Rejecting a Silent Torment

_Editor’s Note: This article deals with a former student’s account of her eating disorder, and the language and/or content may be triggering to some individuals.

Author’s Note: Last week, I submitted a Letter to the Editor about my experiences with mental illness at Andover, which eventually resulted in my having to leave the school. Here, I would like to elaborate on those experiences in the hopes of giving students a picture of issues their peers might be struggling with and of bringing attention to the very real presence of mental illness on Andover’s campus. _

I remember the last time I felt happy: November 24, 2013, at around 9 a.m. It was not because I had gotten a 6.0 or won an award — these accomplishments lend only a fleeting sense of relief.

It was because, on that morning, I pinched the skin around my ribcage, looked back at the mirror and counted my vertebrae with sick satisfaction. I felt a surge of adrenaline as I stepped onto the scale — one cold, blue foot at a time — and saw that I was finally ten pounds deep into the double-digit zone, which meant that on certain good days I could allow myself to be photographed. I was euphoric.

The last several weeks of my Junior Fall had been spent preparing for this. I ran endlessly on the elliptical at the gym, like an anguished rodent on a hamster wheel; I surfed the Internet for pictures of food that I could not eat, hoping to fill myself with the empty images; each night, with a very exact equation, I calculated the exact mass and volume of the fat I had lost that day, and doing so quickly became a casual and habitual activity.

I envisioned the fat under my skin, a repulsive lump of adipocytes, and imagined that I was ripping it right out, removing the parts of myself that I hated most. Hair fell from my head, clogging the shower drain and clinging to my comb as if trying to escape my toxic presence.

Sometimes I skipped dinner, not because I had planned to, but because I was so sick that the thought of eating made me feel physically nauseated — far from being disgusted, I was literally worried I would not be able to keep my food down. I stopped wearing my size-00 jeans and switched to the pair I wore in sixth grade. Still, I knew I took up far too much space, more than someone like me deserved to.

It did not stay this way for long. When I tried to stop starving myself, instead of recovering, I ultimately developed another type of eating disorder. Filled with regret after any meal that felt like too much in my shriveled stomach, I would try in vain to undo the damage and to turn back time. The constant feeling of “screwing up” and the need to “compensate” translated into cycles of binging and purging: I would overeat and then force myself to throw up.

Even worse, my own body, not just my mind, began to reject any attempt to gain weight. Fat accumulated so quickly that my skin burned in pain from being stretched, and for once I was grateful for the bitter cold, which ensured that thick layers worn to hide my body seemed entirely reasonable.

The irony of this “first-world problem,” that is feeling sad over getting fat, was not lost on me. All around the world, people are suffering from famine, depend upon school lunches as their daily source of nourishment or simply cannot afford a nightly dinner. Who was I to complain, coming from an upper-middle-class family and attending an elite prep school?

I have counted my blessings, but my suffering was and is still valid. I used to be so disgusted with myself that I slept on the floor, where I thought I belonged. I wondered whether anyone would notice if I stayed in my room all week, whether they would be happy not to have to see someone so repulsive walking around.

I worry that this article will be interpreted as one long brag, that it will seem like I’m boasting about how emaciated I once was. That it is conceivable that anyone could have such a response serves only to illuminate the conundrum of eating disorders in our society today. Conditions like mine are not something of which to be proud; the way I made myself so miserable and sick is not a goal for anyone to attain.

Eating disorders are romanticized to a disturbing extent: it is not about beautiful girls withering into perfection. I can tell you from experience that eating disorders make those whom they affect feel ugly, fat, revolting and worthless in their own eyes. Worse, to many, an eating disorder is like a death sentence: if the afflicted does not seek help, then often it is only a matter of time before their starved heart stops beating, before their organs shut down one by one, before their desperate pursuit of thinness proves fatal.

In the end, I had to be rescued. I had to be dragged across the country and medicated before my life could regain some semblance of normality. I still have to fight to get through most days and have yet to find happiness in anything other than weighing 90 pounds, but at least I have hope that someday I will recover and will learn to live for something other than killing myself over my weight.

No one deserves to feel this hopelessness and this misery. I am ashamed that I let my disorder eat me alive. To everyone else who is struggling: please try to save yourself. Solutions may not be immediate, but reaching out and starting to get help is always a step in the right direction. Do not simply accept that the rest of your life will be spent in silent torment.

_Angela Hui is an 11th grader at San Francisco University High School. She attended Andover from Fall 2012 to Spring 2014._