As of August 2019...
I never imagined God had such a powerful story lying ahead of me. I’m pretty sure I was the last person anyone would think to get an eating disorder. I grew up in a family where both of my parents never showed any concern or fear around food. Not only did we enjoy going out as a family to enjoy a good meal, but we were the type to go get dessert right after. I was always the one asking about dinner at breakfast, about when we could go to the grocery store, and making sure our pantry was fully stocked with all of the “good” stuff.
While I had struggled with anxiety in the past, I had no clue that it could lead to such a destroying disorder. When I was younger, I was happy but anxious. My anxiety got worse my 4th grade year and I faced extreme separation anxiety to the point where my mom would have to take me back home from school because I couldn’t get out of the car in drop off line. My parents noticed that I needed more help and got me in with a counselor. I continued with this counseling until the summer leading into 5th grade.
I can't pinpoint an exact time or incident that began my disordered thinking however, there are a couple things that I believe led to my progressive thoughts and building up of emotions. First, I had never really experienced the loss of anyone until my grandparents. I was just in the 5th grade when I lost both my nanny and papa within one week of each other. I was super close to both of them but especially my nanny. When they passed away, I was beside myself. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that there would be no more trips to Vogel State Park with them, there was never going to be another time when me and my nanny would eat oatmeal with frozen fruit together, no more riding the golf cart with papa, no more trips to the farmer’s market, no more painting rocks together, there couldn’t be anymore of that, because both of them were now in Heaven. And while I was glad they were in a much better place, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I also felt the need to be the stronghold of my family. I felt that even if everyone else in my family was upset, I had to contain my grief. So knowing this, I kept all those sad, lonely emotions to myself, and expressed hardly any at all. I was numb. All this numbness caused extreme anxiety. This anxiety caused my head to spin, my heart to race and many sleepless nights. When the anxiety got so out of control and I felt like I could no longer contain it, I relied on the one thing that I knew how to control and that was my relationship with food.
Another trigger that contributed to my disorder was being around people that did not have the healthiest relationship with food and exercise. I, unfortunately, took on many of these behaviors resulting in unhealthy habits and
It was the very end of 6th grade when I really started to control my diet. I felt like I couldn’t control what was happening in or around me. It felt as if the only thing available for me to grasp and control was what I allowed to enter my body. It started out as a small desire to lose a few pounds. Just to lean out a little bit. I was so in tune with cheerleading. And I quickly began to see that the more I went to tumbling, the thinner I started to get. And I wasn’t the only one noticing that. But other people had started to make little comments about how strong I now looked. I took these things as compliments but did not realize what those small comments were creating inside of me.
That is when things really took off in the wrong direction. I thought that by exercising more and watching what I ate I could control the way people saw me. I had it set in my mind that the thinner I got, not only did I like myself more, but I thought that it made other people like me more as well. This very quickly escalated. It started with removing desserts, then appetizers, then it went to no extra snacks only meals, which quickly turned into only salads at meals. So as you can see all of this happened within about two months. As I changed my diet, I was quickly losing more and more weight that I didn’t have to lose. My family really started to see me struggling with eating. But nobody knew what was happening. Including me. Before I knew it, my diet was beyond restricted. My mind was so malnourished that I was no longer thinking correctly. It was as if all I knew how to do was eat less and exercise more. I met with my pediatrician and she told me that I was anorexic.
My parents really started to see that this was out of their control. They knew I needed more help. My mom arranged for me to go have an assessment at what we thought was the only eating disorder treatment facility that accepts adolescents. But come to find out, they could not assess me until August and it was June. I was already emaciated. I looked like a skeleton. To say the least, I was now in the 7th grade and had the same weight of when I was in the 4th grade. I couldn’t sit without my spine and tailbone feeling like they were crushing underneath me. I was constantly sick to my stomach because everything inside of me was at a standstill, for I wasn’t eating enough to move the small amounts of food I had eaten. I was constantly freezing cold. I had what looked like “peach fuzz” growing all over my body because it was my body’s only way of keeping myself warm. My hair was falling out in clumps. I felt as if I was in a daze. I had no control of anything. While I wrote all of these recipes down, I never once made them, I could cook a five star meal for my family, but I didn’t dare eat it. I was so obsessed with food that I would stare at pictures of food online and let my eyes devour it but I couldn’t bring it to my mouth. I watched other people eat a number one meal from Chick Fil A and tried to get the taste in my mouth while I chewed on my grilled chicken and lettuce with no dressing. I was losing pounds by the day and my parents knew I could not wait any longer. So their last resort was to take me to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and get me medically stable before sending me to a treatment center. When I arrived at the hospital, I had no intention of staying overnight. Much less two weeks. But I had no choice, my body could of stopped working at any time. My heart rate was in the 30s and when my bloodwork came back, it was off the charts. They immediately admitted me.
