Sad young woman sitting alone in room with head in hands and knees pulled into chest.

My Eating Disorder Story: Hitting Bottom (Part 3)

My Eating Disorder Story: First Symptoms & Progression (Part 2)

For several years my eating disorder had manifested as anorexia. I had been obsessed with eating as little food as possible, and the type of food that I did eat was very tightly controlled.

But now a new aspect of the ED had unexpectedly shown its face. Bingeing was something I had never done before in my life. I was spinning out of control and it absolutely terrified me! I spiraled down pretty quickly as the binges became more frequent and more brutal.

I lost the ability to think clearly and logically, as the obsession took over my mind. I wanted to stop what I was doing, but I was compelled to do it. I had reached a point of what is called “hitting bottom”. It is a place of desperation, where you have fallen so far down that you can’t see any way out.

Gaining weight

Female feet in black athletic shoes, about to step onto a white digital scale, set on a light brown wood floor
the scale controlled me

It didn’t take long after that first binge for it to become an almost daily occurrence. There were a few odd days here and there when I didn’t binge, but it happened nearly every day. The weekends were the worst. Knowing that I didn’t have to go to work the next day allowed me to stay up late into the night bingeing.

The amount of food I was eating started to catch up with me, and I began to gain weight. Although I now had bulimia, I didn’t purge by throwing up. Even as a child, I had been deathly afraid of vomiting, and that fear didn’t go away as an adult. So I used exercise to try to purge myself of the excess food I was eating. There were also times when I would starve for the entire day, and still do my regular long workouts.

I ended up quickly putting on about 30 pounds within a few months. But because I had been so underweight, it brought me up to a normal, but still slender, body size. I didn’t want to be just “normal”, though. Being super thin had been my identity, and I had gotten a lot of praise and validation for it. I felt so disgusted with myself. Who was I now?

Not many people mentioned my weight gain, but I knew that people noticed. I remember an embarrassing interaction one day with a co-worker. We were in the locker room, and she remarked that I had been so skinny before, and asked me “what happened”. I wanted to crawl under a rock, I was mortified! She said that I looked better, though, because I had been way too thin. But my anorexia mind heard it as “you’re fat now, so you’re nothing special anymore”.

Job loss and spiraling down

At age 29, the rug was completely pulled out from under me. After working at my job for almost 11 years, the company closed its doors, and I was laid off. I was absolutely devastated and had no idea what I was going to do. At this point, the ED had a strong hold over me, and I had already been struggling with my mental stability for quite some time.

I had somehow managed to still go to work every day, in spite of the debilitating anxiety and panic attacks that had become a regular part of my life. All day at work, I could hardly concentrate on my job, because of my food obsession. My mind constantly raced with thoughts of calorie and fat calculations. I was obsessed with planning my workouts and always worried that I wasn’t exercising enough (even though I was usually at the gym for 2 or 3 hours every day).

Now that I had lost my job, my steady source of income was gone. I had so little confidence in my skills and abilities that I seriously doubted I would be able to find another job. My feelings of self-worth were at such a low point, and I sank even deeper into depression.

My days and nights were a crazy balancing act of huge binges, and equally huge amounts of exercise to keep weight gain at bay. How long could I keep this up? What kind of a life was this? Whenever I was around other people, I felt like I had a horrible secret that I had to hide. If they really knew what I did behind closed doors, I knew they would be as disgusted as I was.

Starting school

White board and school desk in classroom

After a few weeks of trying to figure out what to do, I found out about a state-sponsored training program. I could still receive my unemployment benefits while going to school. It sounded like a great idea, and I began to feel somewhat hopeful. Maybe losing my job had been a blessing in disguise.

I signed up for a 9-month Medical Assistant certification course. At first, everything went well. Several of my old co-workers were also taking the course, so I felt comfortable that I already knew some people in my class. I dove full force into my studies, and I really enjoyed everything I was learning.

This time, I loved being in school! It was a much different experience for me than elementary and high school had been. I felt liked and a part of the group, and I often got together with classmates to study and do homework. I was one of the top students in the class, always getting A’s on my quizzes and tests. I got encouragement and validation from this, and it made me feel like I was good at something.

This seemed to be a recurring theme in my life, measuring my worth and value by what I did, and how others perceived me. I only felt “good enough” when I got approval and acceptance from others. But even with that approval, there was always the fear that people would find out that I was actually a horrible person (or so I thought).

Sinking deeper

A hand sticking up out of the sea with "help" in red letters, cloudy sky

As good as things were going with school, I continued to struggle with my eating disorder. No matter what was going on in my life, I couldn’t stop bingeing. Sometimes if I worked out in the morning before school, it would set my day off right, and I wouldn’t binge at night. I would come home and do homework, eat a normal dinner, and go to bed. At times I could string together a couple of days in a row without bingeing.

But just when I would feel like I was getting my eating under control, a new phase of the illness would appear. I remember very clearly the first time I binged in the morning. Up to that point, my binges had always been in the late afternoon or at night. One morning, however, that changed.

