Collage by Emily Zirimis.
BY KATE FARRELL ONLINE CONTRIBUTOR
TW: This article contains information about eating disorders which may be triggering.
I’ve been putting off writing this for a couple days now. Not because I don’t want to write it, it’s something that is happening so much more than we know and is something we need to talk about; but I don’t know where to start. I don’t want this to be something that people read and pity, nor do I want to give the idea that my journey is the same as everyone else’s with this illness. I’ve also struggled with a way to put all the, excuse my french, bullshit, that comes with this disorder into one piece. But the biggest challenge for me has been the fact that writing this article means that I have to sit down and actually look at how much this illness has impacted my life, severely, for five years. We all like to pretend that we are okay, and it’s hard the admit that you’re not sometimes. But I hope that by reading this article people who are struggling as well can know that they aren’t alone in this fight, and that there is someone who understands them. So, here we go.
I’m in my third year at Queen’s, and I am absolutely in love with our school. On the outside, no one would think that there’s anything wrong with me. I’ve worked at Cogro, TAPS, and now as the Equity Affairs Manager in the AMS. I’ve been involved in MUSE (duh) and the Vogue Charity Fashion Show for three years now. I’ve had the (unfortunate) pleasure of showing my version of dropping it like it’s hot to the establishments around the hub. I have an amazing group of friends that are like my family and that I get to see everyday. Summary? On the outside I look fine. But that’s the tricky thing about Anorexia, and mental illness in general- you can be fully functioning and pretend you’re fine even when you’re a mess (hot mess, but I digress).
The Anorexia I have is the restrictive kind, which also comes with the lovely perk of using excessive exercise as a coping strategy (I used to be a runner, and at the beginning of the illness my heart rate got so low, 38BPM, that I was forced to stop). Throw in my anxiety and OCD that I’ve had my entire life and my day to day routine just got a little more complicated than the usual #socollege life. Coming into first year I had just taken a year off and completed 106 days in inpatient treatment to try and get better for school. It worked, for a little bit, before stressors sank in over the summer and at school and I was sick again. That summer I went into a day patient program at Toronto General Hospital, and although they told me to stay behind and not go to Queen’s for second year because I wasn’t ready, my Anorexia told me that I “wasn’t sick enough” to do that, so off I went. Second year was when I got really sick again; I was still in school and involved in extracurriculars, but I was getting worse. I wasn’t going out at all with my friends, not going to lectures, I was exercising way too much, and I was extremely sad. I left school in February to go back into inpatient. I was determined to go back to Queen’s healthier and happier (like a rom-com introduction), and even though some of my old habits had started to slowly pop up, I convinced myself I wasn’t sick enough to not go back. I was determined to finally be “normal” at school, whatever that meant. I wanted to get there.
An eating disorder doesn’t just pop up once and awhile. It’s there when you’re really sick and when you’re feeling better. I was undoubtedly healthier than ever starting this year off, but the eating disorder is always there. Every single day I deal with the stressors of school and then a million other things; it’s not just about what I am going to eat and when, it’s the anxiety and insecurity with challenging the rigid habits of the eating disorder. It’s making sure to stick to my meal plan, even when I hear people talking about dieting, and when I really don’t want to eat. It’s making time in my week for my therapist and nutritionist appointments, and then dealing with the anxiety that comes with telling them that I’m not actually doing that well. It’s having conversations on the phone with my mom not about my classes or extracurriculars, but about how I have to make sure I get into the outpatient clinic at Hotel Dieu to get my bloodwork done. It’s facing the crippling anxiety I get when I don’t have time to go to the gym one day, and the guilt I feel when I’m at the gym that extra day because I know that my doctor told me I’m not supposed to be there. It’s having to plan out a “spontaneous” coffee date days in advance because I have to think about what I’m going to be eating and how that will fit into my day. It’s hiding in my room at night on my sickest nights because I feel so low and isolated, that going out with my friends seems the same as climbing a mountain. It’s facing the intrusive thoughts that tell me I’m not, and won’t be good enough because of some insignificant thing I did that day. It’s not being able to go out for dinner with friends, morning brunches, and being terrified of day drinking because of how that will throw off my routine. It means feeling completely isolated at times because I think that no one else has to deal with this, and asking everyday why I can’t just be normal.
Having Anorexia in school means that the last three years have been a fight for me to actually stay in school. Every break, the conversation comes up whether or not I’ll need treatment again. But it has also meant finding strength in myself that I didn’t know that I had. There is a connotation that if you take time off, you are weak. If you take a mental health day, you are lazy. I invite anyone to face all the shit that I have to deal with everyday and tell me I’m lazy. Anyone who is in school with a mental illness is exceptionally strong. And what bugs me is the fact that it took me so long to find people at Queen’s who also suffer from eating disorders. It’s not because there are none, it’s because the stigma surrounding this illness makes us think that we can’t speak up. Well, I’m here. I’m speaking up. This is what it’s like to have an eating disorder at Queen’s. It sucks, but it’s something that I’ve grown from, and know that I will continue to grow from. We need to have more conversations about mental health at Queen’s, so no one has to feel like they are going through this alone.