The Road to Living, Not Just Surviving
**Some guest stories may contain eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, or symptoms. Please use your own discretion and speak with your therapist or support system as needed.
Caitlin Ward is a freshman at Bucknell University. She loves spending time with her family and friends who are there for her during every step of recovery. When she’s not busy with homework, Caitlin enjoys spending time with her dog and watching Grey’s Anatomy.
Perfection. Most people believe that being perfect is not realistic. That’s not me. I always thought I could be perfect. I was supposed to be the shining star of the family or the friend group, of everywhere I went. I tried my hardest at being perfect. I studied endlessly to get perfect grades. I always woke up early to put on makeup, put on a cute outfit, and do my hair even if I was up late doing my homework. It didn’t matter, I had to look like I was okay all the time, even if I cried myself to sleep because of my anxiety. The desire for perfection has always been a part of my life since I can remember. However, nothing I ever did made me “perfect” enough. I was thin. I was pretty. I was smart. I wasn’t thin enough. I wasn’t thin enough. I wasn’t smart enough. I felt like I lost control over my need to be perfect. I needed to regain control to become perfect.
So, I turned to food and exercise. I thought, you know what could make me more perfect, be the healthy one. Be the skinniest. Eat the least. Workout the most. So, I did. Most people would not be able to live this way. But, with everything I do I have such a high level of motivation to complete it with perfection. Restricting my diet really was not that difficult for me. Sure, I was hungry. I was tired. I missed out on a lot of social events. But, was I achieving “perfection?” No. I never achieved perfection. So, everything I did concerning food/weight/exercised needed to be controlled even more to make me more perfect. I would continuously cut down on calories and exercise more.
There would be points where I decided I would be done with this “diet” that I was on. I would stop for a little while, but once something happened that I felt made me less perfect, I needed control. So, I turned to food again and again. I would maintain a low-ish weight but not enough to make people wonder. However, around junior year with the pressure of college, I felt more out of control than ever. So, I restricted and exercised even more. Now, I started losing a decent amount of weight. I didn’t get new clothes, rather just covered it up, because if I needed to buy more clothes my mom would find out. But, no one could ever know that I might have an “eating problem” because that would mean that I’m not perfect. So, I hid.
I hid my exercise with the fact that I loved working out and I wanted my job to involve fitness when I got older. I lied constantly about food. I would just say, “Oh I don’t really like sweets.” After restricting and exercising for a decent amount of time, that stopped being enough. I started throwing up as well because that made me feel as if I had more control. I did this for a while with no one finding out. No one had any idea that I was losing myself. I had no idea. I believed that I had it under control. Because it really did make me feel as if I was in control.
Around the time when it got really bad (barely eating, exercising, avoiding all social events, throwing up, taking diet pills), one of my friends started to question if something was wrong. I would say things and she would look at me with such a concerned look. A look that was so different from the way everyone else looked at me. Every time I refused food, every time I went to the gym instead of going out to eat, everyone would praise me for my “willpower.”
My best friend did not praise me. She encouraged me to do something else rather than go to the gym. She asked me why I couldn’t skip, why I didn’t eat, my response was always, “I can’t.” She would ask why and I would just try to change the subject. I got worried that someone knows my secret. I became scared. But, she didn’t stop. She told me that she was concerned about me because I am harming myself. These words were actually so meaningful, even though I didn’t listen in the moment, I thought about them when I decided that I was really sick. I told her, which I believed for a long time, that I was I’m fine. She would tell me that no I really wasn’t. I just kept brushing her off. I would Snapchat her while I was at the gym and she would tell me, “Go to the doctor, I will go with you.” Without fail, I would respond, “No, I promise I have it under control.”
Now that I think about it, I really did not have anything under control. The days were all blurry. I couldn’t focus in class, because sitting still meant no calories being burned. I would move my foot, do leg exercises. Driving was an impossible task. I had no judgment. Every time I worked out, I feared that they would have to call the ambulance because I was so lightheaded. But, believe it or not, I felt unstoppable.
Every time I stepped on the scale, which was multiple times a day, and saw the number drop, I gained a little bit of power. I gained some “confidence.” It brought me joy to know that I was diminishing. Now, let’s just take a step back and notice my state of mind at that point in time. My mind was so twisted, that it was brought joy knowing the fact that I was losing weight at a rapid pace. It told me that I did not need to eat and that I didn’t really feel hungry. At this point, I was so malnourished that I couldn’t even think clearly enough to help myself survive. I had absolutely no control over my actions.
