I remember this office from the first time around.
In junior high, I was a short, skinny kid. I ran around in sneakers and overalls with hair shaped like an upside down yield sign.
In the summer of 11th grade, I realized I’d gained a bit of weight since junior high.
I could no longer fit into my overalls. I couldn’t convince my favorite jeans to shimmy past my thighs. I asked my mum for the first time if she thought I was fat. She said I wasn’t.
And I was not fat. I was tall for my age, and 135 pounds. This was the heaviest I’d been in my life. But in no universe was I overweight.
I was joining my high school’s swim team in the fall, and I wanted to get in shape. I remember wanting more muscle tone so I could swim faster. I wanted to lose 20 pounds.
I stopped eating chocolate. I started using smaller plates during dinner to curb portion sizes, and no longer had snacks. I did pushups and went for walks after supper. I studied nutrition facts labels like a twisted version of the Bible. My self-control was exceptional. I lost 20 pounds, and wanted more.
My sister asked me how I stayed so skinny. My dad answered for me, saying it was because I watched what I ate and exercised a lot.
By “exercise a lot,” he meant I ran 10 kilometers, lifted weights and then swam up to 3 kilometers – daily.
I remember being afraid of germs. Terrified. My biggest fear – apart from gaining weight, of course – was a pandemic breaking out. Whenever the news talked about Avian Flu, I left the room. I washed my hands between 50 and 100 times a day. I sat in movie theatres with a scarf wrapped around my face, protecting myself from airborne bacteria.
I remember the day I first met my psychiatrist, when he diagnosed me with anorexia, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. I remember, afterwards, my mum holding me and crying and telling me we will get through this. And not wanting to understand what she was talking about because I wasn’t anorexic and still wanted to lose more weight, even though I was only 100 pounds at 5’9.
I remember the fights with my parents over mealtimes, over portion sizes, as they forced food down my throat. They were fattening me up like a Christmas turkey. I could feel myself expanding. I watched the stretch marks spread.
I remember wondering when it started. My psychologist spoke about a 3-pronged system of causation: Environmental, genetic, societal causes. School, home and the pressure I put on myself were all definite stressors. Studying skinny women on magazine covers in line at the grocery store has never helped anyone, either. And I guess crazy runs in my family.
Eventually it got better. It was easier to eat. The weight gain didn’t bother me so much, because I felt healthy. I could concentrate during tests at school, and wasn’t constantly cold. I remember my psychiatrist talking about the possibility of a relapse.
I sit and stare at the coffee cups. I’m cold, even though the eating disorder clinic at the University of Alberta Hospital keeps the temperature above average (probably knowing their patients lack insulating body fat).
My fiancé sits beside me – we’ve been going out for a year, been engaged a month or so. He’s wonderful about this anorexia thing. He encourages me at mealtimes, never shouting or swearing the way my parents used to. He knows my eating schedule better than I do. He brings me my medication every morning, keeps it safe when I’m thinking of taking it all and being done with this.
I’m swallowing Celexa and Zyprexa before bed, and taking Ativan 3 times every day.
My psychiatrist surveys me.
“Your pupils are gigantic,” he says.
I vaguely register my fiancé taking my hand. I feel like I’m going to throw up. We – i.e.: My psychiatrist and fiancé – talk about depression and apathy and how I sleep more than I am awake.
My psychiatrist laughs, looking at his notes. “I think we’ve poisoned you with Celexa.”
Great, I think.
He decreases my dose of Celexa.
I make it to campus, thinking about the classes I should be studying for – if I want to make it past my 2nd year of university, I should be studying a lot harder than I am. I throw up in the Student’s Union Building washroom, and sleep for awhile on a couch before going home.
Home is my fiancé’s parents’ place. My parents didn’t want me to live with them when they found out about the relapse. My sister said she never wanted to see me again. Which probably wasn’t true, but still.
I know I should be an inpatient at the eating disorder clinic. I should be living there, eating pre-determined meals, visiting my psychiatrist every day. It would take the burden away from my fiance’ and his family. It would give me a sense of control – doing something to improve my situation. But checking myself into the clinic means withdrawing from classes and being away from people I love. I don’t want to give these things up. I’m being selfish and I know it.
Read the rest of the article in our Winter Issue here.