I often refer to the years following High School as "no man's land". It's a strange time after graduating from High School, trying to find your way in the world. Feeling grown up because you live away from your parents 9 months out of the year but dependent on your parents funding your life and education. Kind of a transition period. You are old enough to be completely independent but few people I know really jump out of the nest during the 18 - 22 year age range. Mostly due to financial ties.
I went to college because it was expected of me. My parents drove me six hours north to Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia - sight unseen - and left me there in my dorm room. I didn't know a soul. I was excited. I thought I could finally break free from myself. Start over. Reinvent myself. Stop being so insecure, weak and needy. Finally reach my full potential. I tried - but failed.
It is futile to try to run away from yourself seeing how you are always with you...
I started eating. I actually gained the "freshman 15" or in my case the "freshman 20". With the help of Krystal Burgers I went the other extreme and shifted from not eating to overeating. I found it interesting that gaining this "freshman 15" didn't keep me from being able to hook up with willing college boys. Of course none of this helped my self esteem and the extra pounds quickly became a problem for me. I started skipping meals, working out and trying to find some balance in life. I never returned to weights in the 90's or low 100's but mentally and emotionally I was a wreck.
Eating disorders are not just about eating. I keep repeating this because it is an important truth.
No one in my close family or friend circles in high school or college realized I had a problem at all. The mental, emotional and physical challenges I faced, I faced them on my own. The warning signs of eating disorders were present in my life but are considered "normal" for teens or young adults. Things like being concerned with looks/weight, moodiness, boy trouble, friend issues, withdrawing...these are all things expected of teens and accepted as normal in the culture of raising American teenagers.
Even though there are multiple resources available educating parents, teachers and friends about signs and red flags in the life of the teens we know and love, unless the signs are drastically extreme it is my theory most friends and family members miss the signs.
I am guilty of missing signs with my own daughter, history will repeat itself if we choose to ignore it , which is one reason I am telling my story, stripped of pride, with all the embarrassing details.
This journey with eating disorders comes with many layers - some I haven't even touched on yet. For starters I actually saw psychologists off and on while growing up and none of them ever knew about my real issues. Another layer includes being in an emotionally abusive relationship in high school with a boyfriend who would have me get on a bathroom scale to check my weight. Yet another layer includes being drawn in to emotionally and psychologically abusive relationships and situations without knowing how to set healthy boundaries. Layers and layers with many unhealthy years physically, mentally and emotionally.
My college years wrapped up with my weight fluctuating and my emotional state improving but still extremely fragile. I made real friends who are still my friends today. I met my husband and ended my promiscuous life when we started dating. My college years were full of ups and downs emotionally and in the weight category.
When I started telling my story I knew it was deeply rooted but didn't realize there were so many layers - the telling has started this peeling process. When will all the layers be peeled back? What will actually be there? Where will the telling of this story end? I don't know.
I am still walking out this journey. Thanks for joining me in the process...
If you have been following along, reading my story, you know this post was supposed to be about my college life. I was attempting to write my story in chronological order. However, I am currently living out some of the consequences of my eating disorder life so I decided to take a different approach and share what is happening right now.
I am 45 years old, living in freedom from eating disorders, yet I am still living out the consequences.
My eating disorder of choice was the restricting type of anorexia. According to Help Guide:
There are two types of anorexia. In the restricting type of anorexia, weight loss is achieved by restricting calories (following drastic diets, fasting, and exercising to excess). In the purging type of anorexia, weight loss is achieved by vomiting or using laxatives and diuretics.
When I adopted a habit of extremely restricting my diet I had no idea what the consequences would or could be other than "skinny". That was my goal and not eating was how I achieved it.
After having my first baby in 1996, I went straight to restricting my diet to try to lose weight. One Lean Pocket a day. I was also nursing my baby. Immediately, I started having dental issues. I remember lying on the couch with such terrible tooth pain I couldn't focus or do anything. I had my first root canal at that point but didn't realize the connection between my dental issues and my eating disorder history or the eating disorder lifestyle I was living at the time. I continued with my restrictive diet and went on with my life.
