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20 years of anorexia: the story of Hadassa

20 years of anorexia: the story of Hadassa

Today it’s not me who will be talking, but I’ll leave you with the story of a very brave warrior. A loyal reader of this blog who, after a long and arid fight, is more willing than ever to break the chains of the slavery of anorexia.

Here it is:

20 years of anorexia

I’ve been almost 20 years sick with anorexia, from when I was 17 and now I’m 36… My goodness, writing it makes me feel so sad… I remember when I was 23, when I started the treatment that has worked better for me, and they explained to me that recovery is long, 3 to 5 years they said, and I thought: “Ugh! 5 years???”. Now I look back and wish it would have been 5 years, it’s been 13 since that day, and I’m still sick…

I’m very sad because I missed the opportunity to recover with that treatment, with which I got quite far at recovery; I think it’s the best treatment I’ve had, but in the end I couldn’t leave the illness behind. I see that I’ve lost so many years, and sometimes I think that, being 36, I’m already too old for certain things, for example for the life project I’ve always longed for: raising a family…

But I’m still alive and, therefore, it’s not too late to take my life back and start to write a different story! Maybe I won’t be able to raise a family, but I’m sure about this: I don’t want to see myself being 40 or 50 and still from hospital to hospital and as weak as this illness leaves me; but to be able to look back and feel proud of having overcome this illness, of being at a healthy weight and enjoying eating what’s appropriate, no more and no less, that is, enjoying taking care of myself. It’s what I’m starting to do now… and I’d like to share what’s moving me towards it in case it can help someone… But before, let me explain how it all started and what has kept this illness inside me for so long…

It all started when I was a teenager

It started in my teenage years, I was a very insecure teenager, I didn’t like myself and I thought no one was going to like me as I was, because I wouldn’t like someone as me. I didn’t see internal qualities in myself and I felt like the only thing that saved me from being a total disaster was my physique, it was important that at least I could have a beautiful physique… and that’s why I had to start taking care of it, so it all started with that decision: I stopped eating sweets, bread, I used to eat like on a diet, but it wasn’t a diet for me, it was taking care of myself. 

I knew what anorexia was, but I also knew I hadn’t stopped eating, I didn’t have that illness, I was just watching what I ate (that’s what I thought)… In fact, I remember I didn’t feel like I could ever be able to stop eating, I loved (and I love) eating…

Little by little I lost weight. Although that wasn’t what I was looking for, at first it wasn’t bad for me to lose some kgs and I saw myself more beautiful. Soon after, I wasn’t able to eat certain foods anymore, because of the psychological distress they caused me. I didn’t want to lose more weight, but the illness had trapped me…

Spiralling down

I kept on losing weight, I lost my period and was hospitalized for the first time at the age of 18. I followed an outpatient program. I gained back part of the weight and went back to normal life. The illness was still there, although it allowed me to live a somehow normal life. In my last year of college I was given a scholarship to study in Seville and I spent that whole year outside my parents’ home, living in a dorm. There my illness grew stronger and when the year was over I went back to Madrid being very underweight…

That summer, at the age of 23, I discovered the treatment that has better served me. That August I went inpatient in a psychiatric hospital; I was there for 3 months, then 4 years outpatient. And, thanks God, during all those years I was able to juggle my treatment with my studies and work.

Those were very very hard years. I remember that from time to time they organized “therapeutic meals” (going to eat at a restaurant and eating big amounts, well, what normal people eat at celebrations). Those days I used to arrive home crying in terrible anguish, and my father used to ask me what they’d done to me, because it seemed as if I had been tortured. However, those have been the years I’ve been closer to health, at least my body was at a healthy weight and I had my period. I haven’t got it back since then.

A long journey

After those 4 years I left treatment because I was tired and frustrated, I wasn’t able to recover following the way they were showing me… Without treatment, the illness got worse… For some years I was able to maintain a stable, albeit bad, situation… until I had to become inpatient at the psychiatric section of a public hospital for 3 months… something that was also tremendously hard, although during those months I could also experience how God was taking care of me through the nurses, who were like real angels in that hostile environment. 

But the true hard part was having the illness outside there, spending the 12 hours of the day hungry and wishing to eat, not being able to be present in the things I did because my head was thinking about food all the time, calculating calories, planning meals… a total slavery.

