When I was 16, I had an eating disorder.
I think most of my family chooses to ignore it because I never was, never will be, a naturally thin person. I never had to go to the hospital because my body was shutting down, and I never had a grand intervention with people who loved me about it.
It started when I was at Linden Oaks, a behavioral health hospital. I was there for a misguided suicide attempt involving ambien and a laughable amount of over the counter painkillers. I had already wanted to be thin. As a teenage girl, I was bombarded with magazines telling me exactly how to lose 40lbs in 3 weeks and spreads of photoshopped women with tiny waists and slim hips.
I started counting my calories in Linden Oaks. An uncrustable PB&J was this many calories, and if I bounced my leg enough during therapy sessions, I could burn at least half of it off.
When I got out of Linden Oaks after a month of inpatient and outpatient programs, I'd sworn off meat. Not for the animals' sake, like I preached to everyone, but because meat was a lot of calories. Fat. I was sent to a nutritionist shortly before I left L.O., and she became frustrated with my newfound vegetarianism and I was diagnosed with EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified).
Because I had missed so much school while in Linden Oaks, and because of the bullying that had cropped up when it was learned I had attempted suicide, my mother pulled me out and decided to homeschool me after finals in public school. My teachers walked on eggshells with me, and I took advantage of it by skipping class and walking to the public library. I would bring my backpack, fill it up with books about depression and eating disorders, and walk right past security.
After reading a popular memoir about a woman with anorexia (commonly known in the eating disordered world as "The Handbook"), I settled on a goal weight. 84.
I joined online pro-ana/mia groups, meant to encourage the members to continue on with their eating disorders. I had my own computer at home, and it allowed me to be online talking to my new friends 24/7. We exchanged letters, tips, tricks, and encouragement.
A month after leaving Linden Oaks, in July, I had lost almost 30lbs.
My relationships from school were falling apart. All I could think of was calories. All I could think of were the different diets I could try. I exercised in my room for upwards of 3 hours a day.
In August, after returning home from a week in North Carolina, I cut my intake in half. I dyed my hair purple and attributed it all starting to fall out to the dye. I was waking up in screaming pain from leg cramps almost every night. My skin turned a sickly shade of yellow.
Once, my mom forced me to eat a small strawberry from the garden. I immediately threw up in the sink, my body rejecting any food after my two days of fasting. My mom just stood there on the other side of the kitchen angrily. "It's because you never eat."
I continued to isolate myself in my room, chatting with my friends online. I continue to exercise and cut my intake. Soon I was eating 200 calories every other day. I was weak. I started to self harm every time my body screamed for food. By September, I was down to 120lbs from my starting weight of 175.
I was frustrated with myself because I wasn't losing more. I became depressed, realizing I would never reach 84 without killing myself. I didn't want to die. I just wanted…what did I want?
My depression made me hungry. I started eating a meal a day, still carefully counting the calories but allowing myself up to 500. I started my first job, at Spirit Halloween, working 30 hours a week. It cut into my exercise time and forced me to socialize. I stayed at 114lbs until February, when I began a new job at Steak N Shake.
I made friends there. They didn't know it, but laughing with them, having a sense of camaraderie, helped me.
Slowly, I raised my intake. Some days I didn't even worry about it. I stopped exercising because I was waiting tables for 6 hours every day. The circles under my eyes disappeared, and my hair stopped falling out. I started dating a coworker. I found a few blogs on tumblr about body positivity that I scrolled through when I was sad.
There were plenty of setbacks, plenty of days I binged, or cried because I couldn't fit into my clothes. I specifically remember having a borderline panic attack in a dressing room shopping for jeans that summer.
Now, 4 years later, can I say I'm "better"? I can say I eat healthier, and I'm happier with my body. There are days I don't feel confident in myself, but overall, I'm getting better. It just takes time.