After breakfast, I still felt like I was hungry, so I decided to have something else to eat. But I immediately felt horrible about it, and the anorexia thoughts began to torment and accuse me. Why did you have to eat more? What’s wrong with you? You could have waited until lunch. Well, now you’ve done it, you might as well go all the way and binge!

That morning I ate as much as I did at my nighttime binges, and I felt absolutely sick, both physically and mentally. There was absolutely no way I could go to class, so I stayed home that day. I told myself I would never binge in the morning again. I couldn’t afford to let eating interfere with my schooling! My future career depended on passing this course.

The tipping point

dominoes falling

My bingeing behavior now seemed to have no limits at all. Once I started bingeing in the morning, this made way for a binge to happen at any time of the day or night. It was getting extremely difficult to keep up with my studies at this point. I didn’t want to miss too many days from school because it would affect my grade. So even if I had a binge on a school morning, I would still force myself to go to class, even though I was in pain and felt sick from eating so much.

I started to feel really awful about myself. The way I was eating was so out of control, and I felt a deep sense of shame. My thoughts told me that I didn’t deserve to be in the company of others, and I began distancing myself from my friends and classmates. I no longer got together for study dates, and I started doing my homework and studying alone, at home.

Once I started isolating myself, everything became much worse. I felt like I was barely holding on by a thread, and the anxiety, panic, and depression became overwhelming. I had just started the internship for my Medical Assistant program, and I remember one day really struggling to hold myself together. I couldn’t even think straight anymore and felt like I was completely losing my mind!

Dropping out of school

That day I was working at the clinic, and I decided that when I went on my lunch break, I was going to leave and not come back. I didn’t even tell anyone, I just left. Looking back on this experience, it sounds so crazy. But I remember the desperation I felt that day, and I didn’t think I had a choice. I couldn’t talk to anyone about what was going on with me, it was just too embarrassing.

I woke up the next morning feeling completely defeated, and when my instructor called I didn’t answer the phone. She left a message, and she was understandably concerned. The clinic told her I hadn’t come back from lunch the day before, and I hadn’t shown up for work that morning.

I didn’t want to talk to anyone, but I felt like I owed her an explanation, because she was worried about me. So I reluctantly called her back, and it was a very awkward and embarrassing conversation. I told her that I had an eating disorder and I was having difficulty coping with my depression and anxiety. I said that unfortunately, I was going to have to drop out of the program.

She was really kind and understanding about the whole thing. She said that I could take a break for a while, and finish up my internship when I was feeling better. I was so thankful for that opportunity, but I seriously doubted I would feel better anytime soon (or ever).

This was a really low point for me, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had started out with such high hopes for starting a new career, but I had completely ruined it. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I seem to do normal things like work and go to school, like everybody else? I felt like a big, huge failure.

Going over the edge

Person's feet in hiking boots hanging over the edge of a cliff

I forgot to mention earlier in my story that about a year before getting laid off from my job, I had started seeing a psychiatrist. I had been taking antidepressants the whole time I was spiraling down, and had been going to my weekly therapy appointments. But it wasn’t really helping, my ED was continuing to get progressively worse.

As I looked ahead, things seemed pretty bleak. I had just dropped out of school, and I felt like my plans of having a career were down the tubes. I was still unemployed and felt ill-equipped with any useful job skills. What was I going to do now? The anxiety and panic I felt on a daily basis were so severe that I felt completely unable to function.

Suicidal thoughts

My world got even darker as I began thinking more and more about suicide. It wasn’t the first time I ever had these feelings; suicidal thoughts had haunted me most of my life. But up to that point I had been able to push them aside. Now though, ending my life was beginning to seem like a real option. I felt the walls closing in on me. I was desperate and running out of hope.

When I remember all of this, I feel so much compassion and sadness for that young woman that I was. The ED had taken over my mind so completely that I was no longer in control of my own thoughts and actions. I felt unworthy and unloveable, because I had a terrible secret I couldn’t share with anyone. Even my therapist didn’t really understand. I needed help, but I had nothing and no one to turn to. I felt very, very alone.

I didn’t really want to kill myself, but my thoughts were constantly telling me it would be for the best. The ED told me that I was worthless and useless, and the world would be better off without me. But there was a small voice inside me that said “no, don’t do it! Once you take that step, there’s no coming back!”. Every day was an exhausting battle as my true self, who was buried deep inside me, struggled to fight against that suicide voice.

With my distorted thinking, I came up with a plan that seemed perfectly logical at the time. Since I couldn’t work anymore, I decided that I would get my unemployment benefits as long as I could. After that, I would live off of my meager savings, for however long it lasted. When all of my money ran out, and I couldn’t pay my bills anymore, I would then kill myself.

These are the depths that my eating disorder brought me to! I ended up at a point where I felt completely unable to take care of myself anymore, and the only option I could see was death. These words are hard to write because it brings back such a vivid memory of the utter despair I felt at that time.

It’s now 30 years later, and by the grace of God, I did not kill myself! In the next part of my story, I’ll tell you how I got started on my long road to recovery.

Part 4 is coming soon!

Please feel free to ask questions or leave comments below ?

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