Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tell-All Tuesday: I Beat Anorexia. Sort of.

I have been somewhat inspired by the popular "things you might not know about me" game that is circulating Facebook right now. There is something comforting in seeing the more imperfect side of people who mostly only show the best of what is happening in their lives to the world. That is a reality of social media that is sometimes hard to remember. That most people are portraying only the best parts of what is going on in their lives. I know I, for one, am guilty of this. I jump on the chance to share a photo of my little cutie smiling and happy, or of my husband and I sharing a loving kiss that was captured on camera. I don't always go running to try and capture and share a moment, however, when my child is throwing a tantrum I cannot control (although sometimes this is worth sharing, simply for the humor of it all) or my husband and I just fought over something trivial. While this is a perfectly normal part of the whole social media atmosphere, it is still important for your sanity to keep in mind that not everything that is going on in people's lives is being plastered on the internet for all to see.

I have decided to participate in my own way and assign Tuesdays as a day to reveal something about myself that not everyone might know, hence the name Tell-All Tuesday. I find that sharing past experiences or things that I would normally just want to forget about or keep secret is actually quite therapeutic. It's no wonder so many people on Facebook are jumping on board to participate and get some things off of their chests! So here goes my first one.

Back in 2002, when I was a 16 year old in high school, I spent about 3 months in an in-patient program through Kartini Clinic at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland where I was treated for anorexia nervosa. I then spent a good amount of my time attending sessions with Kartini Clinic's out-patient program that involved various therapies over the next couple of years or so. The first couple of weeks I spent in a hospital bed while my vitals were brought back to normal. I first had to be physically treated to make sure I was safe before starting therapy for the real issue involved with the illness, the mental aspect. Once things such as my temperature, blood pressure and heart rate were stable, I was transferred to a day treatment center where I began the journey to recovery. While a lot of this time in my life is just a big blur, there are still certain parts that I remember quite well. I reluctantly participated in things that at the time I had no idea were actually having an impact on me such as art therapy, family therapy, yoga, group therapy and so many more. If I took away nothing else from this experience, I learned that talking about and sharing your feelings and experiences is key to recovery. Effective communication is one of the best skills anyone can ever possess. 

I can now look back on my experience and see that I am almost fortunate to have gone through it all. While it would have obviously been more ideal for me to learn these lessons without the eating disorder that came along with them, I came out of it all with such a greater understanding for mental illness and the importance of a good support system. Without my family and friends that stayed by my side through the whole thing, (I put a whole new meaning to the term "hangry," which is a slang term I like for the bitchiness brought forth from hunger) I do not think I could have come out of it alive. Believe it or not, that amazing man that I married 8 years later stuck by my side the entire time. Seriously, a 16 year old boy who had me pushing him away as hard as I could decided to stick it out and support me. I think I'll keep him ;).

Kevin and I getting ready for homecoming, not too long before I entered treatment.

The summer before I ended up at Kartini Clinic. I didn't want a picture of myself eating.

The biggest support I was so fortunate to have was my mom. She was of course the one who forced me, out of love, into an appointment up there in the first place. She could not watch me die slowly anymore, and was brave enough to put her pride aside and say "my daughter has an eating disorder and needs help now." While this was an obvious reaction in her mind, it's amazing how many parents of children with any kind of mental illness this does not come so easily to. I am forever grateful for her forcing me into treatment, and everything she sacrificed through the whole thing. She stuck it out, even with me kicking and screaming in defiance, and she did it all with a smile. She brought light to my darkest days like no one else could. One of my favorite memories of my time in the hospital is when she took me on an "excursion." I was allowed excursions by wheelchair to leave my room. My mom would push me around as we explored the hospital. My favorite place to visit was always the maternity ward or the neonatal unit, where I got to see all of the newborns! It was also a time where I was able to feel like I had some freedom again. When you are under 24 hour supervision in a hospital room, a simple visit to a public restroom somewhere else in the hospital to take a poop without being watched was like a vacation. Anyway, she was wheeling me around in the basement, through some empty hallways when we came across a sloped area and she let go! I was yelling at her as my chair sped up faster and faster and we laughed so hard. Her fun spirit and ability to make me laugh is irreplaceable.

An awesome example of my mom's fun and hilarious attitude. I love you mommy!

Okay back to the serious stuff. I added the "sort of" to the end of the title of this post because I wanted to express something that I really feel is important to know about eating disorders of any kind: they never truly just go away. While they can be effectively treated and a person can learn to live quite normally again while managing their disorder, the thoughts and daily struggles with food never fully go away. I think that eating disorders can be closely compared to an addiction of any kind. They are like a coping mechanism for people, and typically require treatment to manage them. Just as I view addiction to drugs or alcohol, I think eating disorders are a mental illness. It is always going to be there with the person, waiting for a trigger to release it, a reason for it to take over their life again. Unfortunately, I think that there are people who don't fully understand the seriousness of the issue. I can remember times, and they still happen every once in a while, when a person would say something like "I think every girl has a little bit of an eating disorder, it's a normal part of growing up" or "I wish I had a little bit of your anorexia, then I would be able to stay thin!" These kinds of comments make my blood boil. Seriously. While I am sure they mean no harm, they are being ignorant to the fact that a true eating disorder is just that, a disorder. It is something that fully consumes you, it controls everything you do and forces you into isolation. I would not wish this upon anyone, nor should they wish it upon themselves. Eating disorders are not all about appearance. It is an easy misconception to assume that a person just wants to be thin. The misconception that the treatment is as simple as "just eat" is often paired with the thought that the disorder is simply about being skinny. The illness is really so much more complex than most people think, and is a serious issue. Not everyone is as fortunate as I am to find recovery and manage their disorder.

The difference in me between these two photos? Well obviously about 10 years and quite a few pounds, but more importantly the look in my eyes. I see a happiness and spirit in my photo on the right, as opposed to the blank stare with sadness behind my eyes on the left.

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder of any kind, please seek help. I know from experience, because of the loving support of my family and friends, that the sooner someone can start getting help the better. I would highly recommend the Kartini Clinic in Portland, OR. If nothing else, they have some pretty good information you can check out on their website at http://kartiniclinic.com/ .


  1. You are so amazing Hilary! I am proud of you and what you have overcome. You are a very strong woman and I admire you. I really enjoy reading your blog.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story! It's hard to recover from something like that and am happy to see that you stuck with it even though it was probably really hard

    1. Thank you Brynna, it is definitely a daily struggle, some harder than others, but I have come so far and still have more support and love than anyone could ever ask for, which is always a big help :)