2 years ago today I posted this image on IG after having disappeared from social media for a week. I was in the midst of one of the strangest 3 weeks of my life…but I’ll back up a little.
1 week ago I had taken an elevator ride up to the 4th floor of El Dominican hospital in Mountain View, CA. I was carrying 2 heavy bags of clothes and personal care products ad was with my mom who carried my backpack filled with school books. We were buzzed past the security door, which I initially thought was there to keep the outside world out, but I would later come to think it was there to keep us in.
At the desk we signed some forms and I was led to a room with 2 beds. In one of the beds was another girl and her mom and dad sitting nearby talking away as the TV buzzed on about a talk show. The nurse strapped a plastic bracelet around my wrist and just like that I was a patient at Lucille Packard Eating Disorder unit.
The next few hours were a blur of being weighed, questioned by doctors, nurses, and a therapist, tears on my moms behalf, and finally 2 packages of graham crackers and a small serving container of PB.
I was just so relieved that the snack I was given was mostly plant-based (besides the honey in the graham cracker) that I ate it all without really a second thought. I was also set on proving that they were wrong; I didn’t have an ED. I just needed to gain some weight.
I was connected to a heart rate monitor and the nurse helped my mom make a make-shift bed out of chairs and blankets.
It had been a long and emotionally exhausting day but I was too afraid to fall asleep because the nurse had explained that if my heart rate dropped too low I would be woken up and given a boost (concentrated caloric drink) to keep my body going. (turned out to not be necessary).
I was woken up the next morning at 5 a.m. and told to put on a hospital gown, with nothing underneath, and wait to be weighed by the door. This would be my morning routine everyday for the next 3 weeks. As the nurse pushed the scale to the door and had me step on backwards (they don’t tell you your weight or allow you to see it). I remember pushing all my weight downwards, trying to force as much weight as I could down so that I could increase my weight. The scale was always cold and unforgiving though and didn’t lie.
Then I had to try to fall asleep until breakfast was served at 8:30 a.m. I was not used to waiting that long to eat when I woke up and thought I was starving. For the first 5 days or so I was on bed rest, because my heart rate was unstable. (Basically they had you lay flat and took your heart rate and then stand up and took it again. If it jumped to much in between you were deemed unstable). I was served breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner and snack every day at set times. Everything served had to be eaten. I wasn’t allowed to be vegan, I was allowed vegetarian, and the first time they served me milk I cried.
Luckily I was able to move into a wheelchair after that and started attending group meals and art sessions with the rest of the girls on the floor (yes all girls). Let me just say group meals are the strangest experience ever. We all sat around a table and two aides watched us while we ate. No talking about food, but we could talk about other things. The aides were all really nice though and I got to know them all pretty well.
Art sessions were my favorite. One of the best projects we made was a giant whale out of hospital supplies.
The therapy groups were the worst, because no one wanted to talk so we sat in a circle sullenly usually.
The girls I met in there were all brilliant, funny, creative people, but the minute meals rolled around we turned into sullen, empty people.
I remember doing planks in the hospital bathroom because i was determined to stay in shape. I didn’t even realize this was a part of having a disorder. I was convinced I was fine for weeks. That was how deep in I was. I was literally in the hospital, in a wheelchair, and thought everyone was wrong and I was healthy.
It was also a strange kind of relief in being told that I could not exercise. I had tortured myself for years with exercise, forcing myself to do it every single day even when I hated it. In the hospital, with no access to a gym, I was forced to relax and take it easy for the first time in a long time.
In my last week at the hospital I was allowed to start walking around the floor. It was so hard seeing people get discharged and sent home while I was stuck there. At one point it was down to me and one other person on the floor and I thought I would be stuck there all alone with the nurses.
I remember the day, towards the end of my stay when the therapist put a packet on Orthorexia down in front of me. As I read it I finally realized that absolutely everything I was reading was me. I wasn’t anorexic or any of the other ED’s, but Orthorexia was it. That was me. It was such intense relief having a name for the way I felt. The obsession with healthy eating is very real though some groups have mocked it as a disorder. That was a moment where my perception of self started to shift.
When the day finally came around that I was discharged I was so happy to leave. I put on shoes for the first time in 3 weeks. I walked beyond the walls of the unit for the first time in weeks. I got into a car and drove away from the hospital. It was a mix of emotions. I was glad to leave, but I also felt oddly like I was losing something? I had lived on that floor for 3 weeks and gotten to know the people that worked there so well and yet I fully planned on never going back there? I oddly felt like I left part of myself up there.
The summer that came was hard, as I was still being forced to gain weight and was attending therapy sessions and doctor appointments weekly. Everyday was a land mine as my family and I navigated the hardships of recovery. There were so many tears, yelling and hateful thoughts. Every part of my mind was focused on food, how I could hide eating low calorie foods and get around my meal plan.
But ultimately I came out of that summer stronger. It’s so strange for me to look back on recovery and what led me there. The last 2 years have been tough. I’ve been working on repairing my relationship with food and exercise on my own. I’m not comfortable confiding in even my closest friends, because they just don’t get it. I don’t feel comfortable telling my parents everything (though they’ll probably read this) because I don’t want to make them sad.
Recovery is the best thing I ever chose to do. Living in a hospital or at risk of needing to go to one is not life. Living everyday able to think about my passions instead of food, calorie counts, and exercise is so worth it. I can spend days reading, watching Netflix, writing, cooking, hanging out with friends and attending school functions.
Recovery is like climbing out of a dark hole and learning to live again. It sounds like I’m romanticizing it, but it’s really like rediscovering life.
It doesn’t mean everything is perfect now, but looking back it’s amazing how much my life has changed in 2 years.
If your going through an eating disorder or any other problem, just know there’s hope. Recovery is scary, but it’s worth it. There are so many great resources out there. Looking back I would change a lot, but mostly I would just choose recovery earlier. I wouldn’t waste a single extra thought on anything but what makes me feel good.
I think that those 3 weeks will always stay with me and that’s okay.
Reflecting on 2 years and I’m happy to see where I am.