As I moved through high school, I experienced periods of healing along with periods of simply getting worse more slowly than before. Sometimes I took two steps forward, one step back. Other times it was ten steps back, then two steps forward, then just crawling forward inch by inch. By graduation day, I knew that I was sick and needed help. I began to recognize some of my disordered thoughts and behaviors for what they were. That didn’t mean I stopped, many times I didn’t know how or was too wrapped up in the illness to care. But I saw that some of my thoughts and behaviors were abnormal and unhealthy. Sometimes I was afraid, sometimes I just wanted to be normal, but I wasn’t quite to the place of wanting to fully heal just yet. I’d been sick for so long that I felt it was a large part of my identity, and I wasn’t ready to let it go.
After graduation, I went to my second-choice college. In orientation, the counselors from the health center each spoke about some of the common problems new college students face and what resources were available on campus and in town to help us navigate these challenges. One of the things covered was eating disorders. My heart fluttered as I listened and heard specific things about myself included in the descriptions of disordered thinking and behavior. I was sicker than I’d thought, and I was not alone, not by a long shot. Things I thought I owned were common.
I left that orientation session a little shell-shocked from the new information. I tucked the resources away in the back of my mind, in case I ever felt ready to use them. But the disease had so consumed me, I wanted to see how sick I could get before I had to start getting well. How thin could I REALLY get? How hard could I push my body? How long could I deal with the blackouts and other side effects before collapsing in public, and thus “getting caught?” This is how sick I was. I actually thought those things. I wanted to push my body to the brink of death, just to see where the brink was. I didn’t care if I fell over the edge. I didn’t consciously want to die, but if I did, I thought I was OK with that. I wanted to stop, to be free, but I didn’t care about actually getting better. I didn’t think I could. I just wanted to be free from the strict litany of rules and the urges and the fun-house mirror distortions. But I didn’t want to be fat, to be noticed, to get hurt again.
Deep within me, the Holy Spirit had been whispering to me for a long time. No. Beloved. Stop. No. Sometimes louder. This is wrong! You’re hurting yourself! It hurts ME when you do these things. Can’t you see I have plans for you? Beloved. And I would tell him Lord, I can’t stop. I don’t want to stop. Please don’t make me. This is MINE, I don’t want to give it to You and anyway, I don’t know how. I do not trust You with this part of me. Don’t let people see me. I just don’t want to hurt anymore. This doesn’t hurt. Let me have this. It’s mine. I want to serve You, but I don’t want to get hurt so that means keeping people out. If they can’t see me they can’t hurt me. Just let me do this. Let me disappear. And then God would be silent, and I was alone. I’d feel empty. So I’d try to fill the emptiness with runner’s highs and hunger.
Those first few weeks of college, I reveled in my new-found freedom. With no family meals to worry about, no friends holding my spot at our lunch table, I ate less than ever before. And with a beautiful campus where I could run and hike and a free gym with all kinds of equipment, I was in anorectic/non-purging type bulimic/ED-NOS heaven. I rarely went to the dining hall. I lost weight more quickly than I’d ever been able to at home. And I loved it, but I felt like crap. And of course, it wasn’t enough to appease the disease. It demanded ever more, more pounds shed, more ticks on the pedometer, more time in the gym, fewer calories. I began to black out more frequently. I couldn’t concentrate in class and frequently skipped class to exercise. The numbness and tingling in my extremities got worse. And one day, I finally collapsed during a run. Just blacked out and fell, mid-stride. Fortunately it happened in a well-populated area of campus and a cute boy came to my rescue. He scooped me up like I weighed nothing and carried me to his car, then drove me to the health center. He asked if I wanted him to stay with me, but I told him I’d be OK and gave him a winning smile. I never saw him again.
As I waited to see the nurse, I filled out the necessary forms and took in my surroundings. The medical scale in the corner naturally grabbed my attention. There was a large plant by the check-in counter, and a book shelf filled with those clear plastic brochure holders. Any mental health-related issue you can imagine a college student dealing with, they had a colorful brochure for it.There were some on eating disorders I made mental notes of; some on depression, learning disorders, pregnancy and STDs, drugs and alcohol. Then it was my turn to see the nurse.
She examined my ankle and felt like it was probably just a sprain, so she splinted it and issued me a loaner pair of crutches. She gave me some samples of Aleve and told me to visit the hospital in the morning for an X-ray if the pain got worse or wasn’t improving, and gave me my discharge information. And then she flipped to a new page on her clipboard. She asked how I was liking school so far, if I was making friends, had I tried any of the clubs or extra curricular activities. She said they ask any student visiting the health center for any reason a few standard questions and smiled. I was caught a little off guard by some of her questions, and the fall had scared me, so I answered more honestly than I otherwise might have. She looked a little concerned and asked if she could introduce me to one of the staff counselors. I said yes, and immediately regretted it.