The hospital was so hard for me. I went from pacing my house, never sitting down, to being strictly restricted to sitting and if I wanted to leave my hospital room, I was to be pushed in a wheelchair. Because they wanted to salvage every little calorie I allowed to enter my body. My choice to eat was then taken away from me as I was forced to get an NG tube because I refused to eat 100% of the meal tray they sent up to my room. Talk about being scared out of my mind. I was being force fed not only during the day, but also at night. This was so challenging for me. I would cry and cry. One of my parents stayed with me each night I was there and I would fall apart calling for help. Asking God why He was putting me through this? I didn’t understand. I felt like this was never ever going to end. I was so afraid of them feeding me too much and me gaining weight. I already felt like I was fat when I literally had 0 body fat, and now they were just dumping calories into my body.
While I was there, my family was scrambling to find out where I was going to go after I was discharged from the hospital. The plan was to send me to a treatment center for adolescents in Atlanta but after both of my parents went to visit and came back to my room crying, I knew this was not the place for me. But, I trusted that God had gotten me this far, and He was going to work things out. Sure enough, that afternoon my nutritionist at CHOA came into my room with a packet of treatment centers in the United States. That list included another eating disorder treatment center for adolescents in Atlanta. It was as if God highlighted the name of this facility on the paper. After all, I was not going to have to go out of state, and I was going to get help close to home.
I discharged the hospital on a Thursday. While I was super upset because I wasn’t able to go home before being sent to treatment, I was surprisingly positive about getting help. Or at least I acted that way. When I arrived, I was relieved when I saw that I was going to be staying in a home not a hospital. The first three or so weeks I was here, I did not want to open up to my therapist about everything that was going on. While she very well knew this was very difficult for me. I acted as if I loved being there and not much was wrong. It was not until I came to the realization that if I ever wanted to get back home with my family, and be able to live as a teenager, I was going to have to recover. That is when I really started to listen, and soak up all of the tools and therapy I was given while in treatment. I really started to get better. My disordered thoughts and behaviors started to decrease. I could eat my huge, caloric meals without wanting to have a mental breakdown and my family could tell when they came to visit that the old Gracie was slowly but surely returning. There were countless nights I would call my parents in tears begging them to let me leave. I would tell them that I was all better when really this was just the beginning of a full recovery. But I was very motivated to not give up. I knew that if God was going to put me through such a hard trial, that He had something, a plan in store awaiting me. I knew that there someday would be a time when this “bump in the road” was going to make a difference in someone else's life. And that was one of the motivations that kept me pushing towards recovery, no matter how hard it was going to be.
After nine long weeks of inpatient treatment, my discharge date was here, October 8, 2018. I could not wait to go home. To sleep in my own bed, to shave my legs, to flush the toilet without someone having to check it. While I knew this definitely wasn’t the end of my story, it was for sure a milestone. I had it set in my mind, the second I stepped off of the treatment center porch that I was never going to return.
Next was Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). I certainly wasn’t excited about more counseling but I was much happier with the fact that I was going to be sleeping at home the rest of the time. This type of therapy was three days a week for four hours, and it was family based which meant my parents stayed with me. I liked this type of treatment much better because on the days I didn't have therapy, I was able to go out with my mom, see my friends, and do things most thirteen year old would do.
By the second week of IOP, I felt as if my mind could not soak up anymore counseling. I needed a break. After what now had been three or so months of constant therapy, I felt like I had recovered, I no longer had disordered thoughts, and thought I knew everything there was to know. While I begged and begged my parents to talk to my therapist about discharge, they thought it was best for me to stay as long as the professionals thought. I continued this treatment for about four weeks. After that was where another mistake was made.
I was so excited. I had been discharged from all eating disorder treatment. I was free. I could go home and no longer have to worry about going to counseling. I had about a month and a half until my two siblings would be out for Christmas break, then after the New Year, I was returning to school. I was a little anxious about going back to school but I couldn’t wait to see all of my friends, and tell them everything that had happened. I felt like I was on top of the world. I had a much more positive body image, and I was enjoying the few weeks I had at home before Christmas Break.
