INTERVIEW BY DEANA KAJMAKOVIC
For privacy purposes, the identity of the interviewee will remain anonymous.
Q: Can you talk about your diagnosis and treatment?
A: Some time ago, I was diagnosed with Atypical Anorexia Nervosa and admitted to the Comprehensive Care Unit of Stanford Hospital for a prolonged period. I was medically underweight and was exhibiting several other symptoms of malnourishment, the most alarming of which were severe hormonal imbalance and a slow resting heart rate.
Q: How did you get to that point?
A: I remember being lonely. I felt completely lost, and the worst part was that I had nobody to lean on. I saw myself as a perpetual failure. I coped with this by identifying and focusing on the two things in my life that I felt like I could control: my grades and my body – more specifically, what I ate. It didn’t take long for this distraction to turn into an obsession. For a while, it seemed like it worked: I felt invincible. My eating disorder was my high, in a way, and it distracted me from the obvious problems that it was causing, like
how I was always tired, had deep bags under my eyes, and struggled to push open the bathroom door at school. Eventually, I went into the doctor’s office for a routine check-up and found out that my resting heart rate had dropped so low that there was a potential threat of me going to sleep one night and simply not waking up in the morning. That was the worst day of my life.
Q: What was your inpatient experience like?
A: Every morning, I’d be woken up by a nurse gently shaking me. She’d
whisper something like, “Morning. This won’t hurt,” before sticking a needle in my arm to take my daily blood sample. After she was done, she’d give me a gown, and I’d have to strip down and put it on before meeting her in the hallway, where she’d pull up a digital scale on wheels. I would step on, but always backwards – I was never allowed to see the number. My parents took turns sleeping over on the couch in my room. My mom would cry herself to sleep, and my dad would stay up all night, staring at my heart rate monitor. In the morning, he’d tell me exactly at what time it dropped below 40 beats per minute. There were a lot of doctors and nurses coming in and out of my room all the time. Whatever you didn’t finish on your plate was served to you in the form of a meal replacement shake. For the first few days, I was confined to my hospital bed, which could recline by remote because they didn’t want me burning any extra calories by finding excuses to sit up all the time. Halfway through my stay, I got wheelchair privileges and finally got to walk around for the last two days. We had art classes and group sessions, but what I remember most is crying. I cried a lot.
Q: How were your first few weeks outside of the hospital?
A: I wasn’t allowed to go to school for the first couple days, just to make sure I wouldn’t throw up all my food, and my parents had to supervise my meals. They’d quiz me on what I had for lunch when I got home to try to make sure I actually ate it. I spent many hours lying in bed, feeling miserable.
Q: What was it that made you so miserable?
A: Everything. It went a lot deeper than looking in the mirror and telling myself I was fat, although I did do that a lot. The worst part was knowing that I had absolutely no control over what happened to me. I was confined to my home, with 3000 calories pumped into me everyday, and there was no way for me to take control of my life. Furthermore, as I gained weight, my heart didn’t get any better for a long time. I still had to go back to the hospital once a week for check-ups; although I followed the weight trajectory they had for me, my heart rate stayed dangerously low for weeks. I remember being terrified that I would keep having to gain weight until I became obese because my heart would never speed up.
Q: How do you think you finally recovered?
A: Honestly, out of plain fear. I remember going out to dinner with a couple of old friends and feeling the urge not to order anything. But I knew that if I skipped a meal, I’d drop weight, my parents would panic, and they’d shove more food into me anyways. So I ordered something. There was always that constant reminder of my horrible experience at the hospital lingering in the back of my head. Once I got into the habit of scaring myself into eating properly, I could finally start to develop a healthy relationship with food.
Q: Is there anything you’d like people to know about anorexia?
A: A lot of people look at deathly thin anorexics and say, “I don’t get it. Just eat.” But the truth is that it rarely stems from eating. No one genuinely wants to starve themselves to death, and if they do, it’s probably not because they find that look attractive. Before I was admitted, multiple people straight up told me that I looked horrible, but I didn’t believe them because I had this completely warped perception of myself. Perfectionists are prime victims for eating disorders because they enjoy controlling every aspect of their lives, and that satisfaction becomes as addictive as any drug. Once you get deep into it, even if you see what you’re doing to yourself and want to get better, it’s really hard to bring yourself to eat because you’re terrified that once you start, you’ll never be able to stop. That’s why it’s so hard to genuinely cure an anorexic; the more medical professionals intervene, the more the patient feels that what they do is no longer up to them, which is exactly what they were afraid of in the first place.
Q: Can you offer any advice to people currently struggling with eating disorders?
A: Recovery is going to be one of the hardest things you’ll ever go through, but it will be so worth it in the end. Please just take that first step by reaching out to your parents, a counselor, or a medical professional. I refused to do it, and if it weren’t for that random check-up, I might not have been here today.