I am today, writing a little blip of only a few of my struggles in the comfort of a treatment facility. It’s been just over a month now and things are changing. I’ve realized I’m a great person with many wonderful assets to offer to people, the community and the world. Anorexia will only hinder my goals and passions. I will beat anorexia. And I assure you that I will achieve every goal I set for myself. This illness robs you of a quality life, the type of life I so desperately want to live.

About the author

Michelle describes herself as driven, kind and easygoing. She's coping well with her eating disorder, is working and will be attending college in the fall of 2006


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