Upon finding out that I received a Fulbright grant and in moving to Senegal for my research I felt as if there was an internal and external expectation that I could and should be able to do anything, all on my own, anywhere in the world. I knew that my family and friends were there to support me no matter how many miles separated us and in Senegal I was surrounded every day by people who loved me and cared about me very much. But I really wanted to prove that I could make it on my own and I felt that because I had lived there before then it should be no problem to live there again. With the unpredictability, transiency, daily challenges and lack of social support I took comfort in feeling a sense of control in regards to my diet and exercise- no matter where I was or what was going on I could always control what I ate and how much I exercised. When I arrived in Senegal cooking for myself was not only easier on my stomach due to their oil-saturated diet, but it was also a way for me to avoid gaining weight as I had the last time I lived there. Running and walking became my only times of peace and solitude. But I soon became obsessive and compulsive about exercise and food, restricting my intake, only allowing myself to eat a very limited range of foods and feeling as if I had to compensate for everything I consumed by exercising. However at the time I did not think it was a problem, I thought I was just eating and living healthily. I had an incredible experience travelling the country for my research, spending most of my time in rural villages or poverty-stricken suburbs and being completely immersed in the vibrant culture, their endless hospitality and gratitude and countless stunning sunsets over the ocean. During my brief American interlude family and friends were not only amazed that I had just spent the year in Senegal but they also recognized that I had lost weight and for the first time in my life people told me that I looked good. With this external validation of my outward appearance I became terrified of ever returning to my weight at the end of college and I brought this fixation with me as I headed over the pond to England where I began a very challenging and intense course of study for my masters degree. Motivated by my desire to do my best on my course and also by my newly acquired social anxiety I isolated myself from everyone except my trusty friend Ed (in a lot of eating disorder psychology and in treatment people often anthropomorphize eating disorders because it feels like there is another person in our heads who controls our thinking and makes decisions for us). Throughout my time in England a grand majority of my days were controlled by Ed- between the hours I spent exercising every day and the constant thoughts about food, exercising and weight, and the never-ending negative self-talk. This was affecting my ability to focus and complete school work or other work, my social life and relationships, as well as my mental health, and while I figured I probably had a problem i didn't seek out any help because I felt like I didn't have the time to do that. During a routine doctor visit at my uni a nurse told me that she was extremely concerned about my weight and this was the first time anyone had ever told me that they thought I had a problem. Hearing this made me very defensive and put me in complete denial until I had an ECG (a test that records the electrical activity of the heart) and I found out that my heart was so weak that any physical activity would put me at high risk for heart failure and even sleeping was dangerous. This scared me because I didn’t really have any close friends in England and if something happened to me no one would know who I was or who to contact. With this alarming news I stopped going for daily runs but I still could not will myself to eat more or not exercise at all. Instead I felt like I could eat less since I wasn't running anymore and I started spending a few hours a day exercising because the activities I was doing weren't as intense as running. My parents and sister came to visit England, arriving the day I handed in my dissertation. I was delighted to be done with my studies and to spend time with my family showing them my new favorite city but things didn’t go quite as I had planned because they were so scared upon seeing me and realizing how sick I was. Somehow I convinced them (with Ed's help) to let me stay in England for a few more months because I had been offered a short-term position at an awesome organization doing exactly the kind of work I had dreamed of doing. I told my family I would find out what kind of treatment I might be able to get there but was still in denial about the severity of my problem and after getting passed between various providers and facilities there wasn’t enough time for me to get any help in London. When I moved back home at Christmas I didn’t think my eating disorder was that much of a problem since I felt like I had gotten a lot better and gained weight but my parents could see that I still had a huge issue and they told me that this time I didn’t have a choice about treatment. So since the end of February I have been in intensive treatment at The Emily Program in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. My treatment has included individual support from doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, therapists and dietitians who are all incredibly caring and knowledgable about eating disorders. I participate in a variety of therapy and experiential groups to help me work through my struggles and explore new coping skills. And I have become friends with the other people in treatment who have been a source of tremendous support and motivation as we work toward recovery. The past five weeks have been extremely challenging but since I started treatment I have learned a ton about eating disorders, I have restored some weight and my heart is becoming stronger. I have also become much more self-aware, learning not only how I got to the low point with my eating disorder but also how I can take some of the same factors and personality traits that contributed to my problem and apply them to my recovery. After I was diagnosed the same sense of control that had been a source of satisfaction and comfort with my eating disorder then became a source of shame. Even though anorexia is a life-threatening illness, unlike other illnesses like cancer or heart disease it was something I brought upon myself. At first I didn't want to admit that I had a problem and until recently I haven't wanted anyone to know about my eating disorder because of the shame. I thought having an eating disorder demonstrated that I was a failure because I couldn't handle the pressures I was facing and I figured everyone who found out about my eating disorder would also see me this way. This shame only bolstered my self-hatred which was what my eating disorder thrived on. In an effort to take back control over my life from Ed I am trying to let go of the shame. From telling a few of my closest friends about my eating disorder and treatment and talking to family members who already knew I have felt nothing but support and love, and that has given me the courage to tell my story here. I see peace as the main source of my motivation for recovery. I want peace for my family and friends so that they no longer have to be so scared about my health on top of all of their other concerns for me as I travel and live all over the world. I hope to bring peace to others struggling with eating disorders by being supportive and understanding. I seek inner-peace and the ability to recognize my achievements and accept my imperfection. And I also am working to build the strength to carry out my life mission of bringing peace to the world through communication and information. I know that the best path to attaining peace for myself and others is through being healthy and happy and that is what I will strive to achieve as I move forward with my treatment toward recovery and a life without Ed.
I apologize that this is not an exciting tale from my latest adventures but since I started this blog I have been on another journey which I have not talked about on my blog. The reason I never discussed this journey was because for a long time I didn't even know I was on the journey and since realizing that my complete denial and extreme shame have kept me from revealing what has been going on. As I try to let go of this shame I decided to use my blog to tell my story to help me continue my journey, now toward a new destination. If you have any questions or want to share anything feel free to send me an email or message on Facebook or you can call/text my US number. Many thanks for your support throughout my difficult journey!