My Descent and Climb (the story)
Most research states that eating disorders emerge when the appropriate stressors occur to individuals with genetic predispositions and temperaments prone to eating disorders. These individuals are commonly highly sensitive, perfectionistic, eager-to-please, and high achievers.
I exhibited all of these traits from an early age. When I was in the 5th grade, my sister got in a minor car accidents with no injuries—I cried way more than she did (highly sensitive). In college, I thought my world was crumbling when I failed my first exam in organic chemistry (perfectionistic). In elementary school, I quit soccer to play softball instead because my dad wanted me to (eager-to-please). And over the course of high school, I took the ACT six times in an effort to attain a certain score (high achiever).
When I was around 13 or 14, someone close to me unintentionally made a comment regarding my physical appearance. This comment planted the seed of negative body image in me at a sensitive age. Throughout the rest of middle school and high school, I felt the need to over-exercise and try various “diets”. Although I remained a healthy size for my height through college, I was engaging in maladaptive cycles of food restriction and binging. The outcome was uncomfortable GI distress, and ultimately an irrational fear that the foods I had binged on would upset my stomach when consumed in any amount.
My senior year, I experienced the stress of college graduation and applying to pharmacy school. In retrospect, I can pinpoint that year as the clear transition from “disordered eating” to eating disorder. What had started as body image insecurity and had remained a latent issue transformed to what would eventually become an all-consuming and ineffective coping mechanism. I’m often puzzled that I could have allowed this disorder to go so far. After all, my undergraduate degree was in psychology and I certainly knew the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder. However, the eating disorder offered the familiar and empty promises. The fear of not knowing what my life would be like without the eating disorder coupled with the lies my eating disorder told me kept me a prisoner to its chains. Over the next four years, my eating disorder slowly took over every aspect of my life.
I stayed home when my friends or family went out in order to avoid food or so that I could exercise. I lost the ability to focus in pharmacy school lectures because I was hypoglycemic and preoccupied with thoughts of food. I passed out on clinical rotations. I was cold all the flipping time. I became obsessed with my routine. I lost some very dear relationships. Rather than addressing these issues, I became further intrenched in my eating disorder and focused the little energy I had on my professional life and perpetuating eating disorder behaviors.
In March 2017, I entered residential treatment after urgent encouragement from my outpatient treatment team, family, and friends. I completed four weeks of treatment and successfully gained some of the weight back. I met some amazing individuals, developed a passion for yoga, rediscovered my love of art, and strengthened my faith through regular prayer and church attendance. The experience was hard, but it was working. The problem is, my motivation for going to residential treatment was not truly in the right place. I had gone at the behest of others, and after four weeks, I became convinced that I would lose valuable relationships and lose my professional ground if I did not return to my regular life immediately. I truly thought that I could continue to progress as an outpatient. So I left too soon. And for the first couple of weeks back, I did continue to make progress. Alas, the next few months brought a season of multiple changes: pharmacy school graduation, a move, the pharmacy licensing exam, close friends moving away, and entering residency.
Eating disorders speak loudest in seasons of change. My eating disorder capitalized on my changes, and I unfortunately relapsed. As a new pharmacist, I created unrealistic expectations for myself and my future in the profession. I had both professional mentors and family and friends encourage me to take time away from work to focus on my health, but my eating disorder fed me the lie that taking time away would equal failure.
Fortunately, I had a change of heart in December 2017.
A couple of critical experiences, which I fully credit to God stepping in and saving me, led me to seek change at a crucial decision-making time in my life. Yet, I did not know how to make this change, so I spoke to a professional mentor that I had been close with for the previous three years. By the end of our conversation, I was certain that I needed to take extended time away from work in order to receive the professional help I needed. The four weeks I had spent in March clearly helped, but I had clearly needed longer to solidify coping mechanisms and fully restore my weight.
My professional “family” facilitated a seamless transition for me to take the time I needed to get better. They encouraged me to focus on my health and reinforced that my position would be ready when I was. Words cannot express the gratitude I feel towards my program and how blessed I am to have been given this time for restoration.
I am equally blessed by my genetic family. My parents swooped in to my house in OKC, collected everything I would need for an extended time away, and brought me to their home. At this point, we were not sure if my treatment would be residential or outpatient. Having been in multiple treatment modalities over the years, I knew what I needed to do to get better. And now that I was removed from my regular routine, many of the roadblocks I had for recovery were also taken out of the equation. My parents and I decided we would try treatment from their home for a week, and if I made adequate progress, we could consider an unconventional outpatient treatment approach that modeled the residential treatment I had received in March. I established a full care team within their community and began to commit myself to recovery fully. This time, I knew the recovery had to be for me in order to be lasting. I also knew that I could not do recovery without God. While I had been in residential treatment, my faith life was consistent, but it had fallen to the back burner in the months my relapse occurred. I began to pray consistently and attend church again. I focused on my love of dogs, desire to help others, and passion for adventure as motivators for the life I wanted to one day manifest myself. My faith and these motivators propelled me forward, and I’ve been working towards recovery every since.
I’ve heard multiple recovered individuals state that despite the pain and damage their eating disorder caused in their life, they still would not take back the experience of having the eating disorder because that experience ultimately shaped them to a stronger, more confident, more present individual. Similarly, a friend wrote to me: “I believe you will grow and be stronger [for the painful season]”.
I can recover, and I will recover. I hope that by sharing my story, my struggles, and my successes, I will be able to help others. The climb is slow, steep, and rocky, but I’m making it.
- December 8, 2017: I made the decision to ask my residency program for 3 months away to address what had become an emergent health condition and to enter recovery for good. I received amazing support from my preceptors, directors, and co-residents!
- December 15, 2017: Objective and non-objective progress became apparent after one week at home resting, praying, following my meal plan, and journaling.
- December 18, 2017: I had an office visit with a PCP and received medical clearance to treat at home. I made arrangements to establish a local care team.
- January 11, 2017: I completed a hike that I struggled with a year ago and followed it up with brick oven pizza and wine!
- January 15, 2017: I brought home my dog, which brings another being into the picture for full recovery.
- January 22, 2017: one month follow-up with my PCP. My vitals are healthy, I’m told I look healthy, and I’m on track with my weight restoration
Trying New Things (and re-trying some old favorites!)
- Lunch at the Loaded Bowl with Maddie (I had the chicken melt)—12/8/17
- Mama Newm’s homemade pancakes (with real maple syrup)—12/9/17
- Chocolate M&M cookie from Ree’s Mercantile in Pawhuska—12/13/17
- Cashew Butter Sandwich—12/17/17
- Homemade M&M Cookies—12/17/17
- Homemade “Angel Biscuits“—12/13/17, 12/21/17, 12/22/17, 12/25/17 (ahhh, to re-discover the joy of homemade biscuits)
- Lemon Bars from The Rolling Pin
- Hamburgers—12/2017, 12/28/17, 12/30/17<—Previous fear food overcome 🙂
- Pizza for lunch at The Hideaway—12/26/17
- Oreo Mix from Braum’s—12/20/17, 1/2/18, 1/4/18
- Lucky Charm’s Cereal—12/13/17
- Sweet Potato Chips—12/29/17, 12/31/17, 1/1/18, 1/2/18<—these are so good. How silly my E.D. was!
- Glazed scones—1/2/18
- Pork chops—1/2/18
- Steak—1/7/18, 1/20/18
- Chocolate covered graham cracker—1/15/18