“Well, I’ll Just Stop Eating Then…”

Super share. I can’t speak for anyone else but myself… but since my teenage anorexia was an indirect product of my teenage epilepsy, I’m going to super share. 😐

Eating disorders are largely a manifestation of feeling the fuck out of control.

“My life is spiraling out of control and I’m also 16 so… yes, I believe I will do something dramatic.”

An eating disorder is similar to an addiction, as it allows you to simplify your life by only focusing on maintaining your addiction. Except you don’t need to interact with drug dealers and it’s really public. And you don’t roll your eyes back and fall, you instead spend your time fooling people into thinking you’re eating when you’re not.

And this becomes an all-consuming and often disgusting game.

But it’s a way of inventing something over which you feel you have control.

You don’t but you feel like you do.

It’s just one way to avoid dealing with things which you feel you cannot, at that time, cope.

Anorexia is in no way “romantic” either. Oh sweet Cassie.

And you don’t care that, in other places, other kids are starving. No, and this is because you have become completely self-absorbed as only you can see the red light is blinking and your ship is going down and it’s all hands on deck because you’re taking in water.

“Everything’s fine.”

After I gained a bunch of weight junior year, I got myself an eating disorder because, with the whole epilepsy ordeal and the effect it was having on my parents, and then, also, how my home life had caught fire… I needed a bump.

I needed to take some control over this spiraling situation but found that I couldn’t.

So I needed to feel like I had some control over something or I was going down.

My mom’s behavior was dramatically changing for reasons we did not yet know and my dad lost his job and… uh… when I found out that my epilepsy medication was the reason I had gained twenty pounds junior year… I simply stopped taking it.

Quietly. Without dialogue.

I hit a wall and then I scrawled “NO MORE” on it and started to dislodge the bricks with my bare hands.

Something inside of me exploded, my eyes went black and a cold stillness fell over me.

It all seemed so clear right then.

The manifestation of this sentiment scared even my epilepsy as I also stopped having any seizures.

And I lost all the weight.

And I got the prized merit-based college scholarship I needed.

“I’m fine.”

Senior year I was quietly hospitalized for anorexia.

But just for a few days. Besides, a break sounded appealing.

I got my own room and I got to choose a movie to watch (The Secret Garden) and I got to order off a menu and they delivered my meals… and no one really bothered me.

It was idyllic.

It was the first time I felt able to breathe in years. And I was so polite and cooperative I rarely saw any hospital personnel. I ate my meals and could have puked all over the place as I wasn’t really being watched but I didn’t, out of respect for the nurses who were kind and concerned.

There was a smooth, logical order to my stay in the hospital and I didn’t have to interact with others and… I ate and did what I was told and, since my electrolytes were consistently normal, they couldn’t keep me longer than a few days and I was soon released.

Because, on paper, I was super healthy.

However, I continued to do outpatient group therapy except there weren’t any other kids… it was only me and a group of psychologists/psychiatrists and one of them astutely stated, “Boys won’t like you if you’re so skinny” and then asked, “Don’t you want boys to like you?”

“Not particularly.”

I could actually feel my eyes spark and my skin stiffen.

Maybe they didn’t know I had epilepsy because specialists aren’t always great at sharing patient information or maybe they weren’t great at connecting dots.

All I know is they didn’t help.

When I share that particular vignette with colleagues they are horrified but it’s easy to forget how extremely gendered notions were still alive and well in the 1990s. I think this is when I decided I would get my doctorate in psychotherapy if only to provide a counter-balance to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy espoused by the mental health people I encountered as an anorexic teenager.

As a practitioner, I’ve asked young people, “What’s going on?” Because, in order to treat someone, you need to gather a comprehensive understanding of their experience, as they feel and see it, and not just fill their book bag with Prozac.

But, back when I was not being hot enough, I just stared back at the psychologists and wondered who in the world had given them their degrees.

And my parents also felt they were useless and things got worse and then everyone kind of gave up on trying to help me which is what I felt I desperately needed.

I hadn’t apparently communicated this well enough to anyone but I wasn’t going to let anything prevent me from moving forward, reaching my goals or making use of all the love and support my parents had given me.

I was trying to always downplay my being an overachiever by overcompensating with fake ambivalence and extreme politeness.

Everything's cool but do not get in my way though if you do... that's okay, I'll just climb over you, thank you for your time.

