My Dad's Coat
(Photo taken October 31, 2016 - 6 months before my recovery)
The funny thing is, I thought things were going well. I was proud of myself.
I was eating less and less every day and the numbers on the scale were reflecting that. Every single morning brought a new number, each slightly smaller than the last. It was delicious, enticing, staggeringly addictive.
While my body grew smaller and my bones and edges grew sharper and protruded more and more, my lies continued to stack up. Oh, I just ate a huge lunch. Yes, I have a very fast metabolism. I'm just kind of a picky eater. I'm a vegan. No thank you, I just had a huge dinner. Yeah, I just do a lot of yoga. I've always looked like this, I'm just a small person.
Of course the people who knew me and had known me since childhood had to know I was lying, but they held their breaths. And when they didn't, I cut them out. Glared at them. Admonished them for daring to talk about my body - it's my life, not yours. I thought I was unstoppable. I figured basic biology didn't apply to me - I was special.
Food was the only thing I ever thought about. I would lie in bed every night on Instagram, losing track of time looking at pictures of giant plates of food. But I never cheated and I never binged. I cut out as much as I could possibly stand, writing myself off as simply orthorexic, which is an eating disorder with less lethal effects. Orthorexics don't necessarily not take in enough calories, but they have many compulsions around food and eating, such as obsessively checking ingredients and calorie counts, eliminating large groups of food from your diet, showing high levels of stress when "safe" foods aren't present and possible body dysmorphia. I knew having orthorexia wasn't great, but it didn't sound as scary as anorexia and I was still refusing to admit the extent of my issue.
Towards the end of my three years of ruthless starvation and overexercise (I worked out at least four hours a day. Not getting this in on any given day would bring forth such an epic panic or anxiety attack that I could barely function for days on end. Skipping a day was never an option. It never happened for three years, even when I was sick with a cold or worse.), I began to admit to myself that my problem ran a little deeper: I had full blown anorexia, I was very much in the danger zone, and I also had crippling exercise addiction that was taking over my entire life.
I slowly began to follow other peoples' recovery Instagrams, which is what has inspired me to start my own. I followed these women who were already well into recovery, women who had left their EDs in the past but were always mindful of their powers. I also followed women who were just beginning to stumble into recovery with their yogurt bowls and granola, attempting to mend their starved souls.
Following these people wasn't enough to get me to begin my own journey, but it was enough to open my eyes to the fact that I could always save myself one day if I wanted to. I didn't yet, but maybe there was hope.
In February of 2018, I began to feel the worst I'd ever felt before in my life - in fact, it was starting to scare me. I'd dealt with "normal" ED things for the past few years: a missing period, hair loss, exhaustion, delirium and hallucinations and sudden bursts of adrenaline to substitute for the famine (which is the scariest part, because these were the three feelings I was most addicted to), heightened senses, bags under my eyes, and a scary change in thought process. Dark, mean thoughts about myself and about life. However, this was different.
I started to feel myself unravel. I could feel myself coming closer to admitting I had a problem, but the voice in my head didn't want this to happen. Below is an excerpt from something I wrote February 12, 2017 (one month before I began recovery):
Something’s changed within me. This sounds dramatic, drastic, hysterical maybe, but it’s true. It’s not an exaggeration. It could be the lack of food, the increase in sleep, the isolated nature and obsession with burying my nose in a book as often as I possibly can, but something has snapped. I’ve been fostering a general apathy towards life for as long as I can remember, but this is beyond my control. I’ve gone unhinged. I’m not sure if I love it or if I’m terrified of it.
On March 4 2017, things were getting really disconcerting. My heart had begun to palpitate, beating really slowly and then so quick I thought it was going to burst out of my chest. This was happening for a few days and I was paralyzed with fear. I was well-versed enough with what I was doing to myself to know that this is common for anorexics - to have heart issues. I also knew it meant I was at risk for a heart attack or worse.
One night things were so bad that I began to eat. I made myself a large pot of lentils and I ate. I ate about three huge helpings, which was about four times what I usually did, and when I was finished I was still hungry. This terrified me and I did not feed it. I let the hunger sit in my belly like an unwelcome stranger, waiting for it to come to its senses and leave. I didn't realize then that it was my soul, the real Taylor, simply starving for a second chance.
I put my hand to my chest, feeling my heart thump with record trepidation. That was it. I went into the living room where my parents were sitting and told them I needed to go to Urgent Care. My heart didn't feel normal, and I thought it needed to be checked out.
My dad wrapped me in his coat, exchanging a glance with me. He knew I'd be cold - I was always cold. We rushed over to Urgent Care and signed me in, sitting in the waiting room in complete silence. I could feel them holding their breaths, wondering what was about to happen.
The nurse called me in and took my information down. Five foot four, 21 years old, 86 pounds. Last period: three years ago.