The years that followed were, and are currently, full of continued dental issues.
Restricting my diet while nursing is not what caused my dental issues, I believe the issues started years earlier when I began extremely restricting my diet. After having a baby I reverted to the habit I was familiar with, extreme diet restriction. The fact that I was nursing, while restricting my diet surely expedited the damage that was already started in my teeth. I don't remember when it dawned on me that my dental issues were directly related to my eating disorder. Sometime during my true recovery process the thought hit me. At the time, I looked it up and confirmed my theory. From that point on, as I started to share my story with my own girls I told them and warned them, about some of these long lasting consequences.
Selah House, an eating disorder recovery program, lists these signs and symptoms of dental problems associated with eating disorders:
Signs and Symptoms (from the National Eating Disorders Association):
This entire list applies to me. My dental issues continued through the years. For many years now I have been ashamed to open my mouth too wide due to broken teeth and very ugly mess inside my mouth. I am forever thankful my smile in the front has stayed nice, but at this point I am careful how wide I smile and if I can avoid it I am never in a picture with a wide open mouth (such as a laughing picture).
I have been putting off this dental work because the truth is I don't have the cash to really "fix" my mouth. I hate the thought of spending so much money and possibly going in to debt over dental issues that really are a consequence of my choices. However, I cannot put it off any longer. Part of my recovery process has included learning about health and what I have learned is your physical health and your oral health are directly related. Not to mention, more pain has started to occur.
As I sat in the dental chair yesterday, getting ready for phase one of this long, costly process I thought, this is it - go ahead and share this part of your story. As you live it.
This is part of my story. I am no longer hiding it or hanging my head in shame.
I am not proud of living with an eating disorder but I can finally face it. I can finally share this long, painful story and all the complicated layers of life with an eating disorder, hoping someone can help themselves or someone else.
Thanks for reading. I will get back to sharing my "college years" at some point.
Image Credit: By SSgt Wesley Farnsworth [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Coming up to the finish line in high school I hit some real social lows which brought me to emotional and mental lows like I had never experienced before. Thankfully a good friend from childhood, who never gave up our friendship even when I distanced myself and pulled away, was still there for me. She stepped in at one of my lowest points and invited me to a youth rally with her church youth group. She sat me on the front row and that night my life forever changed. My faith became real to me.
My faith walk is connected to my journey with eating disorders but is not the main focus of my story. Some in my Christian circles would be appalled at that statement. The reality here is my faith walk is a part of me in every way but I did not have a magical experience with God that erased all my issues, struggles and problems. My eating disorder journey lasted over 30 years and at this point, graduating from high school, we are only about 6 years in to that journey.
I have come to realize an eating disorder, much like alcoholism, is something you may become free from but is something you must always remain aware of in order to keep your freedom.
After the youth rally with my friend my life did start to change. I started to eat more and wasn't drinking as much; I was still seeking attention from guys, still sexually active. I completely separated myself from all the friends I had during my high school years - keep in mind I was still in high school. I think this was an attempt to run away from my own issues rather than face myself.
With all of these changes, even with starting to eat more its important to note, eating disorders are not just about eating.
On to college...
Abandonment issues combined with a destructive self-image prove to be a lethal combination for anyone and even more so for a young girl navigating puberty, teenage years, high school social pressures and the uncertainty of life as high school graduation approaches. Combine all of that with eating disorders and you get a picture of me throughout Jr. High and High School. A real mess mentally and emotionally - perfectly put together from the outside.
After the bus I was determined to stay skinny at all costs. What are those costs? At the time I didn't even consider any "cost", I was only interested in the immediate result - skinny. The consequence at the time was being hungry, very hungry but to me the pay off was better than being hungry. Staying skinny was worth more to me than eating. The long term costs were something I knew nothing about. These long term costs didn't materialize until many years later, after it was too late to prevent the damage that was done (more about this later in my journey).