After that, I was inpatient 3 more times, one after the other… During my times inpatient I was able to gain back some weight, but once I was discharged I lost it again and needed to get inpatient again. I’ve been discharged from my last inpatient treatment a week ago. I’m very scared the same thing may happen again, but I have hope and trust that this time it could be different, and it’s true I feel different.

Why could it be different? I don’t think there’s only one cause, I think several factors have come together: there are many people praying for me, I’ve had deep brain stimulation (my neurosurgeon is another angel that has appeared in my life, with her amazing availability and her positive vision of me, she motivates me a lot to change my habits), and also I’ve learned many things through this years and treatments.

What does healing imply?

Everyone tells me that healing is up to me, that if I really want to heal I will, because where there’s a will there’s a way… I think those are comments that people make with good intentions, although I believe they’re too simplistic for something that’s so complex. I agree that there must be a decision and a wish to change, and that you’re the one who needs to make the change, no one can do it for you, but there are many more things to take into account…

Do I want to heal? Do I want to be healthy? Of course I do… who doesn’t want to be healthy… I think we need to pause a bit here and think about what healing implies. For example, if they asked me: “do you want to to heal?” I’d say yes; if they asked me: “do you want to eat this piece of cake?” I wouldn’t be so sure… Healing implies a series of added struggles and giving up a crutch (the illness) to walk through life, and sometimes even to “protect” yourself from certain ghosts that cause a lot of fear, restriction in my case is a mechanism that gives me a feeling of calm and power.

Guilt, anguish, fear

That’s why, when someone chooses to heal, they choose to struggle badly, I don’t know if someone can imagine the guilt and the excruciating anguish that eating more than what the illness allows you to causes. In that moment you only seek to calm that distress, trying to see how to compensate what you’ve eaten; and the next time you’ll want to avoid going through the same. I have an image of myself kicking and beating a pillow in the hospital, crying out of anger after a meal. And, obviously, then, when you see how the way before you looks like, it’s not so easy to just decide whether you want to heal or not… The way of healing implies a terrible struggle.

And it’s not only that, because one may choose to struggle first in order to then get something good, but in this case what will come after that effort is scary as well. What’s behind recovery? Life. In my case there’s a lot of fear of life: social relationships with their conflicts and with the possibility of not being liked and being rejected, the fear of loneliness, being competent at work, the difficulty to enjoy…

Facing life

I want to heal, but, do I want to struggle as much as this way implies? Do I want to face life? More than that, do I feel like I have resources to face life? Until now the fear of these two questions (the way of recovery and life) was preventing me from moving forward, not as a conscious and intentioned decision, I saw that I wanted to heal, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave my diet completely in the hands of others and eat whatever they gave me with a blind trust (I’ve had a really hard time when I’ve had to go through that).

I wanted to heal, but then I saw myself in the hospital inpatient and I felt so relieved I didn’t have to be outside, facing so many things that scare me such as going out on weekends… I remember one day at the hospital, a nurse told me: “Do you realize everything you’re missing out on outside because you’re here inside?”. And what I saw is that being in that place gave me a lot of relief, precisely because I didn’t have to be outside, because for me life isn’t easy, on the contrary, it’s very difficult and I struggle to enjoy it. Although not in a conscious and chosen way, the illness was serving me to avoid all that, with the resulting relief.

The "perks" of restriction

I guess life isn’t easy for anyone, but I feel like I have little resources to face it, everything is a struggle; although, thanks God, I’m starting to believe a little more that I can… I think that, when I notice I’m not able to handle life, I get so frightened and seek to control something (food), to feel that there’s something in my hands and in which I’m “competent”, it causes me a false feeling of power…

I think that the rest of people around me are more sociable, funnier, more capable, more interesting… they’re better than me at everything, but at least I was achieving something that everyone struggles with and admires: restricting food and losing weight (the “dream” of our society). I don’t feel like I have any other qualities others may admire, but, sadly, sometimes people feel a certain admiration towards what a person with anorexia achieves.

