Obviously, luckily, that didn’t work, but my depression only got worse after that. I also started having short, sharp manic episodes during which I would cut open my arms to let out the insects I felt crawling under my skin. I was finally taken to a psychiatrist, who put me on anti-epileptics and anti-schizoid drugs, which turned me into a zombie.
Meanwhile, I kept losing weight. When I could drag myself out of bed I would go out with my friends, mainly just because I wanted them to see my new body. (None of them noticed.)
Things kept getting worse until that summer, when my parents admitted me into a mental hospital. My mother was scheduled to visit me while I was there, but she never showed up. The day after her visit had been scheduled, I was summoned to a doctor’s office. When I got there my father and my best friend were waiting for me. My father started crying as soon as I walked in.
“Loon,” he cried, using his nickname for me. “Loon, your mother…she is no more.” She had killed herself the day before.
When I returned to my room my roommate was going through my clothes (a normal occurrence—she had no boundaries).
“Can I take this?” she asked, holding up some lacy garment or other.
“Sure,” I said without looking to see what it was.
“Can I eat your crisps?”
“Yes, take everything. Please. I never want to eat again.” And I didn’t, for the next nine months.
I not only stopped eating, but I stopped speaking, reading, and writing as well. I observed the world through bloodshot eyes—I wasn’t sleeping, I needed assistance in the shower, spoke only in monosyllables and derived pleasure only from smoking. I was 17 and already, life had broken me. I dropped out of school and stopped seeing my friends.
But…I lost weight. Every week the pounds dropped from me. The only reason I was getting thinner was that I was too sick to keep any flesh on. I started fainting—once every few days at first, and then several times a day. The more I fainted, the closer I got to my ideal self image—a frail, skinny, stricken creature, a tragic heroine. I lay in bed all day watching the seasons change, shrinking all the while. One day I summoned enough energy to see my stepdad for the first time since my mother’s death and the shocked expression on his face spoke volumes. “How much more weight are you going to lose?” he asked.
“More,” I said.
When you hit the bottom of the ocean, you start bobbing up. The worst grief starts hurting a little bit less. One day I woke up and saw the last of the light in the sky, and it didn’t look like winter anymore. I realized that I wanted to see the sun again. I’ve never met anyone who has gone through or is going through any eating disorders, so I had to learn how to talk about my experiences with anorexia and bulimia. I know that my anorexia was a part of something called “grief reaction,” and that after my mother’s death, I just lost the will to do anything. My recovery took over four years, and I still do not consider myself fully recovered. It’s an ongoing battle, and I struggle with the mental and physical effects of my illnesses every day, particularly since my anorexia was inextricably connected to my other mental illnesses. When my depression started lifting on its own, the anorexia got better, too. It sounds like the smoothest of recovery stories when it comes to both depression and eating disorders; in part, that’s true, because bipolarity is cyclical, but I still struggle. My interest in food was kindled by my newfound interest in life, and by the fact that I was swimming. I had enough strength left in me to learn the doggy paddle, which took about five days, and after that I was on my own, just getting in the water for as long as I liked. The combination of not being depressed and my interest in swimming started the slow process of change.
That summer, I read and swam and discovered new music. While I didn’t think my body was perfect, I discovered how to be tender towards it by eating—maybe not always healthfully, but regularly—and moving in ways I enjoyed. I became a mother—to two wonderful puppies. Watching them grow brought me solace. I came home from the pool one evening and Storm was playing outside. She bounded into my arms and, looking into her eyes, I felt love. I saw myself with piercing clarity, and I felt the darkness recede like floodwaters, leaving behind a girl who could be pieced back together with sunlight and hope. ♦