Sunday, February 1, 2015

Canada: A Life Put on Pause

Eating Disorders are brain-based, biological illnesses with a strong genetic component. They are not disorders of choice, vanity or family dysfunction. As with autism and schizophrenia, we don't know everything, but we do know we were wrong about a lot for a very long time. Help us challenge stigma and fight for resource parity for these deadly disorders

A Life Put on Pause
By: Jenna Miguel

Staring at the menu my eyes start to glaze over and my mind becomes blank. My hands start to shake and the tap, tap, tap of something on the table captures everyone’s attention. “Come on, let’s go,” Jess says to me, and we run off. Suddenly, I’m in the bathroom of a Kelsey’s in Niagara Falls, sobbing. My wails overcome me and Jess has to grab me to calm me down. It was in that moment that I realized that those taps were the sounds of my tears hitting the table as I started blankly at the menu deciding what to eat for lunch, if I was going to eat all that is.

My friends decided to have an impromptu weekend away and of course wanted me to come. I wasn’t much of a joiner in my anorexic days and tried to avoid everything and everyone. Eventually things got so bad, and my excuses got so lame, that my friends asked my mom to convince me to go. I did. And I ate. And that’s exactly why I didn’t want to go. Being around people who are “normal eaters” (what does that even look like anyways?) was always awkward, but being away from home with them was foreign to me.

I was diagnosed with anorexia and purging through exercise at the age of 18. While I was away studying journalism at Carleton University my eating got worse, and basically diminished altogether, and I was running more than I ever had before. I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than my weight; I essentially became a walking zombie. It was evident to the people around me what was going on and I decided to take my health seriously and to enter treatment.

When I decided to leave university I thought it was to get my life back. What I didn’t know was that I was going to have to wait six months before I actually was admitted to the inpatient program at Toronto General Hospital. I had regular checkups with my doctor, until I was admitted, and he was constantly checking for an opening for me to get into any program in the Durham area. The wait was unbearable. Me, along with my food rituals, were getting worse during the time my life was put on pause. My hair started to fall out, I was always cold, and my bones were so weak it hurt to sleep. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t do anything. All I thought about was food.

When I was finally admitted to the program I was terrified, but I still went. I hadn’t put my life on hold all that time to not get better. I was determined to go back to school, this time at Ryerson, and I flew through the program. I breezed through it so fast that that fall I relapsed and so fast I even scared myself. It has been a year and half since then and I’m weight restored, but still struggling. I have osteoporosis in my back and osteopenia in my hip that will never go away, and every day I still struggle with the idea of what/if I should eat.

The negative thoughts will be always be there, the non-existent relationship I have with my sister because my anorexia took me away from her will always be there, the pain and emotional damage I’ve caused my parents will always be there. I don’t know if I will ever fully be the person that I was before I got sick, but I’m trying. Everyday I’m trying to fight the battle inside my head, but I’ve learned I cannot do it alone. I no longer want to face this illness alone.

Eating disorders are like other conditions where the sooner someone is diagnosed and treated, the better chance they have of full recovery. Making someone with anorexia wait six months before being admitted to a program is tantamount to telling someone with cancer you will not be able to treat them until it is Stage IV. With an emphasis on prompt diagnosis and early and aggressive treatment Canada could become a leader among National Health Systems--saving both lives and money. 

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