“You lost so much weight, you look amazing,” “How do you do it?,” “Im so proud of you, keep it up,” soon turned into “You lost a lot of weight really fast,” “Why are you so skinny,” “You have to eat,” “You look like a skeleton,” and I wouldn't hear the end of it. These endless comments would go in one ear and out the other, my mind was the only thing I would listen to. The voice inside my head was so loud that both my friends, and family couldn't reach out to me. My thoughts were overpowering and it’s like there was another person living inside my head telling me what to do and how to do it. I was cold, bitter and above all was unhappy with myself.
In grade 10 I developed an eating disorder that had taken over my life. At the start of the year I decided I wanted to lose some weight so I could feel better and be happier with myself. I started to eat clean and work out 4 times a week, I started to see results. I continued, day after day focusing on the healthy way to lose weight. Once my friends and others around me began commenting on how great I looked, I thought to myself why not keep going? So I did, until the day that something triggered in my head and flipped a switch. Immediately I changed my whole diet around, cutting out carbs, all fats, and anything with a high caloric value. Something that started out so simple, became an endless battle with myself. I began eating only salads, fruit and lean protein. My mind was telling me this is still too much, you should eat less. Whatever my mind was telling me was exactly what I did. I began eating a pear a day, and sometimes even would throw in a banana if I was really hungry. Running on basically no calories, I signed myself up for hot yoga, where I burned almost 1000 calories in a 1 hour session.
I was not the same person, this disorder became my life and all of a sudden everything that ever mattered to me - an education, friends, family and following my dreams meant nothing to me. I became the eating disorder, anorexia took complete control over me and finally I was no longer Irene.
I remember coming to school everyday, I would get stares in the halls, my friends coming up to me concerned and worried for my health. But no, the eating disorder wouldn’t let me care, my main concern was to be thin. I would be sitting in class wearing leggings under my sweatpants, 2 pairs of socks and my winter jacket and people would still tell me my lips were blue. My body was constantly cold, chunks of hair would fall out of my head, my skin was green, and I had completely lost my period. After losing almost 60 pounds, I still believed there was nothing wrong with me.
I was pure skin and bones, I remember walking into my grandmother’s house one evening and the second she looked at me tears were pouring down her face. My family didn't know what to do with me anymore. My friends didn't know how to get through to me or even be around me any longer. I was a living, breathing, eating disorder and nothing was going to stop me. I was in a state of denial by fighting everybody who tried to help me. I lose a sense of being by becoming coldhearted and being outrageously disrespectful to the ones who loved me the most.
I went on a trip to New York City with a group of people from my school and after it my life was changed. The teachers and vice principal who came on the trip were paying close attention to my eating habits and noticed the only thing I was consuming was smoothies. After we got back from the trip, I remember sitting in class and being called down to the office. I saw my mom sitting in the vice principal’s office, I sat down next to her and I heard the words “Irene, you can no longer attend Westmount in the condition you’re in, the school doesn’t want to held responsible if you faint in our halls.” The vice principal called the hospital and personally made me an appointment for a medical assessment.
That day I spoke to a doctor, therapist, psychologist and a nutritionist, and the only words I remember from the whole medical examination were, “Your heart is in failure and you must immediately be hospitalized.” I was livid, kicking and screaming, refusing to go anywhere. The hospital wouldn’t even let me go home to get my things, and before I knew it I was hooked up to a heart machine in room 335 at North York General Hospital and put on bed rest. My heart was so weak, that the doctor told me I wouldn’t have been able to survive another week. It was beating 12 times per minute, and at night, 7 beats per minute, my heart could’ve stopped at any given moment.
For a week straight in the hospital I would get woken up at 6am with a needle in my arm while a nurse was taking blood from me. Other mornings, when I stood up I would faint, my heart monitor would start beeping obnoxiously loud and nurses would run into my room to check on me. I was an inpatient at the hospital for 7 weeks and wasn’t allowed to leave. I would lay in bed starring at the ceiling, all alone in my room, with just my thoughts. During the time, I would speak to a psychologist who worked at the hospital, and was soon diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I was put on antidepressants, trapped in a hospital, while my friends were spending their summers at camp. When the doctor told me I was going to be spending my birthday in the hospital and would have to cancel my Sweet Sixteen, I became a wreck. I was screaming, throwing things at my family and telling everyone to leave. The only thought running through my head was how I could possibly end my life because I truly believed I was never leaving. Every week the doctors would rotate on the paediatrics floor and every new doctor provided me with zero information about when I could possibly go home.
On July 16th, 2014, I was finally discharged. My vitals were stable, and I was told I had to continue in the outpatient program for medical check ups. Once grade 11 started, I reassured myself I was okay by disregarding the fact that I was extremely and painfully unhappy. This level of unhappiness caused my anxiety and depression to worsen. I tried to suppress the sadness, until one day I tried taking my own life. My family and closest friends had no idea about this, and the thought of it ate me alive everyday. I spent that year in a constant battle with myself and I’m still fighting to this day.
I’ve learned that the only way to fix your problems, is by admitting you have one. Recovery was not easy, but with it, I was able to reconnect with myself and find life outside the disorder. I realized the eating disorder was extremely powerful but the only way to beat it is by being even stronger. Some days I wake up so proud of how far I have come, while others a trigger sets off in my head and the temptation of relapsing to my old habits increases. These past few years I was in denial, a denial so strong that it resulted in putting my life on the line, not just once, but twice. I refused to speak to anyone, I was ashamed and embarrassed of who I was. I didn’t want anyone to think or look at me differently because of my mental illnesses. I’ve learned that talking to the people you love, who give you constant support, encouragement, understanding and empathy, when battling with any mental illness will only give you strength and positive outcomes. Mental illnesses are disorders, not decisions, a mental illness may not be a choice, but recovery is. There are days where I wake up feeling abandoned, ugly, hurt, broken, useless or invisible, but I know I shouldn’t let my sadness and one bad day get in the way of this beautiful life. It may battle me, but it won’t beat me.