Hi, my name is Sam, and I'm a [recovering] anorectic.
Or so they tell me.
I still have a hard time believing it.
I've debated a loooooooooong time about writing this post. It has been over a year since the idea was first suggested to me, and I have been, mentally, sitting here with my hands over my ears yelling, "NOT LISTENING!" to the idea. Très mature of me, I know.
So what's this all about? To answer the question in a roundabout sort of way, let me tell you about the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. In WWII, faced with the necessity of dealing with millions of starving concentration camp victims, the US government asked for volunteers among conscientious objecting men. These volunteers had two simple tasks: 1) to be starved for several months and 2) to then be refed under supervision. These men were healthy young men in their 20s. None had any psychiatric illnesses or pathologies. They were just your average young men trying to do something to help their country.
The results were startling. Shocking, even. As the starvation experiment wound on, the men developed, essentially, characteristics of full-blown eating disorders. They became obsessed with food and recipes. Some started binging in secret. They developed intricate food "rituals," or habits around how they ate their meals. And, when it came time to re-feed the men, things got even odder. Remember, these men did not have body image issues when they started. And yet, many grew obsessed with the idea of gaining weight; some voluntarily continued restricting their calories. Others binged wildly. One even chopped off three of his own fingers in his distress at the refeeding process.
All of this strongly suggests that starvation itself, by itself, with no co-occurring mental illness (at least at the start of starvation) can induce all of the medical criteria for a full-blown eating disorder (ED).
This, my dear friends, is what happened to me. Or so I'm told. Many of you know that I was hospitalized for a number of weeks in 2013. Very, very few of you know the whole truth: I was hospitalized with Anorexia Nervosa (AN). It would appear that the starvation induced by my gastroparesis did to me exactly what the Minnesota Starvation Experiment did to the participating volunteers: it induced a genuine eating disorder. (This is, of course, a vast oversimplification. Eating disorders run in my family. But if genetics loaded the gun, gastroparesis pulled the trigger that sent AN spiraling directly into my brain). Imagine my surprise. And my denial. I spent the majority of the time I was in the hospital denying that I had any such problem. I'm told this is typical.
Fast forward a year and a few months. I am confidently assured by one of the country's leading specialists on eating disorders that I am, in fact, a recovering anorectic. Do I believe it? Most days, yes. There is now a devil that lives on my shoulder hissing at me anytime I choose to take care of myself. "You are such a pig...if you were really anorexic you wouldn't eat so much." In fact, that devil is part of why I haven't written about this before now. I've been able to maintain my weight in the healthy range since leaving treatment...barely, sometimes, but I'm not actually underweight. Below the weight the doctor suggested, certainly, but not underweight. Ergo, hisses the devil, I have no right, no right at all, to write about eating disorders. I should at least wait to see if I relapse hard enough to end up in hospital again. Then maybe I can write about it.
Bullshit. This, I realized, in a startling moment of clarity, is bloody stupid. I've been an inpatient in one of the country's highest ranked eating disorder clinics. I was told by a number of highly trained psychiatrists that I had a severe eating disorder that was potentially life-threatening. Maybe it's time I come out about it... I don't know that I have much that will help anyone else, but it behooves me to try. I will add that this is the scariest thing I have ever written about. It's one thing to talk publically about a physical disease (lupus). It's quite another to admit to the world, including potential future employers, that one is certifiably bat-shit crazy. But if I don't, who will? In honor of World Mental Health Day, I offer you my story in the hopes that one little voice can chip away at the stigma of mental illness.