It’s common for people with eating disorders to not feel “sick enough” to be diagnosed or get treatment, or even think there’s anything wrong with their “diet.” I am one of those people. Even to this day, I question if I was ever as sick as my treatment team tried to make it sound. I thought they were just trying to scare me.
- I was so depleted one evening that I had to stop in the middle of cooking dinner because I couldn’t stand. JJ had to finish cooking.
- I blacked out several times.
- I had leg cramps most nights.
That’s about it. I didn’t have any of the other physical symptoms that real anorexics had: lack of menstrual period, hair falling out, etc. I was in the 100-teens while that was going on, seeing an outpatient counselor. “Sick” anorexics had to be in a hospital. Sick anorexics weren’t allowed to walk. Sick anorexics were under 100 pounds. I was not sick.
Once I started daytime treatment, they were making me eat enough that all the fainting and cramping stopped. I gained 3 pounds in my 3 weeks there. On one of my last days, I went for a run after treatment. I ran for an hour and it was about 80 degrees. When I stopped to let a car pass, I felt pretty bad but I felt better when I started running again. So I kept running. I was able to run 6 miles in 60 minutes without any problems. I was not sick.
I had a 40th birthday trip planned to go to Italy with JJ. The treatment team would not clear me medically to go. They were concerned that it would be too hard on my heart. I seriously considered leaving treatment and going against their advice. I did not think that walking a few miles a day around beautiful Italian cities could damage my heart. I am a rule follower, so I stayed, but I did not think I was not sick.
When I first checked into residential, the nurse told me that I was orthostatic. They have you lay down and take your blood pressure. After 5 minutes, they have you stand up and take it again. There should be no, or very minimal, difference. Mine was 30 points apart, which was apparently a big deal. But they let me walk, and other clients were much thinner than me. I was not sick.
All my physical signs looked normal when I left residential. There were no longer medical concerns. I was angry, sad, and disappointed in myself. I had failed. I was not anorexic. I was not sick.
When I left, I took the unusual leap down all the way to outpatient (most people go back to the daytime) and started restricting again (though not as much as before). Within 3 weeks, the doctor told me I was orthostatic again. I had no physical signs at all, like I had before. I was not sick.
While I can question how sick I ever was physically, I have no doubt about the mental illness of anorexia. The part that made me feel like I wasn’t worthy of anything, including space or food. The part that made me feel life wasn’t worth living. The part that made me think my husband would leave me if I had to stay at an eating disorder treatment center. The part that made me scream at my 18 month old when I got frustrated with her.
EATING DISORDERS ARE NOT PHYSICAL DISEASES- THEY ARE MENTAL DISEASES WITH PHYSICAL CONSEQUENCES.
I was sick.
An encouragement/plea for anyone who thinks they aren’t “sick enough”: please read this short blog post from Project Heal.