My granddaughter, Olivia Gardner, who is a junior at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., was first diagnosed in 2005 with an eating disorder. A graduate of Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock, she wrote an essay about her recovery two years ago and I included it in this column. Here is an update from her.
"I noticed I was different when I was about 8 years old. I was smaller than my classmates, and I got a lot of attention for it. My dance teacher would marvel at my size as she placed her hands entirely around my waist, and my classmates would joke that I would fly away if the wind blew too hard at recess.
"At first I felt self-conscious and embarrassed at the attention my weight was bringing me, but I was a lonely child who had more than a fair share of complications at home and only a few friends, so that attention, in part, created my new identity and dictated the way I viewed myself and the world around me.
"As I got older, people would tell me they envied my ‘self-control’ around food. They said they would give anything to be like me. Little did they know that to be like me was to be consumed by fear, anxiety and loneliness.
"I was referred to an outpatient treatment center in seventh grade for an eating disorder, and I immediately hated it. Treatment turned my world upside down, and I made sure my team of providers and family knew I wasn’t happy about it. It sounds crazy, but I was sincerely convinced that those around me made the whole thing up just to make my life completely miserable.
"In 2006 I went in for a routine appointment at my outpatient treatment center. When they took my vitals, they found that I had a resting heart rate of 42, and I was immediately admitted to the local hospital’s adolescent eating disorder unit. I remember lying in the hospital bed that night, staring out my window, wondering why this was happening to me. My brain told me to do whatever I had to do so I could get out and go back to my normal and regimented life, but for the first time ever, those thoughts seemed ridiculous.
"The realization came abruptly — I could die. In that moment I knew my eating disorder could, and would, kill me if I gave it the chance. My actions had long been affecting my body, but it wasn’t until then that I realized the damage they had already done. It was nauseating to realize that my entire way of being was not only wrong, but actually causing me harm.
"I vowed that night to make a change. I wanted to live, but most of all, I wanted a life of my own that wasn’t run by my eating disorder. There wasn’t a day or moment when things just magically got easier and all my problems were solved, but I will always remember that first night in the hospital, when I sat alone in my room. It was that night, when I decided to fight for a new life for myself, that changed me forever.
"It has been about nine years since I was admitted to outpatient care, and I have worked really hard to be able to say that I am doing well. Every day is a new one, with different challenges and roadblocks, and I don’t always overcome them immediately. I have, at times, fallen into the habit of thinking that because I’ve been through a treatment program and because I’ve had this disorder since I was little, that this should be easy for me to manage by now.
"Late last summer I relapsed, partially because I surrounded myself with this false sense of security and invincibility. I was in the midst of big life changes, and my anxiety was high. I was no longer capable of handling it all. When I finally saw the problem, I was convinced I could fix it on my own. It wasn’t until late November that I realized I was headed down a dangerous path and that seeking treatment again was the only way to stabilize.
"Now that I’ve been able to get the help I needed, I know that there is still work to be done but that I am 100 percent capable of getting to where I want to be.
"My eating disorder is not a choice, but my recovery is. I know that all of my hopes and dreams for my future are not possible if I am not both mentally and physically stable, and I refuse to give up on them for the false sense of control and power that my eating disorder promises me.
"Recovery is a narrow and winding road — one that doesn’t ever really end where or when you think it should, but it’s a worthwhile journey, and it’s one that I’m not ashamed to be on."
An estimated 30 million Americans have had an eating disorder at some time during their lives, and those affected may be young or old, rich or poor, male or female. These maladies can be life-threatening, and someone near you may suffer from one. National Eating Disorders Week is Feb. 23-March 1. Learn more atwww.nationaleatingdisorders.org.
Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.