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When I graduated from boarding school, I left a tiny tree branch of a person, 67 pounds lighter than when I entered.
I had extremely thin hair, bruises all over my body, and arms that looked more like pieces of floss than anything. Granted, I had gained about 30 pounds during my three-month stint in a wilderness program due to stress and a complication with my particular mixture of uppers and downers.
Gaining that much weight in three months is unhealthy, and was especially unhealthy for my 5’0” frame. But dropping from 150 to 83 in six months isn’t healthy either.
The program I attended was supposed to be one of the best in the country despite the fact that it was owned by the same “education group” that had been accused of neglect, abuse, and torture multiple times over the past 10 or so years.
But it seemed alright at first despite the fact that it was in East-Jesus-Nowhere, Arizona and run by a nepotistic Mormon family. The girls were nice enough. Most of us were at that place for mental illnesses, anger issues, and addiction problems, so how nice could anyone really be?
For about a year, I did what I could to lose my excess weight in as healthy of a way as possible. I took up running during our exercise time after we got out of classes for the day. My boobs hit me in the face every time I ran above a trot, but I persisted.
I tried to eat as healthy as possible which was difficult seeing as all of the food was McDonalds quality at best and the staff kept a hawk eye on how much or how little you were eating.
I didn’t lose anything as far as I knew. We weren’t allowed to look at the scale when they weighed us once a week, but I was positive nothing was happening besides dropping a two or so pounds here and there. My pants were still tight, my face was still looked unusually bloated, and I was still having problems coping with my sudden weight gain even after a year had passed.
Then suddenly, something happened that I saw as a blessing back then but a curse now. Just when I was about to give up on trying to lose weight, I got seriously sick with a stomach flu that only allowed me to live off of red J-ello cups, plain rice, and saltines for two weeks.
I would puke whenever I ingested anything, even water sometimes. I was consistently nauseated which ultimately led to me becoming so nervous around food that I thought if I looked at food the wrong way I’d spew chunks all over the floor right then and there.
Seeing people enjoy their putrid cafeteria food made me jealous. But it also sent me into a full-blown anxiety attack about the chicken a la king the cook had just microwaved. Looking back at it, I didn’t even realize that maybe, just maybe, those couple of weeks of surviving off of undercooked rice and stale crackers had made me somewhat delusional. All I noticed was that it made me somewhat skinny.
The day that I started eating again, albeit like a scared rabbit, was the day that I made the ill-advised decision to become a vegan. I knew that this would allow me to eat only the “healthiest” food the cafeteria had to offer.
I had always been concerned about the quality of the meat they were serving and the fact that everything was covered in coagulated butter and/or cheese. However after starving for two weeks, examining the dry, sinewy meat and poking at the oily government cheese that was melted over the buttered fiesta corn,I told my therapist that I was becoming a vegan.
This attracted some less than favorable attention after my small, but noticeable weight loss, but as long as I wrote a paper on veganism, I’d be allowed to go through with my diet change. That wasn’t hard, seeing as I had considered and researched veganism before. No one really thought I was using it as a tool to aid my budding anorexia.
Since practically no one working at the program fully understood what I vegan meant, I was able to pass by eating almost exclusively iceberg lettuce and green apples. They knew that I couldn’t eat dairy products or meat so they, like a surprising number of people still do, thought that I only ate lettuce and fruit, which is exactly what I wanted.
As one would expect, I dropped a ton of weight before anyone had time to notice what was happening and when they did, they were less than helpful.
I was sentenced to drinking Ensure twice a day while the nurses watched me down it, which always took over 15 minutes. I figured that if they’re going to do this to me I might as well make them as uncomfortable as possible for the longest amount of time. I felt like I was in a nursing home.
Somehow drinking a fatty concoction of powdered milk and chemicals didn’t make me gain weight and I continued to wither away like a piece of wood someone was whittling away at.
When my parents would come pick me up for a weekend visit or when I came home for home visits, they would always look progressively more startled by my appearance. My delusional ass didn’t see this as an issue.
In fact, I didn’t see it at all. The mental whirlwind of calorie counting and control was an all-day affair, I didn’t have time to think of anything, or anyone, else.
Then everything took a turn for the even worse. The school was still unaware of how to take care of a person who had a severe case of anorexia. They tried scare tactics in which the nurses would tell me that my organs were deteriorating (who needs a pancreas, am I right?).
They took away my right to exercise, even a once-a-week session of yoga. They made me drink more Ensure, less vegetables, and more carbs. They even held me back from completing the program and going home to an out-patient eating disorder program that my parents had set up for me.
My spine had been rubbed raw just from lying on my mattress, I was too small for all of my clothes, and my face was so sallow, sunken-in and yellow that I was basically Skeletor.
I was constantly compared to other girls at school, “’Such-n-such’ is skinny and she looks healthy. Why can’t you be like that?” I couldn’t tell them that this was probably one of the least helpful things anyone had ever said to me.
Finally I gave in and agreed to gain some weight, but only because I wanted to go home. After about a year and a half of my own episode of True Life: I’m Stuck in my Personal Hell, I was more homesick than I was in the beginning of this mess.
I ate whatever I needed to within my vegan parameters, gained a couple pounds, and they decided it was my time to get out of there and let professionals deal with my disorder.
After a few years of therapy, complete mental breakdowns over yogurt, and a few relapses later, I’m finally as fine as I can be.
Someone once told me that eating disorders live in the back of your mind forever, and that’s totally true.
Eight years later, I’m eating normally and even started eating meat and dairy again. I started a normal workout routine and for the most part I feel great about myself. But sometimes I still hear that stupid voice in my head telling me I shouldn’t eat that or I’m fat and whatever.
Every now and then I let it get to me, but most of the time I can take a hard look in the mirror and realize that I’ve come a long way and I’ve turned into a damn fine human being. No thanks to the one place that was supposed to help me the most.