Eating Disorders: The Dictator by Sparklle Rainne - Trigger Warning
Thank you to Rebecca for allowing me the honor of writing this guest post! I appreciate anyone reading and recommend you to share her blog.
The best way that I can describe an eating disorder is by saying that it's like a dictator that lives in your head. Mine first started popping up during childhood. By my early teens, I had a full-blown eating disorder that seemingly took complete custody of my mind and body overnight. When we talk about dictatorship, we hear a lot of people say, "but how did that awful person overtake so many people? How did they gain power?" The thing about dictators is that they don't start out showing their evil - their true colors and motives. No. Dictators tell people what they want to hear; anything to get them on their side. They promise them that they'll give them something that people feel like they need desperately. Dictators come into power because they promise a better life. After a dictator convinces their people that they can provide them with their desperate needs and wants, the evil starts slowly. They gain your trust, and then, their orders get darker and darker.
An eating disorder is a dictator with some "special" characteristics. Again, it lives in your head; it learns to mimic your healthy voice. Everything that you're doing, at that moment, feels reasonable. In the United States alone, over 30 million people have an eating disorder. Many go undiagnosed. I'm not sure what you think of when you think of a person with an eating disorder, but if you got your idea from the media, you're probably wrong. The truth is that eating disorders can hypnotize and dominate anyone, anywhere, anytime. Common risk factors are genetics, family history or personal history of other mental illnesses, minority status, trauma, bullying, physical illness such as diabetes, food scarcity, and weight stigma or shame. According to NEDA, two-thirds of people who have anorexia displayed signs of an anxiety disorder several years before their eating disorder began, and roughly one in four people with an eating disorder also have PTSD. Both of those things are true for me.
I've had generalized anxiety, panic disorder, and OCD for my entire life, though I didn't get diagnosed with any of those things until my teenage years when I sought out therapy for the eating disorder and PTSD.
There's no one cause of an eating disorder, but when mine came about, I think that I subconsciously wanted something to consume me. When I've relapsed, it's always taken place during a time when I am scared; when something is making me feel unsafe. The dictator first started popping up when I was eight years old. That's the age that I purged for the first time, the age that I secretly checked out teen and women's magazines from the library and completed the workouts in them. My father was abusive. My mom and I left when I was eleven years old. She called the cops, we grabbed our stuff, and we went to stay at hotels until she found a duplex for us to live in. For that, she is my hero. None of my behaviors were noticeable or constant enough to diagnose until my teenage years, and they actually calmed down from ages eleven to fourteen. When I was fourteen, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She assured me that she'd be okay, and she was declared cancer-free when I was sixteen, but with cancer, you can't be sure and that fear is so pervasive. That's around the time that the anorexia started full-force. In hindsight, I was scared. I wanted my mom to be okay, I wanted not to stress anyone out, I wanted not to be needy, to not draw attention. I've always been different and have drawn attention even when I don't want to.
I can't stress enough how unintentional my eating disorder was. There was no conscious thought for me, no "I'll starve myself and everything will be okay," or "I'm anxious, so I'm going to throw up." It's weird how it grips you, actually. In "Wasted," Marya Hornbacher described the first time she purged (she was also eight years old) as a casual moment where she was with her dog and then, a couple of minutes later, she was making herself throw up. That's exactly how it was for me. When the anorexia started, the only conscious thought that I remember was "I wonder how long I can do this for" after I realized that I'd gone a day without eating. Apparently, too long, because over a decade later, here I am with a brutal dictator in my head that is constantly screaming, putting me in deep fear and crazed panic if I do not follow its orders. I first sought treatment when I was fifteen. The moment that I realized that I had a problem, I demanded treatment. I wanted this dictator out of my head. I wanted not to be sick. I described the restriction, the years of vomiting, the thought patterns, the way that I had fainted and told absolutely no one afterward, and she, clearly not an eating disorder specialist, said: "it's not a problem unless you keep getting thinner and thinner. Then, it's a problem."
I didn't seek out treatment again for two more years after that. When I did, I remember saying, "I am going to die if I don't get help now." There was a time that anorexia morphed back into bulimia and I spent all day every day vomiting. I missed school (I was in college early) to vomit or exercise excessively. At seventeen, I was broken. I was at the mercy of anyone who could possibly help me get away from this thing that made me feel like a puppet tied to its barbwire strings. I met an excellent outpatient treatment team who helped stabilize me and start unpacking my anxiety, OCD, and PTSD, too. From ages eighteen to twenty-two, I had some blips and one minor relapse, but I had a lot of time where I was doing well, too. I even experienced a time when the dictator's voice disappeared almost entirely. I was me again. In 2016, though, another thing made me feel...unsafe would be too mild of a word for it. I was drugged, assaulted, and left on the side of the road in Centralia, WA, only months after leaving California and switching schools. Caked in vomit and dirt, a cab driver picked me up. I went to go stay with my mom after that. I told almost no one. "Just visiting," I'd say if they ran into me. I sought out therapy right away and found an incredible trauma therapist - remember, I already had severe PTSD from childhood experiences.
I wanted to safeguard myself in any way that I could, but it didn't quite work.
The dictator slipped through the cracks again and took me over in a way that may or may not have been worse than ever before. It convinced me that all of the foods that I was afraid of, the excessive amounts of exercise, the hoarding and arranging food that I couldn't bring myself to eat - all of that was normal. In October 2017, one year after the assault, I went to California to visit my friends. I was staying in a hotel in Burbank, and thankfully, my mom was with me. One morning on that trip, I woke up shaking with my vision going out, black splotches obstructing my eyes. I had no idea what was going on. I walked to the bathroom to get some water, and, THUD. I blacked out and fell to the floor. I was unconscious. When I came to a couple of minutes later, my mom gave me some oatmeal and an orange. I remember thinking "please, please, whatever is out there, don't take me now, I don't want this, I'll be good, I'll get better, I promise, I promise I'll eat." If my mom hadn't been there, I might very well have died. I regularly tell my mom, "thank you for everything. I love you." She has no idea how many "everything's" would be there if I were to list them all. Even with all of this, with destroyed health, destroyed bones, and the want to get better, it took me months to start fighting again. This brings us to the present day.
I moved to Portland one year ago. I'm working towards full recovery again. I've been told that I will chronically relapse, that I won't get better, but I don't believe that that's the case. Early intervention is shown to promote a more promising chance at full recovery. That's part of why I do what I do - I want people like me at age fifteen to get the care (and the quality of care) that they need the first time. Knowledge about eating disorders is scarce both in society and in the medical field. I want you to know that anyone of any size, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, location, and so on, whether they have comorbid diagnoses or not, whether they have disabilities or whether they're otherwise able-bodied, can live with this dictator in their head. I'm still fighting, and I believe in recovery for everyone who wants it - including me.