I was hospitalized with an eating disorder when I was 15. By 16 I was cutting myself and tying nooses, and by 17 I had experimented with a panoply of SSRIs and anti-anxiety medication.
Seven years later I lead a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life. Here is my story.
I was a pretty lucky kid growing up—a healthy, happy, middle-class kid from Ottawa with nothing to lose but himself.
But I was a little bit fat. And being a little bit fat is a big problem when you’re ten or eleven and kids around you know just how to bully and tease and break you down. So I tried fighting back, first by ignoring them, then by challenging them, and when neither of these worked I did what any pragmatic kid would do: I gave up and joined them. “You’re right,” I told them, “I am fat!”
It worked brilliantly. I took away their nasty words and schoolyard insults and the pinching and grabbing when the teachers weren’t looking. “I’m fat I’m fat I’m fat”—it didn’t help with the loneliness of lunch hours and Valentine’s Day dances but it got me through. Me and my fat.
Maybe it was hormones, or maybe something traumatic happened in grade eight. I don’t know. Whatever the catalyst I changed radically in the summer before high school. I started running and dieting, urged on by images in my head of all the nice pretty girls I would meet in the fall and impress with my new body. My new body. It was all I could think about, and I embraced the challenge.
But I took it too far.
I remember one Sunday in particular. I was fifteen, and determined to burn off more energy than I had done the day before, so there I was, outside, in a t-shirt, running in cold, miserable November rain. I remember coming inside and pecking at the dinner plate. I remember my blue hands, my hair coming out in clumps that night, my heart quivering, my stomach grumbling—and being so happy with myself. At the time I probably weighed about half of what I should of.
Next I remember my mom bringing me to the ER. I was admitted to a special wing where a dozen of us split our time between bed and supervised meals, which we ate in the hallway, the nurses watching us like hawks so that we didn’t smuggle jam packets into our pockets or slip into the washroom to throw up dessert.
I remember sneaking glimpses of my skeleton in the mirror, pinching my stomach and telling myself, “B., you have got to lose this weight.” I was 5’11 and just over a hundred pounds.
Six weeks later I was discharged. It was hard. I had a breakdown leaving and I begged to go back. It was harder to eat outside the safe confines of the hospital—I knew every bite was a step towards recovery but also towards weight, pounds, fat. Yet I did it, I got better.
But as I crept closer to a healthy weight I raced towards clinical depression. These were dark days—literally, because for a full year I came home each day after school, stuffed t-shirts under my doorframe, and slept, engulfing myself in total darkness.
By seventeen I had neutralized everything but the depression. Greyness clung to me, no matter the pharmaceuticals, no matter the self-care strategies. Everything I saw I saw with a grey tint, through a thick depression that pretended to be the only lens through which to view life.
Halfway through grade eleven things started to change. It all started with a visit to Vancouver. I fell in love with the city, the mountains, the ocean.
With my eyes on the prize—the University of British Columbia—I returned home and somehow pulled myself together.
A year and a half later my resume listed strong academics, a stint as Students’ Council President, and handful of leadership awards. I graduated with great friends, a wonderful girlfriend, and choices, one of which was to study at UBC.
That was seven years ago. Since then I’ve earned a BA and (soon) an MA. I’ve met wonderful, inspiring individuals. I’ve started a business, organized youth conferences, tasted mangoes in Indonesia, led delegations to UN and NATO simulations, volunteered with political campaigns, participated on a Canada World Youth exchange, surfed off the coast of Ireland, and farmed organically in Japan. Seven years’ worth of intellectual, athletic, and interpersonal growth isn’t something that nine years ago, as an anorexic and a cutter at the epicenter of clinical depression, I could have conceived of.
There was a time when, exhausted from fighting the permanent vultures inside my head, I wanted to give up. And there are days, now, when I still do, when I’m unbearably haunted by my failures and decisions I’ve made and people I’ve pushed away.
Yet I recognize that all I can do is build on these experiences and learn from them, to take each day as a new day, as a challenge. For strength I think about my family, the privileges and opportunities I’ve had. I think about rhubarb pie, about hiking in autumn, about surfing in the Pacific, about the first time I walked across the Lion’s Gate Bridge, about my first love.
I also know that I’m here today because people loved and supported me: a spectacular psychologist (who has opened me to the world), an Irish working horse (with a heart of gold), a contemporary Socrates (with infinite wisdom), and my ‘citrus.’ Find people that matter and find them a way into your life.
That greyness in life—depression tricks you into thinking that that’s all there is. But I swear, I swear there is more out there. Beyond the blinders there is a world out there, for all of us, that is brimming with potential, beauty, hope, and love. A world of some grey, and a whole lot of colour.
24 Oct 2013