My brain, Caitlin, was no longer there, it was all anorexia. She took over. She performed all the actions. She made the rules. Caitlin was not there. She took away her ability to laugh. I could no longer be someone who is fun to be around because I was so irritable and couldn’t even stay in a conversation with someone. I would try and talk to someone and I would immediately think how many calories I could potentially burn at the gym that day. I would calculate the rate at which I could potentially lose weight. I would think of how good it would feel after I made myself purge. But, I want to point out that purging never made me feel better. In fact, I would cry after and would look in the mirror hating myself even more. I would be told that I am so stupid, ugly, worthless, and fat. I was a ghost. I performed all the actions, but I wasn’t actually living them. I look at pictures now and see how glassy my eyes look, how swollen my cheeks were, that I was truly so miserable.
My cheeks became inflamed from purging so often and I was so tired. I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so hungry, and I would wake up all the time in the middle of the night because my body would make sure I was still alive. Finally, one day came and I was driving, you guessed it, to the gym, and I was so tired that I would close my eyes at the red lights to get in a quick nap. I went to the gym and pushed myself as hard as ever and managed to take a shower. I laid in my bed the rest of the night thinking about my best friend’s words, how she is worried about me, how this is not how I should be living. I cried and thought about how much pain I was in, how tired I felt, how lonely I was.
This was the ultimate low. I thought okay, it’s starting to become an issue now, let’s fix this so no one else finds out. I talked to my best friend, her being the great friend that she is encouraged me and told me that eating is not bad. I was determined to stop so no one else would find out. It stopped for about three days, at least the purging did. I still exercised, I still restricted. It was at that weird point where I felt so hungry, I became scared of how much I would eat. One day, I ate more than what I should eat and that was the end of it. I fell even deeper into the grips of anorexia. This time, though I realized that it was bad. Not enough to the point where I could change it but enough to know that I needed to hide it even more.
Now, we are into summer, so I don’t see as many people and have even more time to work out. But, the thought of going to college and being able to not eat brought me joy. At first, this didn’t seem like an issue, but my dad told me that if I kept losing weight that he will yank me out of school. I realized I will definitely lose a lot of weight. So, I told my best friend that I would call the doctor. She told me that she would go with me because she is a great friend. I used all the courage I had left in me to call the doctor. I still had no idea how I would tell my mom, but somehow by a miracle, she figured it out so I wouldn’t have to have the talk with her. I felt so bad for doing this to her. But, my mom is amazing and she helped me through every step of the way.
Recovery is hard as hell. It’s relearning how to live. You can no longer do the things that would make you feel better. But, it is also 100% worth it. I have gained back my ability to laugh and smile. I actually started living, not surviving. I did things that I would never imagine myself doing. I am happier. But, that does not mean that every day is easy. In fact, none of them are. I am still burdened by anorexia’s thoughts daily. She yells at me every time I eat. She tells me that I am fat. She tells me that I need to work out for longer. She tells me that I am worthless and no one will ever love me. But, now I know more. I know that this is anorexia talking. I know that I need to disobey her. Every day is a constant struggle for life, but it’s worth it to finally get my life back.
I was so scared for people to find out that I was sick. Everything I did or said was a lie. “Are you hungry?” “No not at all.” “Are you tired?” “No I just need some coffee to wake up.” I needed black coffee because it’d mask the hunger. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing (everything).” “Do you want to go out with us?” “No I can’t, I have too much homework (I had to go to the gym).”
Even when I did decide to recover, I only let a few close people know. I still was so scared of everyone’s judgment towards me. They’d think that I am weak for letting this control me. That I just want attention. That I just want to be skinny. But, I finally got the courage to just spit it out on social media.
I did it. I can’t be burdened anymore by feeling embarrassed. So, I told everyone. Does that mean I am recovered? No, not at all, I still have so much work to do. I miss anorexia sometimes to be honest. It was the easy way out. But, that isn’t life. My eight or so months in recovery has given me more life experiences than my entire. So, while recovery is the hardest choice I ever had to make, it is also the best one.