Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Ella -- You're Anorexic" : Guest Post by Ella Michaelson

Today's post is by a person who goes by the pseudonym of Ella Michaelson. She has given me permission to share her story, which details her own experiences with having an eating disorder. It is a powerful piece that deserves to be read, not only for her bravery in disclosing it, but for how similar it is to many who have experienced eating disorders. Her story is the story of many of us, yet it is also uniquely her own, and is presented in full below.


I didn’t realize I had an eating disorder until four years after I had fully developed one.

To be clear: I knew what eating disorders were. I’d read books about them, learned a bit about them in the Health class we were required to take in middle school. I knew what anorexia was. One of my favorite books was about a girl with bulimia. I was not completely ignorant on this matter.

“Completely” being the operative word here.

In my freshman year of high school I became friends with a girl a few years older than me who had been through an ED recovery program. She noticed that I had a tendency to skip meals frequently. At least one every day, at that point.

She said to me, “Ella – you’re anorexic.”

I denied this furiously. Firstly, that was a ridiculous notion. I was not anorexic! Anorexics did not eat. I definitely ate. Too much. I ate, and when I did, I always ate too much. That’s why I had to skip meals! I had to balance everything out! Secondly, anorexics were skinny. Which I definitely was not.

It was impossible for me to fit into this category, to have this disease. I ate food, I did not throw it up, and I was not underweight. Clearly I did not have any disorder of any kind. Clearly.

The next few years went a little something like this: Skip. Starve. Power. Binge. Weakness. Exercise. Love. Eat. Hate. Restrict. Better. Restrict. Better. Starve. Better. Exercise. Better. Binge. Hate. Exercise. Good. Eat. Anxiety. Anxiety. Anxiety. Anxiety.

At this point, in someone else’s story, you might hear them say that they started to black out frequently, that their grades dropped, that they were so obsessed that they couldn’t focus on anything else, that people started to notice they were sick. But this is not someone else’s story, it’s mine.

So here’s the truth:

I never blacked out, only ever got faint or woozy on occasion. My grades didn’t drop, in fact, I never got below an A in any of my classes. I had other priorities in my life – friendships, relationships, passions. Nobody noticed that anything was wrong. My weight stayed within the same four-pound fluctuation for four years. I remained physically healthy. So clearly I was fine, right? Clearly.

Anxiety. Anxiety. Anxiety.

Every time I put food in my body, I felt guilty. At the end of each day I wanted to pull chunks of flesh off of myself and throw them down the garbage disposal. Every morning I planned how I would manage to eat less during the day. If I went a day without exercise, it sent me into a downward spiral. I had panic attacks if I felt that I was failing to attain my goal.

My goal? No specific weight, really. My goal was To. Be. Perfect.

Someone else’s story might be about the calorie counts that they got down to, goal weights, losing their period, not feeling comfortable enough with their body to have sex. This is not someone else’s story. This is not someone else’s pain.

This was my pain: Kneeling in front of a toilet after a particularly large lunch, sobbing because I couldn’t bring myself to throw up. Waking up in the middle of the night with the worst stomachache and being unable to go back to sleep because I’d taken three laxatives before going to bed. Getting up at five-thirty in the morning, sharp, to get in a solid workout before making it to school. Rejecting sweets at parties, on Christmas, New Year’s, Halloween, on my birthday, because I was afraid of what would happen if I accepted them. Becoming a vegetarian, considering veganism, to force myself to fill up on food with next to no calories. Going from an early breakfast to a late dinner without anything in between. Trying to learn how to run on empty.

Clearly I was not –

In my senior year of high school, I stumbled across some blog posts written by people who could recognize otherwise. Eating disorders are psychological, they said. Mental. It’s all in your head. There’s no such thing as “not being sick enough.” There are more disorders than just anorexia and bulimia. EDNOS. BED. COE. Purging disorder. Rumination. Diabulimia. Night eating syndrome. Orthorexia nervosa. Drunkorexia.

The same sickness manifests itself in many different ways. And I displayed many symptoms from several of these different versions.

But that’s the issue, isn’t it? What we show. That’s how we’re diagnosed. By what we can see. And like most mental disorders, you may not necessarily be able to see the effects of an eating disorder. I had a friend who was so sick that she would wake up in the middle of the night and have seizures because her body was shutting down from lack of sustenance. That’s her story, not mine. But the root of our problems, we share. Perhaps we suffer from different physical symptoms, but our mindscapes look the same.

In senior year of high school, I sat in my Spanish class the morning after coming to the realization that I had EDNOS. Not a weight problem. Not too much fat on my body. Not a need to eat less and exercise more. I had a mental disorder. My heart started to race and tears sprung into my eyes as I took a sip of my breakfast smoothie – all fruit and protein and fewer calories than I’d burned in my workout that morning before school. I took a deep breath and tried to calm the anxiety building itself up inside of me.

I couldn’t do it.

I excused myself from the room and stood outside, leaning against the wall as if it could stabilize my mental state as well as my body. My best friend came outside as well.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

So I told her. I told her that I had developed this disease inside of me, from goodness knows where, that I didn’t know how to cure it, that I didn’t know if I ever could. I cried – for the first time, not from anxiety about my imperfections, but from anger. Anger at how I saw the world and how I saw myself.

Because clearly, something wasn’t right with me. And it needed to change. Clearly.

-Ella Michaelson

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