To put it in perspective I am 5'3" tall and have been this height since 7th grade (remember the Bus Ride) this was my height then and it is now. As I began drastically dropping weight my lowest weight was in the 90's; 95-97 pounds never going above 105 pounds in high school. This was all well and "good" I felt "good" about the way I looked. This was very skinny but still a weight that to others looked "ok" and didn't cause alarm. No one had any concern about how extremely thin I was becoming. After all I was just being a teenage girl, every teenage girl is "thin" or wants to be right?
According to an Anorexic BMI calculator a 17 year old, 5'3" girl weighing 102 pounds is at an "anorexic weight". So as I continued with my weight loss and dropped to the mid 90 pound weight range I was becoming dangerously thin.
More problems began when being skinny all of a sudden didn't seem to be enough to keep people around. Dealing with my abandonment issues I ventured into destructive, unhealthy behavior and relationships as a way of connecting with people and keeping their "love" and attention. This is when the drinking and sexual activity started in high school.
A November 2015 article on Very Well states:
"Teens who are struggling with their own sense of self-worth are the most prone to unwise decisions about sex."
This is very true, it’s alarming and based on the date of this article this issue is still a concern today, not just something we dealt with in the 80's.
Keeping the focus on eating disorders I will only briefly discuss underage drinking and promiscuity. Some will think "all high school kids experiment with drinking and sexual activity". While this may be the case for many teenagers in America it is my belief that when someone is dealing with serious psychological issues such as abandonment and eating disorders this "experimentation" becomes increasingly damaging. You end up with a young person incapable of saying no, someone who continues to retreat into a hole of self loathing and self destructive behavior. Someone ripe for abuse physically, mentally and emotionally. This is something to seriously consider as adults raising teens today. We need to pay attention.
Back to my journey...
Photo Credit: tlparadis, pixabay
Thank you to EverythingMom for promoting this post June 5, 2016 on their EverythingMom Facebook page and Twitter account!
The months and years following that bus ride proved to be the best (depending on how you view it) and the worst of times for me. The best if you view Jr. High and High School years through the common rose colored glasses showing popularity, cheerleading and boyfriends as the ticket to a great adolescent experience. The worst if you know the behind the scenes personal turmoil of someone with an eating disorder.
Psychology Today states the following:
"Eating disorders are very complex, and despite scientific research to understand them, the biological, behavioral and social underpinnings of these illnesses remain elusive. Eating disorders frequently develop during adolescence or early adulthood, but some reports indicate their onset can occur during childhood or later in adulthood. Many adolescents are able to hide these behaviors from their family for months or years."
This is very true. Many of my friends and family still, to this day, do not realize this is a very real issue that was lived right in front of them.
After the bus ride, I went home and spoke with my mom about my weight. Many moms want to help their chubby children lose weight because in our society being thin or "fit" is acceptable and being large is not. This is proven true when a larger person starts losing weight and is praised and celebrated for that reason - losing weight.
This is what happened to me, I lost weight with my 1/2 a sandwich and apple diet and was praised, celebrated, accepted, no longer teased, became more popular and attracted more boys. All of this helped me deal with my abandonment issues although not in a healthy way. I was controlling my circumstances (becoming thin) to have people (friends, boys even family) stick around and give me approval.
I decided to stay thin at any cost.
Photo Credit: Robert J. La Verghetta
Chubby, but no longer the tallest, feeling less like a freak, still chasing boys but overall not too miserable about my body image. This was me in 7th grade until one day on the bus. Typical Florida day, hot, windows down (we had no AC on the buses back then) it was a crowded, rowdy, loud bus full of kids. I remember it so clearly. It was one of those moments in life when everything slowed around me and all the noise became a low mumbled humming. I felt like a magnifying glass zoomed in on me and the surrounding activity blurred. At that moment one thing became clear to me - "Big Fat White Albino".