Once my older brother and younger sister got out of school for Christmas all my focus was towards the holiday. We could not wait. And even better, after Christmas, we had a trip planned for the New Year. All was good until about a week before Christmas. My Mom asked me to step on the scale just so she could make sure I was not losing weight. When I stepped on, me and my mom were surprised to see that I had lost about 5 lbs. This was so scary for me. All I could think about was the past summer. I was not going to let this happen, so I immediately started eating whatever seemed the most fattening and making sure I was sitting as much as possible. This might seem kind of unreal for a recovering anorexic, but I was determined to keep it under control this time. About three weeks after this scare, Christmas had passed and we were in full force getting ready for school to start back. It wasn’t until about three days before school started that I really began to get nervous. I am not completely sure why, but all I knew was that I was really scared to eat without someone watching me because after what had happened. I did not trust the disorder. Not only this, but I also started to get some separation anxiety. I wanted to act okay though because I didn’t want my family to stress about me after all we had been through so far.
It was now "go" time. On the first day back to school, I was somewhat excited but mostly nervous. My mom dropped me off and it was nothing like I expected. I was thinking that lots of people were going to ask questions and wanted to hear about where I had been. However, to my surprise, not many people did. It seemed more like people were in a way afraid to talk to me because they didn’t really know what to say or ask. I didn’t show it in the first few weeks, but I really began to struggle again. Not only with thoughts with my eating, but I also started losing weight and reverting back to some of my past disordered behaviors such as not sitting down. It was not until about the fifth week of school that my parents slightly noticed that my mood had started to change. I was a lot more anxious and whenever we were at home, I was always standing. The reason I felt like I couldn’t sit down was because my disorder would tell me that I was sitting too much at school. So, in order to somewhat please the voice in my head, I would stand whenever I got the chance. All of my family started to realize that things were different than before. I would cry whenever my mom went to drop me off in the mornings. I slowly started to reveal to my mom about the struggle I had with school. I told her that school made me super nervous and whenever I was there, I couldn’t control my emotions. I didn’t tell her that I had started to feel the urge to exercise more and eat less. So, my parents knew that they needed to get me back into therapy. I started going to counseling again with the same counselor I saw in 4th grade. I was really afraid to go back to therapy because it made me feel like I was failing at recovery. But inside I knew I needed it.
After starting back with my counselor, I acted as if things were getting better but they were honestly getting worse. I had started to stand in my classes when everyone else was sitting. I was throwing away food at lunch and I would exercise whenever I was alone. I really felt like I was falling back into the hole of anorexia. It was so scary and I didn’t want to tell anyone because I felt like I would be a disappointment. But, they knew I was struggling. My weight continued to drop and I had started to show signs of how much this was affecting me physically and mentally.
After one super hard nine weeks of school, my family decided it would be best for me to do homebound school again. While I knew this was not the best route as far as my education, I knew that my emotions and my disorder already started to have a stronghold on me again. When my parents took me out of public school, we all thought things would start getting better. But to be honest it got worse. I not only continued to restrict what I was eating, but now I started to become super depressed. I no longer felt a reason to live especially if I was just going to end up back in residential treatment. I no longer felt comfortable in my body, and I felt like I constantly had to be moving. That’s when my parents decided to get me in with a psychiatrist, two therapists and a nutritionist.
My first appointment with my psychiatrist did not go as planned. He told me that if I didn’t show any improvement within the next two weeks then I would probably need Intensive Outpatient Treatment or even residential treatment again. This not only scared the death out of me, but it made me really realize that I was on the verge of relapsing. I left my psychiatry appointment in tears. My emotions were all over the place and all I could think about was my next appointment with my nutritionist. I knew from past experience that this meant I was going to have to eat more than I wanted.
Let’s just say, that nutrition appointment was my turning point. My nutritionist was able to share with me some of her personal struggles and miraculously from that point on, I was determined to give up all of my disorder. I knew that in order to get better I needed to give it all to God. I couldn’t keep some of my disorder. I had to give every little bit of it up. I was done with all of this. I began to eat what I wanted and all of the negative thoughts that arose about my body I fought. Not only could I see change, but my entire family started to see that I was turning a corner. I was no longer depressed!! All of my negative thoughts towards my body and food are fading away. Every time I challenge my eating disorder voice, it as if my power increases and it’s power decreases. And while the urge to move is still there, I am working very hard to ditch that desire. For I don’t want this anymore, the only person I have to please is my Savior and as long as I am being a light for Him, He is going to take care of the rest. I have come to the realization that in the end, God already has a plan for me. I am from now on going to let Him write my story.