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.
I don’t have a particular day that I can look back on to say that’s the day I went vegan. I went vegetarian in high school, mostly because I didn’t want an animal to die so that I could eat, but also because that was the beginning of my struggle with disordered eating. I’m not implying that not eating animals is an eating disorder in the slightest! It’s just that it’s easier to restrict food when you don’t eat certain things. I was also very passionate about ending the use of animals for entertainment and was passionate about animal welfare. I became more curious and interested in veganism towards the end of my senior year. I wanted to make the most ethical decision that I could about my diet and live in a way that reflected my proclaimed love for animals. I was realizing that welfare is NOT enough and that liberation should be the pursuit and goal of the animal rights movement. But living at home where I was the only one that was even vegetarian was hard and I wasn’t the one paying for groceries. I ate plant-based 95% of the time that summer and did a lot of online research: looking up vegan recipes, facts about dairy and eggs, and making sure I could be healthy on a vegan diet. Of course I could be healthy!! Such a huge misconception that I had to unlearn.
And as I entered college, living on my own for the first time, in a city that was much more vegan friendly I took the plunge. I bought all my own groceries, finally kicked my greek yogurt habit and stopped buying products with honey. Unfortunately my freshman year of college was also when my eating disorder really manifested. I was living on my own and so I could control everything I ate and I could exercise whenever I wanted for as long as I wanted without anyone looking over my shoulder. That led to extreme weight loss, depression and anxiety. And resulted in me spending what would have been my last few weeks of my first year of college in an eating disorder treatment program, living at a hospital. I was told that I could not be vegan and that it was most likely part of my disorder. I remember distinctly being pulled aside by a therapist who told me vegans can’t be healthy (Um…she wasn’t even trained in nutrition). That was the moment I became inspired to recover AS a vegan just to spite them, to show them that they were wrong. Those 3 weeks I spent in the hospital will stay with me forever. I was vegetarian while in there, because I was forced to eat eggs and dairy which was horrifying to me and made recovery 100x harder.
When I was discharged I went back to veganism with a vengeance. I ate a lot more, saw a therapist to work on the underlying issues that actually triggered my eating disorder, and challenged myself everyday to get better. I recovered as a vegan, which helped because I wasn’t only eating for myself, but in a way that aligned with my values, a way that allowed me to practice the love I felt for other species and our planet. And I began to speak about veganism. I want to raise awareness and normalize the term “vegan” so it won’t be met with confusion or an eye roll but instead with real understanding. I want to show that vegans can, not only be healthy, but thrive. I also began to speak out about leather, fur, zoos, experimentation and other forms of exploitation.
And now I’m at the point where activism is becoming my current passion. The animals cannot make their voices heard by humans, so we have to make sure their stories get told. We have to change society radically to stop the massacre of billions of sentient beings everyday. That’s not an outrageous pursuit! That’s not a far-fetched thought. It’s not weird, or strange, or odd to be vegan. It’s just the end result of living my values. I want to live compassionately. I want to live in a way that’s sustainable for the planet. That’s what veganism is all about and that is why I’m vegan.
What are your vegan stories?
The past few weeks have been interesting to say the least. Lots of stress, not much sleep, lot of snacking, and so much reading and essay writing that my brain felt like it was going to explode. Honestly, most of the time I just wanted to sleep and the few moments I had time during the day to catch some sleep: No luck. I’m terrible at naps. I can be drop-dead tired and still won’t be able to sleep until at least 10 pm.
BUT! I’m not going to beat myself up about being so out of wack. That’s just the moment I’m at in life right now. Here’s a couple of things that have been keeping me going.
These adorable father-daughter pictures: Father 3 yr old Daughter Create Adorable PicturesSeriously made me smile on a very tough day.
Iced Almond Milk Chai lattes from local coffee shops:
Superfood Raw Chocolate.
This funny Vegan humor cartoon:
This lip sync battle between Jimmy Fallon and Emma Stone. Wow. Just wow. She’s hilarious!
I think it’s quite obvious who won that one.
Binge Watching Ugly Betty when I don’t have free time. (ugh procrastination)
And on a serious (but very relevant) note:
Now I’m ready for a break, but it’s not coming this week. I’m just going to keep powering through.
I was recently inspired by a Facebook post by A Dash of Meg. She was talking about what makes one MENTALLY strong, PHYSICALLY strong, and EMOTIONALLY strong.
Seeing how honestly she opened herself up in a public forum, I was suddenly seized with the same desire to open up and reply honestly.
I am mentally strong because I too overcame an eating disorder
I am physically strong because I hike up the UCSC hills everyday with a backpack full of notebooks and novels 😉
I am emotionally strong because I struggle with anxiety but I found a way to ask for help.
As soon as I typed those words it felt like a huge burden off my shoulders. To see my thoughts and inner most feelings put into words felt like I was beginning to crack at the rigid outer composure I’ve kept up through the last few years. I’m not one to disclose my emotions with even those closest to me, or my thoughts behind those emotions. This often makes it hard for me to truly connect with people and let them into my life.
This past year has been immensely difficult. I’ve come from a really dangerous place and had quite a journey in the past 12 months. I never would have admitted in the past that I needed help. Admitting that I couldn’t do everything myself was a huge step for me and starting work with a therapist changed my life.
There’s such a negative connotation around “therapy” and “mental illness” but from my experience I think most people could benefit immensely from seeing a therapist 😉 A person that you get to pour out all your thoughts and feelings too, who doesn’t judge you, who really listens, and offers helpful feedback and advice. There’s no couches to lie on or questions like “And how does that make you feel?” in my experience, but genuine human connections.
Yesterday was the first time I put my ED into words and publicly stated that it had existed. There was such a sense of relief in that. In just speaking the truth. The truth is what makes me strong. The ability to acknowledge my past and move forward from it to a better, healthier, happier future is what’s empowering.
Words are powerful and freeing. Simply saying what your going through out loud whether it be to yourself or a friend, make problems seem so much smaller, and at least for me have allowed me to let go of the past and begin my journey forward.
So what makes you MENTALLY strong, PHYSICALLY strong, and EMOTIONALLY strong?
Hi! My name is Sarah McLaughlin. I’m a sophomore at the University of California Santa Cruz working towards a Literature major. I’m an enthusiastic plant based foodie with a passion for organic, local, and hand crafted foods. I love living in the redwoods, smelling the moist forest ground, and being surrounded with giant ancient trees that have seen more time in this world than any of us ever will.
A few years ago I discovered the world of online food and health blogs. I discovered a love for cooking and experimenting with new, healthier, plant-based recipes and most of all learned how to intertwine my love for animal and human rights with my diet and lifestyle.
However the onslaught of information from the online community can be overwhelming especially for a young adult like myself. I took every health tip and recommendation to heart, which was a lot of information constantly weighing on my mind. This combined with a desire to be the healthiest person I could be led to an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. I struggled with this obsession and sometimes still do, but this is why I’m committed to making a blog that celebrates food, health, and all of the amazing things our bodies do for us.
Sometimes we have to struggle to discover the beauty that was always all around us. Whether that may be in a deliciously rich square of raw chocolate, or the feeling of our heart pumping in our chest on a hike through the redwoods, or even in the moment of a shared laugh with a friend; it’s important to recognize these little moments and celebrate them.
I hope this blog can become a space to share my favorite recipes, small businesses that I love and support, and most importantly a space to share feelings and thoughts about the world we live in.