A boy on the bus stood up and held up a piece of notebook paper. On that paper was a hand drawn picture of a round, very round, person and written above the round person were the words "Heidi is a Big Fat White Albino". Not only did he hold up this paper he shouted out the words as he held it up. Laughter burst out. I said nothing. We were coming to a stop, thankfully it was my stop, and I got off the bus and went home in a daze. My guess is, this boy and the kids on the bus probably don't even remember this moment, this pivotal moment in my life.
That night I spoke with my mom about my weight. I don't remember if it was the first time we spoke about it or not. It probably went something like this. "Mom, I want to lose weight." There was no discussion about the bus or what happened. I knew my mom would be thrilled because she is very weight conscious and always has been. She was very willing to help me. So from that day forward I started militantly watching what I ate. I went to school with a 1/2 a sandwich and an apple in a brown paper bag. Stopped afterschool snacking. No more desserts.
What were the results? I lost weight. Lots of it. I lost weight but gained a low self esteem. My self-worth became tied to my weight. I lost weight but gained decades of struggle physically, emotionally, relationally and with my health. This was the catapult that quickly thrust me into a lifestyle of eating, or not eating, to control my life. “Big, Fat, White, Albino” was, for me, the beginning of a sick cycle that those of us who suffer from or have suffered from eating disorders know all too well.
Photo Credit: JasonPinaster, Pixabay
It’s revealing and awkward for me to share this story so publicly. Traveling way back in time to 1981 seems a bit self indulgent and weird. At the same time I know this is an important part of my eating disorder journey. If you are reading this I want you to know I harbor no bitterness or anger, I do not feel sorry for myself, I am now completely free in mind, body and spirit.
5th grade. In 5th grade I was the tallest, biggest, most developed girl in my class at school. This is funny now seeing how I am short, 5’ 3” tall and am petite in size overall. Back to 5th grade - being the tallest, biggest (as in largest in size around, chubby, fat whatever you want to call it) and most developed girl in my class was downright awkward. I didn't handle it well. I felt big, tall and awkward. On top of that I was boy crazy so in order to "feel pretty" I chased the boys to try to get attention.
To make things worse, abandonment issues set in as my family went through a devastating loss when my sister committed suicide. As a 10 year old I was left to collect information by overhearing conversations and observing what was happening. In hind sight, I can understand this because losing a child, especially due to suicide was something my parents had to deal with themselves, something I can never fully feel the weight of and hope I never go through. Nonetheless, as a 10 year old, dealing with my feelings and the loss of my sister on my own I felt abandoned and desperate. When girls feel this way it is highly likely they will try to fulfill their needs for acceptance and love with trying to be socially accepted into a group and with guys. This time in my life (chubby, awkward, feeling abandoned at 10 years old) was the beginning of a long road, searching for love and acceptance through social groups and guys.
On to 6th grade - the boy chasing increased and the attention received also increased. It takes boys a little longer but by 6th grade they realized they could tease and touch the girls who were chasing them and it became appealing. I was no longer the tallest or most developed girl in my class but I was still chubby and ahead in the development area. The boy chase continued - I caught a few and was passed around a bit too. Sadly, I didn't mind. I was feeling accepted. Still chubby and awkward but accepted and in my mind that was because of the attention from boys. I wanted to keep that going as long as possible.
Then, on a bus ride in 7th grade, I was catapulted into a lifestyle of starving in more ways than one...
Photo Credit: Bryan McDonald, Flickr
I'm Heidi & I am so happy you are here...
If this is your first time visiting this page and reading my story first let me say thank you for reading! This is a story with layers and layers of history and details that have lived in my brain and heart but only now are being shared "out loud" . I truly believe I am free now, keeping in mind having an eating disorder is really something that never fully goes away, it is something that is with me to this day but I am free because it no longer controls me.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder or suspect you are, please get help! There is no shame and stigma's are being broken!
Wife, mother, psychology major, writer, dreamer, God chaser, book revolutionist, passionate about people and society past, present and future...
© Heidi Suydam and Simply Our Society, 2016. Excerpts and links are encouraged and may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Heidi Suydam and/or Simply Our Society with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.