It’s A Fight To The Death: Part Two
Trigger warning: Eating disorder
Do you ever have a nightmare where no matter how hard you try to run, your legs will not seem to move? It is terrifying to lose control of your limbs during a dream, but that is exactly what happened to me when the sun was out on a Saturday morning in early autumn. The whole situation was bizarre because my muscles were not burning, they just were ignoring my command to move. As other competitors began to run by me, I grew fearful and began to castigate my unresponsive legs. This was my team’s last race before regionals, thus every person had the same crucial goal to break their own personal record.
The world slows down when an individual has a revelation; the numbness that surged through my body and the rock that formed in my throat marked the moment I realized that my season was over. I had been abruptly awoken from this false sense of well-being, only to find my hamstrings to my digits unresponsive. Initially, I took it personally, for I had been betrayed by the temple that I had provided continual support for, but one cannot expect a structure to hold its ground if one only plants flowers around the border to make it look “pretty”, completely ignoring the crumbling foundation underneath.
And it was on this lovely day full of so much potential that my house became uninhabitable. This besieged flesh and bones had finally reached their last straw, and my unfortunate soul had this reality revealed to me during the cross country race I had trained morning after morning for.
Two months prior, I had indulged in any opportunity I had to challenge my stamina. Two months prior, I had accomplished the furthest distance I had ever run on a mountainous trail—nearly ten miles. Two months prior, the soreness of a workout had left me in a state of vigor. Two months ago, I could feel triumph on the tips of my fingers.
On that Saturday morning in early autumn, my muscles were frail, my brain was foggy, and my legs gave out before I had even reached a mile. I finally understood that I had damaged my body, and for that, I was going to pay the price. I was shattered at the thought of losing all I had worked for but did not have the energy to shed a single tear.
Later that evening, I remember staring at the mirror into the vacant eyes of a stranger with blue eyes and a freckled face. My cheeks were bony and pale. It appeared as if I were rotting like someone who was deceased and forgotten outside in the blazing sun. If that was what it meant to be “healthy”, I no longer wanted to be it.
Yet what did I change? Nothing.
After losing my balance during my cross country season, I was relieved to see it finally come to an end with the mindset that this nightmare would come to an end now as well. It was once again time to put on my cleats and get back to bending a soccer ball.
My diet was restricted as it was before. The rumble in my stomach was tuned out like New York City car horns.
I held this facade that I was doing better. Sometimes disorders aren’t visible. Sometimes they occur so slowly that they unravel before your eyes and it seems okay; it maintains an inconspicuous nature by taking place in plain sight.
As I was warming up for my senior season, things once again took a turn for the worst:
I remember rising from the couch to put my plate in the dishwasher one morning. Do you know how sometimes you stand up too quickly and your blood pools at your feet? You’re dizzy for a moment, but your nervous system responds instantly by constricting your blood vessels; then you’re fine!
Well, I had taken about ten steps when suddenly my body went tingly. I watched my foot touch the brown carpet as my clear vision was intruded by black spots everywhere. I felt an intense pain along my hairline. It felt as if I had been thrown headfirst into a brick wall.
I was out.
Suddenly, I was awoken to my father’s voice calling my name. When my eyes opened I noticed that my hands were in the dog bowl I had fallen on after hitting my head on the wall. Water was spilling everywhere. My father could see my confused stare as he desperately asked me what had happened.
I didn’t know the answer.
He was holding my body in his arms when out of nowhere I felt my body warming up as if someone was heating up a stove, becoming more and more aggressive as if I was about to break out into flames. My blood was boiling.
Before I could respond, I could vividly feel the spheres of my eyes rolling upward and just as they reached the top of my head, I heard my father urgently cry, “Riley! Riley!”
As I once again began to fade into blackness, I felt out of control. I had never experienced anything like that before and I have never experienced anything like that since. It felt like a giant hand had grabbed my body in a fist and was dragging me into the pits of Hell. In my head, I fearfully screamed “I don’t want to die! Riley don’t die. Don’t die. Don’t die. Don’t die.”
My limbs began to uncontrollably twitch. My father helplessly held me in his arms. I couldn’t make out exactly what he yelled except for the word “seizure”.
My world went dark.
It was like turning off a TV, then turning it back on. It felt as if time had stood still. Everything was the same when I came back to consciousness. I think it had only been a few seconds. I remember staring up at my father full of regret as I whimpered “I’m sorry.”
I didn’t want to be “healthy” if it was a synonym for dead.
That morning my blood sugar was dangerously low. Looking back at the situation can be difficult because I could have lost my life. What if I had hit my head differently? What if I would have collapsed on the hard tile rather than the carpet? What if my blood sugar would have dropped to the point of putting me into a coma?
This is only a piece of a rugged journey I took on; one with scrapes from falling and moments where I just wanted to wave a white flag.
I want you all to be aware of how you speak to others. Do you ever encourage restriction without the intention too? Do you praise others for being “healthy” when they succeed at following a diet? Did you tell your friend that he looks like he lost a few pounds and that he looks good? An overweight person can have an eating disorder. An underweight person can have an eating disorder. A “normal” weight person can have an eating disorder.
I want you all to be aware that we live in a society that glorifies thinness. It is a place where my skeletal build was assumed to be normal for an athlete. I was voted for the senior superlative “Most Athletic”– it only encouraged me to continue. It is a place where I congratulated myself one morning because my jeans were too big. I mean we only lose unnecessary weight, right?
An eating disorder is not because a person thinks they are “fat” (whatever that means). If it were that simple, then I would not have wasted your time by having you read my story. An eating disorder needs to be addressed medically, as well as psychologically. It is not cured by forcing a person to eat more or eat less. Recovery requires intervention, therapy, support groups, doctors, and PATIENCE.
We never completely lose the demons in our heads. I often keep the light off in the bathroom when I shower to keep me from seeing myself. Do you know what it is like to have not seen your naked body in months? It gets easier, though. Just some days are a lot easier than other days.
If you are currently suffering or you think someone you know might be, say something.
It took nearly dying for me to realize that the way I was treating my body was not worth the medal.
Hi, my name is Riley and I was previously diagnosed with anorexia athletica and orthorexia.
Today, I am recovered.