Editor’s Note: Today’s story is graciously shared with us by Emily Wierenga. She has just published her full story in the book, “Chasing Silhouettes.” More information about the book can be found at the end of this post, and I highly encourage you to spread the word with your family and friends, as there are SO few good resources on this topic. Emily blogs at emilywierenga.com and tweets at @emily_wierenga. We will be giving away TWO COPIES of the book tomorrow, so make sure you come back! – Lauren
The nurses murmured to each other under fluorescent lighting as I lay shivering on the metal hospital bed, cold. Later, I would learn that they had marveled at my hypothermic, sixty-pound sack of bones, reasoning, “She should be dead.” I was a breach of science; a modern-day miracle.
Yet in that profound moment, all I could think was: “Why can’t I lose any more weight?”
After four years of slow and steady starvation, I had finally quit eating altogether. It started when I began to squint my eyes for the camera. I wanted to create laughter lines in a laughter-less face. Then, I began sucking in my cheeks. I liked how it made me look thinner. Model-like. I was nine years old.
The next four years were a blur. Anorexia starved my mind, but I’ll always remember the darkness. Days smudged with counting calories and streaming tears. Days filled with frowns, fierce yells and fists pounding against my father’s chest.
Dad loved us by doing his job so well he put ministry before family. He’d kiss us on the cheeks early in the morning and lead Bible devotions and sigh when we asked him questions on Sermon-Writing day. I hated Sermon-Writing day. I got baptized at age eight because Dad said I should and I wanted to please him the same way I wanted to please God. I associated God with my father—a distant, unemotional man who said he loved me yet was too busy to show it.
One year later, I realized that even though I’d gotten baptized, Dad still didn’t ask me how I was doing, not really, and so God still didn’t care. Not really.
Food was dished onto our plates at every meal; again, I had no choice but to finish it. This inability to make my own decisions killed my independent spirit. Mum meant well; as a nutritionist, she served healthy but plentiful portions. As a result, we became healthy but plentiful children. Meanwhile, a woman I’d become very close to, ‘Grandma Ermenie,’ passed away. And life became even more uncontrollable, and disappointment, more certain…
It’s a scary place to be in, this place where you have no one, so you have to become bigger than life itself, in order to carry yourself through the pain. A nine-year-old isn’t very big. And all I wanted was to be small.
Because the world told me that thin was beauty. And maybe if I was beautiful, Dad would want to spend time with me.
I didn’t know about anorexia nervosa.
We weren’t allowed to play with Barbie dolls or take dance lessons or look at fashion magazines or talk about our bodies in any way other than holy, so I didn’t know anything except that Mum changed in the closet when Dad was in the room, and made us cover our skin head to foot.
A kind of shame came with this not talking about bodies and beauty became something forbidden. And I wanted it more than anything. So I stopped eating. It was a slow-stop, one that began with saying “No,” and the “No” felt good. I refused dessert. I refused the meals Mum dished up for me. I refused the jam on my bread and then the margarine and then the bread itself.
At night, I dreamt of food. Mum would find me, hunting for imaginary chocolates in my bed. I wanted her to hug me and make the fear go away, but was worried that if I did, my guard would be let down and I’d eat real chocolates, so I stopped hugging her for two years. My legs were getting thin, and that was what mattered, but I dreamt about her arms, and woke up hugging myself. I slipped from a state of not being hungry to a state of choosing to be hungry. I liked how my pants sagged, how my shirt became loose, my face slim, and my eyes, big.
And at some point, I became a different person, intent on being skinny no matter the cost.
This is how it starts.
More Information on Emily’s New Book: Chasing Silhouettes: How to Help a Loved One Battling an Eating Disorder is a unique resource for family members and friends of disordered eaters. Based on the true story of Emily’s struggle with anorexia nervosa, Silhouettes provides a fresh perspective on the age-old topic of body image, and how to redefine it in a world of eating disorders. The book is comprised of insight and advice from both families and Christian professionals in the eating disorder field, as well as suggested prayers and tips on what not to say or do. We will be giving away TWO COPIES of the book tomorrow, so make sure you come back!
Editor’s Note: Today’s story is shared by Ali Morrison, and she blogs here. Do you have Bipolar, or do you have a sibling, parent or close friend who does? Please feel free to share in the comments. I know from personal experience it’s hard to find friends to relate with on this, and I’d love to see this post begin a conversation. – Lauren
I like the start my story at the end. At least the current end, because it’s a happy one. Look at me: I’m a Christian, a wife, a soon-to-be mother, I have a good job, a college degree, I’m a homeowner, I pay my taxes, I have no criminal record… I’m doing pretty well.
Eight or so years ago, I was doing pretty well too. I was first in my class, student council class representative, cheerleader, working, involved in everything… Everyone wanted to be me. Except, well, me.
I wasn’t the girl in the black hoodie in the corner, I was the girl at the center of the pep rally. But I was miserable. I felt hopeless and lifeless, and I assumed it was my fault. It was so much worse, too, because a few months before that I had been on a high like none other – I didn’t need sleep, I’d laugh at everything, I could finish my schoolwork in less than half the time it took everyone else. I had a great family, and as I said before, which really only made me feel more guilty for feeling awful. I tried everything to make myself better. I joined more clubs, I worked even harder on my school work, I tried out for and made more teams, I got a job, I rebelled and started drinking and partying… nothing could make me hate myself less.
