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Submitted by: Susan Beckett
I have always been a perfectionist. Not the kind that has their closet color coordinated or irons the divots in their carpet. No, I simply required myself to meet every expectation every time. The expectations were often in my own head, but that didn’t make them feel any less real. Unsurprisingly, I am also a control freak. Combine this personality with my biology and environment and you get not only a good dose of OCD, but also a healthy topping of anorexia just to make things interesting.
I first questioned if I was meeting my weight expectations as a pre-teen. Alone in my parents bathroom, I remember weighing myself and wondering if I was the “right” weight. I should note here that I have always been skinny. In my head, the only thing to do was start controlling the portions of my food more closely. This thinking hovered in the background as puberty came. With puberty came full blown OCD. For me this mainly meant that I constantly lived in a heightened state where I was trying to do the right thing and not do the wrong thing. I was unable to fully focus on anything because I needed to be focused on the constant litany in my head. It seems to me that I must have at times looked insane. This is a period that I still struggle to recall without shame and deep sadness.
My senior year of high school, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I put all of the rightness and wrongness in the world into a box in a back corner of my mind. My OCD calmed down a bit, and I came out of the fog. Unfortunately, I sometimes wonder if this opened up the mental space for my next disorder. That summer and into my first year of college, I started counting calories for the first time. It was a slope that I slid down quickly.
Only a few months in, my already barely adequate body weight had lowered noticeably. This started the ten years of my life filled with on and off fighting with my mother. It was primarily she who would not be okay with me being anorexic. It’s the only thing she’s ever truly yelled at me about. The effect of both my OCD and my anorexia on the relationships in my life has been rather tragic.
With the OCD, I was afraid of not touching someone the right way, and so I had trouble with things like hugs for years with my family. My anorexia affected all those family dinners that should have been nice. My mom and I having words ruined more than one holiday dinner. My mom would ask me why I couldn’t just stop for that day. I don’t know if I would have even if I could have. Even though it was my body and my food, it touched my family who I am very close to.
As time went on and I went into therapy, I did manage to gain weight. I don’t even know how because, honestly, I didn’t stop counting calories or any of my other anorexic thought patterns. I got married and lived my life, but the weird ways that I needed to eat and the time that I needed by myself grew steadily. Anorexia is isolating, and I already can be a pretty solitary person.
Furthermore, my life became about the lies that I needed to tell in order to do what I thought I needed to do. Into my later twenties, the slippery slope grew ever more slippery, and my weight got to new lows. I would be scared of a new low, but then I would get used to it. I slowly ate less and less, as I walked more and more. I wanted to maintain my weight as I had in high school, but my mind was so warped that I had no idea what healthy was.
At this point my OCD also decided to get worse at work and at home, most probably not helped by my unhealthy body. Suddenly I had to check if I had sent that work email 10 times, and even then I was not satisfied. Then one January, I got the email.
My mom said that the family had decided that they would try to forcibly put me in the hospital if I didn’t gain weight. I halfway tried, but I wasn’t really wanting to. It didn’t take. I have learned that anorexia is a force to be reckoned with, and you can’t just turn it off when you want to. You can’t just stop for a day. It’s a deeply entrenched need to control your food and body, to meet expectations. It’s being petrified of those extra calories as if the world will end and you will blow up like a balloon. For me it was equating being fat with being lazy or bad. Luckily for me, my life fell apart.
My life was really unhealthy at this point. So, when my husband (now ex) went to jail and I suddenly had to move in with my parents, that shake up was needed. I went to not only a therapist but, for the first time, a dietician. My family went back to just being my family and not my food police. After a while, I started feeling things normally again and stopped crying in fear at restaurants. I also saw a psychiatrist and got on some medication for my OCD. I finally had a full team to help me.
It’s been a long journey so far. I still feel so far from my goals, but I’m grateful to know that I can change and that I’m not crazy. I finally have started to understand the way that my brain and my disorders work, and that I’m not just bad. That it was my disorders that were at fault for why I couldn’t so easily just be “normal”. Not that I never purposely did anything wrong, but I know now that it wasn’t just me. I wish that I had known earlier, that I could have realized that my expectations and errant thoughts didn’t need to scare me so much. I wish that it hadn’t gotten so dark. But, just knowing that I don’t ever have to be trapped in that kind of hell again is enough to give me hope.