Part I: The Joys of Dieting
Now that I look back at what I’ve written, it’s occurring to me how sick I really was. “What brings you to the ER this afternoon, sweetie?” The triage nurse looked at me with the most beautiful eye creasing smile. “An eating disorder, I guess.” I mean, I didn’t think I was that sick. I still could walk, I could still stand. But you see, thats the vile thing about eating disorders. They somehow deny you the fact that you are even remotely ill because theres no problem in being thinner, right? Everybody wants to be a size 0. Everyone wants to see there protruding collarbones. As far as I knew I was a perfectly normal teenager. Because everyone wants to be slim, right?
My names Heather Ashton. I’m 15 years old and have been battling the voices of Anorexia Nervosa for four long, miserable years. To be completely honest I have no idea what I want these posts to sound like, heck, I haven’t the faintest idea of even a title. But what I do know is that, with every ounce of my being, I want to be a voice. Because the quieter you are about what lays beneath your skin, the louder you are letting the voices scream in your ears. For the sake of people currently facing similar issues to mine, I will not be mentioning my highest, lowest, or current weight because sufferers tend to compare their already frail bodies to those of other people and I do not wish to ever be that person. Now, without further a-due, here ladies and gentlemen, is my story.
There are a lot of misconceptions that revolve around the complex world of eating disorders. One of them being that all victims believe they are severely overweight. I never thought I was fat. I just saw absolutely no harm in being thinner. Of course there were a lot of contributing factors leading up to my hospitalization, but for the sake of this article I’ll purely be focusing on the toll Anorexia took on me. I decided that I was going to whip my body into shape and be my healthiest self by the time school started. I ran half a kilometer every morning, ate egg whites instead of whole eggs, Weight Watchers bread instead of regular bread, and so on. I had read online somewhere that if you are trying to lose weight, you must eat 1000 calories or less per day, which is half or more of what the average person should be consuming. But, I was determined to drop those pounds so I downloaded a food tracking app and began weighing out my sandwich meat to record the precise gram and therefore get accurate calorie results. A common trait with Anorexia is that you tell yourself “this will only last until I hit my goal weight. Then I’ll start eating again” However when one hits their “goal weight” they proceed to make a new one. School began and I assumed my “healthy living” plan would have ended but, yet again I was wrong. My morning runs continued, followed by a cup of cereal saturated with water. Yes, I know it sounds disgusting, but I didn’t know why people were wasting 110 calories on something that could be greatly reduced. In first semester I had Science in second period and, almost religiously, at 10:37 AM, I would have one single piece of spearmint gum because I thought two and a half calories could suffice me until supper. I mean all I did was sit in a desk all day right? I didn’t want to get fat off of gum! Gosh, that sounds so awful but it really is what I thought. I would walk
home after school and have a cup of black, steeped tea and one rice cake until supper which was a handful of cereal, some veggies and a fist size portion of protein.
The just of dieting was to eat less and exercise more, so that’s exactly what I did. That winter I signed up for a gym membership at the YMCA and every chance I got I would do laps around the track until I collapsed. I just couldn’t eat my almost non-existent supper until I felt I had made enough room for it. Soon enough, like any normal person, I got tired of restricting myself so heavily and began to toy with the idea of throwing up my food. Finally! I could eat without feeling guilty! I could eat whatever I wanted and enjoy myself, all I had to do was purge it up when I was finished. Brilliant. I did not like the idea of binging on food though. I would just eat something, anything, a slice of cucumber even, and throw it up. I was eating wasn’t i? So I couldn’t have an eating disorder! Every weekend my dad made us blueberry pancakes with bacon. They were my absolute favourite and even when I was at my worst, somehow I managed a few bite just to see him smile at me. But this Saturday, two hot, steaming blueberry oancakes lay on a plate in front of me. I cut them up into exactly 27 pieces and sat there. Trying to figure out the caloric content in each little section I had cut. I wanted to eat them. I really did. I wanted to just eat them like any kid would but I physically could not allow myself that many carbs and this frustrated me so, so much. So instead of eating my pancakes, I cried. I cried because I was too stupid to eat a pancake for the sake of my daddy’s smile.
Part II: The Introduction of Trixie
Then, on Halloween of 2013 the cycle of destruction began. It was me and my new boyfriends first date and we just walked around the neighbourhood for hours collecting chocolate and candy. When I got home, I sat in my room and took every piece of sweets I had gotten and proceeded to order them from highest sodium amount to lowest, then from highest saturated fat content to lowest. I rearranged them until I was happy with the appearance of what was in front of me. I grabbed an Aero bar and flipped the package to see the nutritional information. 60 calories. I could do this and I did. In fact I did it a number of times after that. “One more won’t hurt” I told myself. A binge in other words, until half of my stash lay in front of me. I could taste the grit of sugar on my lips and could feel my knees buckling under me. I ran to the bathroom to do, well I think you already know. But this time was different. I physically couldn’t throw up. Time and time again I stuffed my fingers down until blood came up but no food. I sat on my bathroom floor wailing and crying about how much of a “fat bitch” I was. But wait, was that really me who said that? No. No it wasn’t. Who was that?”