One night I was at a friend’s house with some people when her parents weren’t home, and we started drinking. Everyone had one shot… then I had a second… then I had a third… I was so out of control that a friend I’d called to yell at (while drunk), called my parents and asked them to pick me up. I hated her for that, but I hate to think what would have happened if they wouldn’t have. When I see headlines for young people who die of overdoses, it makes my heart hurt almost like I knew them. Because, in a sense, I did.
My parents were furious, obviously, but all I could say when they asked me if I knew how much trouble I was in was, “I don’t care… I just want to die, anyway.” It wasn’t some big dramatic blow-out or presentation from me. They just needed to know what I had hid so long. The next few days are a blur in my head. I think that was a Friday night, and I think I went to Methodist on Monday. The 8th floor, to be exact. Or, the psychiatric ward, as most people know it. When I came in, we had to enter through the ER. An armed security guard then took me up. My parents could only visit for an hour a day, during the assigned hour.
The pediatric and adolescent section of the 8th floor is a pretty weird place.
Maybe that seems obvious to you, but the disorders that they mixed in there could be pretty volatile. Substance abuse, rebellious behavior, chemical imbalance… We all made for one big crockpot of crazy in there. They take your shoelaces, anything sharp, and even anything that only MacGyver could find a way to use as a weapon. At first, I refused to talk to anyone. But even for me, that got pretty hard. There’s not exactly a ton to do, and leaving is slightly more than frowned upon. Even though it was an awful time and awful memory, I met people over that week who still affect my life. One girl I met there encouraged me to open up the Bible for the first time since my children’s Bible. In that week, I felt less judged and more accepted than I honestly have since then. I also found out that my wild swings in mood and behavior had a name: Bipolar Disorder. I started medications and was released from the hospital.
When I left, I was glad, but I soon realized that leaving meant returning to life. Answering questions, picking up pieces. High school kids are hateful, and I heard all kinds of rumors about me: That I had gone to rehab, that my parents were pulling me out of school, that I just had an incredibly poor immune system. Even with my medications, life was an unpleasant rollercoaster that I had no control over. My sophomore year, I had to have a home tutor administer my finals and missed almost 30 days of school. I needed more meds, I needed less meds, I needed a doctor, I needed a therapist… Sometimes it almost seemed worse on the other side of the diagnosis.
The only thing that seemed steady in my life was the feeling of being dragged through a life I didn’t want to live. And I know now that was God dragging me.
I know people like to create these grand analogies about God carrying us through life, but I’m a little more pragmatic when I picture God. I wasn’t exactly working with him to get the other side, and I really think in some ways, he was doing everything he could to get me to the other side of the valley. If that meant he had to drag me by my hair, so be it. I don’t think I ever DENIED God’s existence. I just couldn’t see, at that point, why a God who loved me would grab me by my hopeless, limp arm and drag me through the mud. But now, I realize, every day God dragged me through that mud was another day that he didn’t leave me and didn’t let me stop moving forward. (And just as a side note, if you know someone battling depression, please don’t tell them to have faith or pray more or “cheer up.” Those are absolutely vital, but no one would tell someone with diabetes or cancer that—and mental illness is still an illness that needs medical treatment. And empathy, and understanding.)
There are still highs and lows in my life, as there have been for years. I’ve been blessed, because as I’ve gotten older and hormone levels have leveled out, I worked with a doctor to get off my meds about a year and a half ago. Will I need them again someday? Probably. I mean, statistically I shouldn’t have been able to get off them at all. And as much as I’ve tried to bury the pain associated with this, it always pops to the surface every once in a while. My husband and I were out to eat a month or so ago, and a woman was talking loudly about one of her nephews.
“He complains about how crazy she is… I tell him, well maybe he should have thought about that before he started dating someone with Bipolar disorder! What, is she going to collect disability her whole life?”
It makes me cringe. Cringe because of her ignorance, because maybe some of it has an ounce of truth in it, and most cringe because I feel broken and bare when I hear comments like that.
I wanted to eloquently tell her my story. Or even just kick her in the head. But I couldn’t do either, because I felt exposed and vulnerable.
When we try to hide our pain and insecurities, we give them power over us.
I know that my story could help people. I couldn’t find a single “happy ending” story when I got my diagnosis, so I didn’t know if I’d ever graduate or get married or get a job. Now I’ve done all of that and so much more. I don’t think it’s because there aren’t any “happy ending” stories. I think it’s because when people get to a point like I’m at, they crawl up and bask in their normality, never to look back.
So I don’t doubt the power of my story. I just doubt… me. I’m afraid you’ll judge me. Judge my capabilities as a wife… as a Christian… as a mother… even just as a person. I’m afraid maybe when I come over for dinner, you’ll give me a plastic knife, or that you won’t let me be around your kids because, you know, I’m crazy. But that’s okay. I’m not going to give my pain power over me anymore.
God didn’t drag me through the mud so I could come out and live life constantly fearing mud.
He dragged me through the mud so that I could help drag others through the mud. So I could laugh at the mud and learn from the mud.
And so I could be prepared if I was ever in the mud again.