The nurse looked at the scale and wrote down my weight. The nurse asked me a question and wrote down the details of my menstrual cycle. She didn't even flinch. She didn't even think twice about the fact that no woman's weight should ever be in the double digits.
I was ushered into the next room to wait for the doctor, who came in shortly after. I anxiously anticipated the look on his face when he saw me. I expected to see the word "anorexic" immediately light up in his brain. Instead he made small talk with me. He asked me about school and scanned my heart rate and pulse.
About ten minutes later, I was ushered back into the waiting room. Everything was fine, he had said. I was probably just experiencing stress from being in college. Just take some deep breaths and make sure to get enough rest.* This could have given me an easy out to keep starving myself. I could have repeated the doctor's words to anyone who asked, smug with my seal of medical approval. But strangely enough, I knew he was wrong and I was willing to admit it.
Over these short few days, I had a lot of thinking to do. At this point I had completely lost my passion for life. It felt like it would absolutely never get better - like nothing I did would make me happy. I desired so badly to die. But my palpitating heart made this sentiment too real, close enough to touch. All I had to do was let go and keep going in the direction I was going. Until I realized I didn't want to.
I thought the one thing I wanted more than anything in the world was to be so skinny that I took everyone's breath away, but I was wrong. There was something I wanted even more than that, and that was to live again. To take back my life and grip it with vigor and to absolutely not let it go without a fight.
I went to my mom, the one person who had always tried to bring up my weight, the one person who tossed and turned at night over the fact that I clearly had a problem and no one would admit it, and I confessed. I told her I thought she was right, that I was anorexic, and that I wanted to get better. I was terrified she'd get angry with me for waiting for so long and for living with so many lies, but she embraced me. We both shuddered with relief, her because I had finally seen the light and me because I had finally let someone in.
I began recovering on my own. I have always been a very stubborn person, and I knew going inpatient wasn't going to help. I've never responded well to being told what to do. I was aware there were risks that came along with recovering on your own, starting with accountability, but I have a very strong will. Something deep inside of me told me that I was going to handle this, and that I was going to do it right. I trusted that, because I recognized it as a voice inside of me that I hadn't let speak in a very long time.
Of course, I wasn't completely on my own. I had the support of my family, who helped me find and begin seeing an eating disorder therapist. My sessions with Cristine helped keep me on track and showed me that you can be healthy and exercise without hurting yourself. She showed me that self-care is the most important thing and should never be thrown to the wayside. I also had an incredible community of people supporting me, who I met on a recovery forum online and one of whom remains one of my best friends to this day, although sadly we haven't met yet. They got me through my toughest times and they listened to the mania, the things I was going through that no one else would be able to relate to.
On top of that, I decided to go public about my recovery as a form of accountability. I figured if everyone in my life knew, there was no way I could ever relapse. With all of this love and support, I've been able to successfully restore my body to its normal weight and shape and to teach myself how to exercise in a healthy and productive manner.
It wasn't easy, and that's why I made my Instagram account. When I began recovering, I wracked the Internet for information and found there is close to none. I was going through so many weird, uncomfortable and downright scary symptoms for so many months and I had very little explanation or research to comfort myself with, which made me want to relapse many times. Thankfully I never did, but many people do. I plan to continue to discuss all of the trying, ugly, horrible, beautiful, amazing, surreal pieces of my recovery and how I got to the point I'm at now with the hopes that my story will prevent someone from relapsing.
You think your eating disorder is the thick of it, but you're wrong. Recovery is the most difficult thing I've ever had to undergo, and it is not to be underestimated. But it is also the most beautiful thing I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing, and I want to share it with every warrior I possibly can.
Please stay tuned on my blog and Instagram and share my story with everyone. It is not just the ones who are suffering who need to read this. Everyone needs to pay attention, because we all have a role when it comes to inspiring others and keeping them away from the evil voice that tells them they will never, ever be enough. We all have to find our beauty, and I hope this is someone's shove in the right direction they've needed for too long.
****The night I went to Urgent Care, our medical system failed me. At the time, I didn't understand what had happened. I didn't understand how I could walk into a medical office weighing 86 pounds, flaunting my illness with my emaciation and have no one say anything to me about it. Once I started seeing my therapist and after reading about it in Wasted by Marya Hornbacher, I became aware of the fact that most doctors aren't trained in eating disorders. To me, this is appalling of our medical system. This is the mental illness with the highest mortality rate. It is lethal. It robs life from you and dangles it in front of you like a forbidden fruit, and I hope that my story is shared. I hope millions of people know my story so there can be a change. My goal is to implement reform within the medical community. All doctors should be trained in eating disorders and how to diagnose them. This needs to be a requirement for a doctor to become licensed. It is information that is simple to learn, but can save a life, and I can't wait to start making a difference on this level.