This is a story about a girl’s struggle with her eating disorder. More specifically, the last six years of my life; characterized mainly by surrendering to, living with, and recovering from the world’s most deadly mental illness. I have chosen to share this part of my life in the hopes that it will inspire others and give them hope that there is life after an eating disorder. I am finally living, no longer just surviving.
I like to say it was written in the stars that I got an eating disorder. As a child, I would always line up the guest’s shoes, tidy the house, and put my gifts in a basket at my birthday party. I loved to draw and color precisely two things: rainbows and perfectly symmetrical princess castles. In school and soccer, I always strived to be the best, and often would not settle for less than the highest possible score. I was persistent and disciplined, but no one, including myself, could have known that those qualities would be the driving force of a demon inside of me.
I was young, I was happy, and I was wild. I was the girl from Holland who could speak two languages, lived between two cultures, had two sisters, a mom and dad, two cats, and lived in Boston; one of the most beautiful cities in the whole world. What could possibly go wrong?
When I was in the fifth grade, I started running with my parents around the muddy river, right outside of Boston, MA. Because I played soccer and was also practicing gymnastics at the time, I was strong and fit. If you ask my dad, he’ll tell you I ran so fast that he was actually running after me. Running gave me a sense of freedom and peace, and was just something I absolutely loved to do. I continued to run every few days, continued to play soccer, continued to practice gymnastics. I think that’s where my eating disorder came in. You’re so fit and healthy, I told myself. You better start putting healthy things in your body, too. I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to be the definition of fit and healthy. I started cutting out sweets. I didn’t eat the cupcakes the birthday kid would regale at school. I didn’t eat the brownies the soccer mom would bring us after the game. I wouldn’t eat the cookie dough I so happily made for myself almost every single day when I got home from school.
People started to worry as soon as I lost a few pounds. I was always the smallest girl of my class, even though I was born two weeks late. I was born from a C-section because the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck, twice. After my traumatic birth, I was sent to an incubator and couldn’t be held by either of my parents for the first two hours after being brought into the world. Some of the therapists I’ve talked to believe that those first hours had an influence on my obsessive and disordered behaviors, but I guess I will never know.
After a couple weeks of not eating sweets, I felt I could do better. It was still not good enough. I started skipping breakfast like the other kids in my class said they did. I wouldn’t eat the Chewy granola bar my dad packed me for snack. If he forgot to pack me veggies or fruit with my sandwich and yogurt, I wouldn’t eat lunch at all. My weight dropped like apples from a tree. With my naturally high metabolism and small frame, my limited food choices quickly put my body in a dangerous position. I was barely eating anything, constantly running, and had barely any energy. Finally, the beginning of seventh grade, I was admitted to Children’s Hospital Boston and stayed there for three weeks.
The three weeks in the hospital were total hell, but I loved them at the same time. I no longer had to fight my eating disorder. I could just lie back all day and be fed. Eating was a major shock to my system, so it was tough, but slowly, I gained back the weight I had lost. After I was discharged from the hospital, I went back to normal life with my healthy weight, but my eating disorder was still extremely present. I lost weight again, and eighth grade was not a good year for me. In the summer of 2014, my doctor told me I really had to gain weight because it was affecting my growth. Since fifth grade, I had not grown an inch. If I failed to do so, I would have to go to treatment. That was not going to happen. My eating disorder completely took the reigns and told me the only way out of this threat was to manipulate my weight. For six months, I was able to make my weight curve up beautifully. Of course, no one besides my eating disorder and I knew. My doctor was proud, my therapist was proud; I was doing so well.
Of course, I could only keep this manipulation up for so long. In the beginning of freshman year of high school, I had my monthly doctor’s appointment and could no longer hold it in. That day, I peed all over the hospital scale and, like we say in Dutch, I “fell through the basket”. My doctor told me it was the most extreme weight manipulation she had ever seen, and my only option at that point was to go to treatment. I was sixteen, and had no choice. For almost 6 months, I spent my life bouncing between residential, partial, school, intensive outpatient, and inpatient stays at Walden Behavioral Care. I finally gained quite a bit of necessary weight, and I even grew a couple inches because of it. Still, my eating disorder was highly present. In the spring of 2015, my mother received a job offer in our home, the Netherlands, and accepted it. Could it be a new beginning for me? Was it meant to be? Could I start a new life back home, the place of my birth, and become free from my eating disorder? It was worth a shot.
In the summer of 2015, I moved with my mother, father, and two sisters to Utrecht, Netherlands. I was really hoping it could all get better. Unfortunately, things only got worse. I lost all the weight I had gained during treatment at Walden, and was now back at my lowest weight. I missed the first half of my year at my first high school in the Netherlands, because of being inpatient at Rintveld, a Dutch eating disorder clinic. There was no structure, no groups, and no care for the patients whatsoever. I exercised for hours a day and manipulated my weight worse than I had ever before. I even walked all the way home from the clinic three times—a two-hour walk—and no one in the clinic knew I was gone until I was already home. Clearly, Rintveld was a horrible place for me where nothing was going to get better.
After four months of staying inpatient there, the psychiatrist discharged me, saying I was a hopeless case and things were never going to get better. This was the most devastating news I had ever received. In my life. From there, as you could imagine, things only went downhill until I reached my lowest weight ever. I got daily panic attacks, would not eat unless I weighed it on my food scale, and was back to running every single day. I was truly in an abyss with my eating disorder. In the spring of 2017, I finally—finally—realized I needed to do something and could no longer live this way any more. I was dying from the inside out. That’s when I said I needed help. Real, professional, help. There was no place in the Netherlands that offered what I needed, so I had to seek help elsewhere—the United States of America. After days of researching, calling, and comparing, I decided I wanted to go to Carolina House, as they were one of the only programs in all of the United States that offered an adult eating disorder program for girls of 17 years of age. I had finally found my match.
There was one catch. It was expensive. Very expensive. And I had no insurance outside of the Netherlands. Still, I did not give up hope. I believed there was a way I was going to make this happen, and my mom made this a reality for me. Together, my mother and I started a GoFundMe , and my sister was kind enough to make a video that perfectly illustrated how badly I needed help. Thanks to everyone who donated, I was able to go to Carolina House and finally recover—for REAL.
The six months I spent at Carolina House were definitely not easy. They came with many tears, much pain, and much anger. Now, looking back, I realize Carolina House saved my life. Actually, no. I saved my life with the help of Carolina House. I wanted to recover so badly, I was so motivated. I knew there was a better life for me. I held hope that there was an end to the horrible hell I was living in. With that hope and motivation and that discipline my eating disorder had taken advantage of, I used that discipline to fight my eating disorder head-on. I was home the day before Christmas of 2017 and am truly doing amazing. I am enjoying food, going out to eat, laughing, baking, cooking, being physically active, and just loving life.