And I wasn’t going to blow it now. Damn epilepsy. Damn money. Damn doctors.

Sort of a Type A personality hidden in a Type B suit.

I ran out of fuel short of the perceived finish line and so I dragged myself across it.

And, for a teenage girl, trying to wrap my mind around how my brain was trying to kill me and then how epilepsy was also indirectly responsible for making me fat, oh hell no, body of mine.

I felt it was time to disconnect from my body and cut off the fuel.

So, given a little space, this high-strung epileptic skeleton simply carried on my merry way and got the college scholarship which had been my ultimate goal.

I needed that because, with my family’s changed economic circumstances, I needed to find my own way to help pay for school.

And I felt desperate to get out of town, start new and reinvent myself because I had blown my cover by losing control of my anorexia and now everyone looked at me super sadly and this upset me.

Contrary to what others felt, I wasn’t trying to kill myself. I was trying to buy time.

I had watched the Karen Carpenter video in health class like everyone else. I knew all about the damage I was inflicting on myself. However, I also knew more about the nutritional value of food than the pretty hospital dietitian who was assigned to me. Thus, my limited food intake was packed with the most essential vitamins.

My pediatrician told me to eat a banana if I didn’t eat anything else because potassium was so important to a growing body.

I appreciated how he knew I had to let this run its course and did not shake me or beg me to stop but, instead, provided helpful advice, like providing a practical weapon to someone who is walking into the woods with no idea of when they will return.

However, the reason the seizures stopped is probably because my bad brain couldn’t conjure up enough electricity due to my weakened physical condition.

But, in my 17-year-old mind, I had taken CONTROL.

I was really just killing myself slowly to prevent epilepsy from killing me first but

I considered it progress.

When I later left home for college and my bed mattress was lifted in the move, my dad found all the medication I had spit out in the early morning when my parents would come in and administer it in order to prevent the seizures I was experiencing as I woke up.

But I would then, half-asleep, quietly spit out the medication after they left and hide it under my mattress.

So, when that mattress was later lifted, there were hundreds of pills under it.

When my dad saw this impressive collection of non-consumed pharmaceuticals, he just smiled and shook his head.

I hadn’t experienced any seizures in the last year and a half and I hadn’t even been taking my epilepsy medication.

It was a real shift. I felt I had fixed myself.

But not before I inflicted a great deal of damage on myself which I would have to somehow fix.

Thank you, LOLZombie.

I left for scholarship-funded college and focused on healing myself in a bigger environment.

A couple years later, along with my physical health, the seizures returned and I got back on medication.

It took years and years to drop anorexia as a coping mechanism but, eventually, I became genuinely bored of it.

I woke up one day and thought, “Ugh. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

But it took a long time to feel that pure distaste.

Life certainly didn’t get any easier but I grew stronger and became better able to navigate and cope with the shit storm of life without hurting myself or others.

And so it goes. Life is a real battlefield.

You fall and get up, or you don’t.

You find healthier ways to cope or you don’t.

Or the reason you starve yourself is not pulsating as strongly because time has healed the trauma,

or it hasn’t and more time and kindness is needed.

Eating disorders are scary and very dangerous because they require that someone develops a very unhealthy relationship with an essential source of survival which is usually available.

Unlike an addiction to alcohol or cocaine, an anorexic or bulimic cannot simply go cold turkey. And, unless you live in a drug house, you aren’t constantly confronted with heroin and your grandmother isn’t shoving it at you on holidays.

You really need to reprogram your mind and that requires intense work.

Oddly, what really helped me was a senior year English project, where we had to come up with life goals. I don’t think the teacher knew how seriously I took that assignment.

Since I’m forty now… that explains why I’m unemployed. I guess I’ll just wait until I’m 50 and then open my oceanfront gallery, exhausted from all my activism and wealthy from my neuro practice 😂

I didn’t marry a count, but I married an artist who could sell his paintings in my gallery.

And he can count. ———> muellerlowlife.com

And maybe I can sell my Microsoft Paint prints in this gallery too but… probably not. 😬

The point is how we need to find our own reasons to keep going.

And we each have to hit our own bottom before we can break any surface.

This is why it’s so important to be kind to others because, not only is it likely we don’t know what battles other people are fighting, but what we think about them may be so off-base we should consider going back in time to join that group of psychologists from 1996.


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