This, my friends, was the beginning of the character I had named Trixie. It was a pretty fitting name, I thought. Because from that night forward Trixie was my food tracking app. She told me which crackers had less salt and which bread had lower calories. She was my friend, but at the same time she was the one telling me I’d be better off dead when I ate even 2 calories over my intake number. She was the one who told me about cinnamon. Ah, cinnamon. What a wonderful spice. 15 calories per tablespoon, it also boosted ones metabolism and I fell completely in love with the thought of having a fast metabolism. So can you guess what I did? I put cinnamon on literally everything I put inside my mouth. On my families way to my cabin we stopped off at Tim Horton’s for a coffee. I ordered a black coffee with a shot of Maple Cinnamon flavour. “No calories. Ha!” I was so happy until I began to type it into my little food diary. A flavour shot contained 15 calories that I did not know about. I went into the public restroom and lifted my tee shirt above my ribs and Trixie told me about the layer of fat that had since formed over my ribs. “Oh no.” I thought. I had a pen in my back pocket and instead of using my fingers and making them smell of vomit, I used this pen and sure enough. Up it came. I crouched down in that bathroom and wished to, whoever was listening, to strike me then and there. I would literally have rather been dead than have to live with the anxiety that surrounded me. Later that week, I went to the walk in clinic near my house because of the amount of dry skin that flaked off of my face. I was then diagnosed with Anemia, or an iron deficiency in the blood. I was giving steroid cream to treat my flaky skin and applied it twice a day.
Since I did not have a particularly high body fat percentage, my malnourished body began to eat away at the muscle in my legs. So much so, that in the beginning on Autumn when most people still stroll around in shorts and light sweaters, I was already breaking out my snow suit. I brought blankets to school, mittens, even pajama pants. But nothing kept me warm. However, this didn’t stop me from going on my runs. No way in hell was I going to miss those. 6:45 came along and with a size able quantity of rain and wind. Most people would hit snooze and sleep for another 20 minutes but not little
old Heather. Oh no, I threw on a pair of leggings and my Terry Fox Run shirt and went on my wet, cold, miserable run.
Part III: The Death March
November 6, 2013. I called my mother in my English period complaining of being tired and for her to drop me off at home. 20 minutes came and went and instead of my mother, my dad sat parked in front of my school. I thought I’d go home, have a rice cake, and sleep. But as you probably can guess, that wasn’t the case. I had fallen asleep on our commute over but when I awoke the building in front of me was unmistakeable. Regina General Hospital’s emergency department was rather empty this day, so I went up to the triage nurse and gave her the information she needed. This is possibly the saddest part of my entire story, but when the nurses took me back to record my vital signs, they were as follows; my heart pulse was 32 beats per minute when it should have been two or three times that. My blood pressure was that of an active 8 year old boy and scariest of all, my blood sugar. Like diabetics, I pricked my finger and the handheld machine beeped the number 2.1 back at me. My sugars should have been an 8 or 9 level and when the staff saw this, they asked me if they could get juice into me because cardio shock was a definite possibility at that point and I refused. Because I knew that 118ml of apple juice had 56 calories and that would have messed up my entire day of eating. I was put on an IV and had Glucose, which is liquid sugar, pumped into my body but it failed to do anything except lower the number even further. So I was admitted to the Pediatric Unit and, when I refused to eat a packet of honey on toast, was put on an NG tube or a feeding tube. It’s basically a long, plastic tube as thick as a pencil that gets lubed up on the tip and inserted through your nose and swallowed into your stomach when it then pumps liquid nutrition into you. I had that for 3 days, 24 hours a day. A nurse came to change the feed every 6 hours, day and night. Some mornings I would awake at 4:30 to somebody pumping air and cold water into my stomach before starting up the Pediasure again. The bathroom was the only place I was not supervised and when I had this private time, I did sit ups on the bathroom floor. I thought “Even normal people did that, right?” Once I met with the doctor on call, I was diagnosed with Eczema which is dryness of the skin, and an enflamed esophagus from the acid eating away at my throat as a result of purging so frequently. I also had not had a regular menstrual cycle in over half a year. After 3 days, I was given my clothes and my phone and was rather optimistic about my recovery. Until a bed had opened up for me on the Adolescent Psych Unit. It is one hallway with 8 or so rooms and I was lead by a stern faced nurse, Edge, who turned out to be much softer than she seemed, to my room. Number 7. I was given a hospital gown to wear and my phone taken away. But before I left the outside world completely I told this new boyfriend that he did not have to wait for me for there were so many other, healthy girls out there. But he told me I was loved and that he would never give up and to this day still hasn’t. Here, my journey started. I was on strict bed rest for the first two weeks or so and was rolled via wheelchair to the showers and bathrooms, supervised while using both. Awoken at 5:30 in the morning for blood work (I hate needles). I ate 3 meals and 3 snacks, all supervised with an hour of post meal supervision following each. When I tell people this, they sympathize with me. But I tell them not to because the hospital and staff were my saving grace. Every nurse I met treated me with compassion and empathy and are all so committed and passionate about their jobs. I don’t think they are recognized for the
good that they do as often as they should, because no matter 3 AM or 10 PM, if you were not feeling safe, they would accommodate you as best as possible. I met the most inspirational, beautiful and kindhearted people while hospitalized and I learned one very important thing while in treatment. Recovery isn’t perfect. Mine definitely hasn’t been. But you know what? You can either make a mistake and dwell on it for far longer than necessary and hate yourself for it, or you can get up, brush off your knees, say “Oh crap, I screwed up.” and move on. I believe that happiness is a choice that we ALL have within us. Medications and therapy can get you to a certain point where you do not feel unsafe, but if you want to triumph over what tries to take your control of yourself away, you have to do that for you and you only. No amount of medication will overpower the power of determination.
I chose not to be known as my eating disorder. Because I am so much more than Anorexia. I refuse to be defined by my diagnosis and will continue to fight for my life, until the day I die.