Between this and how bad you feel when you don’t obey the ED, the symptom of restriction isn’t displeasing, rather, it gives you a feeling of relief and empowerment… I know it’s very complicated to understand, I’m not thinking about all these things either when I restrict. This is what’s behind the illness, this insecurity is a part of what has caused the illness, all that insecurity is what makes me feel the need to control something and perhaps to be so scared of fatness…

Lies

In addition to all of this, there’s an evil voice that beats me up every time I eat, and makes me believe great lies. Lies such as that people who don’t control their appetite towards food end up fat. I love to eat, I think it’s what gives me more pleasure in this life, and I think I need to control myself or I’ll end up fat and life will be even more difficult for me. Another lie is believing that I won’t be able to handle life.

All of these are difficulties preventing me from making progress in my recovery, but I’d also want to talk about what’s pushing me to want to get out of this illness. I want to give myself the chance to live in another way, and dare to see life without the illness; maybe it won’t be as hard as I think, maybe I’ve created great ghosts that terrify me and then it won’t be that bad. I can also make life easier for me, without demanding so much from myself, taking up challenges to grow, but not demanding me more than what’s needed, respecting myself (if I don’t like to go out at night, I go out during the day), and step by step. Having a simple life, but at least not adding one problem more with this illness.

What does life have in store for me?

I don’t know what life has in store for me, but whatever it is, I want to live it without this illness, as I’ve said before, I’m certain I don’t want to see myself being 40 or 50 and still sick, hopping from inpatient to inpatient, I want to be able to stay in life with its hardships, there will be days when I cope better and days when I cope worse, but I want to be free from this slavery that prevents me from being truly present in the moments I live.

And I want to enjoy eating and taking care of myself, as I’m doing these last two weeks, the satisfaction of knowing I’m eating what’s right (and moreover, delicious), following the instructions of a professional in whom I trust, because you can eat healthy and delicious things in appropriate amounts, without being hungry.

I don’t know what life has in store for me, but I know what the illness brings me: slavery, discouragement, it takes away from me the possibility of sharing beautiful moments with good people, loneliness, anguish, disability (feelings of not being capable), shame and sadness because I see how others’ lives evolve (develop) and mine’s halted by an illness…

I don’t want that for my life, when I’m older I want to look back and feel proud of myself for having restored my healthy weight and maintaining it, enjoying eating what’s right, and face life as best as I can. I want to dare not to be liked, to be rejected, to fail… perhaps it’s not as terrible and I can cope with it… or at least I don’t want the fear of it to paralyze me, I will face it when it happens, if it happens

I want to...

I want this moment, my surgery, to mark a milestone; and it’s happening so far, I’m much more willing to make permanent changes to my diet. Of course, there are days when the ED creeps in and convinces me to restrict something, but thankfully the day has 24 hours (well, 12 hours awake) and I can make up for what I’ve restricted, increasing it at some other moment of the day when I’m more lucid and remember what I want to achieve, where I want to arrive and where I don’t want to be…

I want to allow myself to be one more, an average girl, with lights and shadows, without needing to stand out or being admired for something like willpower, accepting myself, not being ashamed of my shadows or “eccentricities”, and loving myself as if I was my best friend. I don’t know what’s going to happen in my life, but I want to give myself the chance to be at a different place and let’s see…

I want to stop being afraid of food, because although at some point I’ll have to eat more than what the ED allows me to, I need to know that what’s at stake is not one kg more or less, but being bitter or opening the door to a possible happiness. I think it’s very important to learn to live: learn to enjoy, learn to be autonomous and cultivate friendships; but in the end it’s about daring to live believing in the Providence, in a God Who loves us, wants the best for us, and is going to give us what we need in each moment.

Next steps

During the journey I need to be very alert to detect when the ED wants to creep in and remind myself that “it’s the illness and I don’t want it in my life”, being aware in those moments that, if I choose to restrict, I’m also choosing the consequences: “in this moment I decide not to eat what I should, and I accept the consequences: not maintaining a healthy weight, failing again and getting frustrated, being bitter, not wanting to do anything…”. Doing it that way will probably help me not to choose it…

This is only the beginning of a new chapter in my life, the chapter of anorexia has already lasted for too long, now a new stage starts in which the main character starts to do different things.

She’s going to recover. The Lord has many graces in store and a fabulous world for her to discover.

I hope this story has helped and inspired you, teaching you that:

  • It’s never too late to change your life and recover.
  • Society is sick, they don’t know what’s behind what they admire.
  • Your eating disorder isn’t protecting you from life, it’s preventing you from truly living, which is worth it even if it’s scary.

Let’s go for it! Deus vult!

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