Since I was little, I had always been different from the other kids in that I was not the typical carefree, dirty child one sees running around. For as long as I can remember, I was hyper-aware of every surface I, or anyone else around me, touched and was constantly strategizing how to come in contact with as few germs as possible. People around me had learned to dismiss my unusual fear of germs and were quick to label me as “the finicky child” or “picky eater”. However, life went on and I simply avoided situations or things that made me uncomfortable, even if that meant inconveniencing those around me. Since those early days, my condition had only become worse. By the time I was in high school, these weird germophobic obsessions of mine had morphed into dreadful panic attacks, and it was then clear to me that my condition was anything but normal. It was like looking through a pair of X-ray vision glasses that could detect every germ around me, and the worst part of it was that I couldn’t take them off. As the list of places and things I considered “polluted” got longer, my desire to get out of bed in the morning and face the day ahead of me diminished. Scanning every room I walked into, object I touched and person I encountered got to be incredibly exhausting, and there was no way to avoid that constant feeling that my heart was going to pound out of my chest. Worst of all, I was completely aware that these fears made absolutely no sense, but it was like my rational brain was completely separated from, yet trapped in, an uncontrollably anxious body.
The smallest things would send me into panic: someone accidentally letting my sweater touch the ground or placing a “polluted-from-having-been-in-the-outside-world” backpack on my bed. No matter how many times I told myself I was being irrational, I could feel my heart pound, my lungs close up, my hands go numb, my body shake, my eyes tear up, and my head spin until I felt like I was going to faint. On countless occasions, I simply walked into a crowded room, started to sob, and ran off to hide in my nearest “safe-space”, hoping that no one had seen me cry because I was so afraid of being vulnerable and too stubborn to ever ask for help.
I was constantly being drowned by these obsessive thoughts and by the time I started having panic attacks at least once a day, my best friend urged me to swallow my pride and go get help. My junior year of high school, I was diagnosed with OCD, and although this did help me come to terms with my disorder and find ways to alleviate the symptoms that had been controlling my life for so long, the diagnosis wasn’t all positive. I was now, officially, a “certified crazy”, and this led me to only think of myself in terms of my illness. In a way, the diagnosis made my symptoms feel permanent; how was I supposed to fight what my brain was wired to do?
My complete lack of control had led me to micromanage other parts of my life. I started obsessing over my grades, my art and especially my appearance. I decided that anything I had the ability to control would be, and became, completely and totally under my control. However, the thing about control is that when someone has too little or too much of it, things start to go downhill, and that’s exactly what happened to me. I would spend days studying for an exam or hours on a painting, and if I didn’t get the outcome I had hoped for, I would get extremely frustrated and find someone or something to blame. However, my weight suffered the worst consequences from my neurotic need to be control of everything all the time, because it was the one thing that truly was totally in my control. The excuses I would tell myself and the people I blamed for my inability to reach perfection just did not apply when it came to my eating habits, so being skinny became the one thing I focused on.
As I started cutting out everything (except lettuce) from my diet, I lost a lot of weight in a really short amount of time and was literally turning yellow from anemia. Once my friends and family started to notice, I tried convincing them (and myself) that, despite the fact that I lived on a tropical island, I was just really pale and needed a tan. Needless to say, this didn’t really work and the people around me tried dealing with it in a way that not only didn’t help, but almost made it worse. My family and teachers constantly watched me as I ate and my friends told me that “I looked like an starving child” and that they were going to stop talking to me until I started gaining the weight back. Instead of feeling like the people around me were supporting me in my recovery, I felt like the world was against me.
Intent on not giving up on the pursuit of perfection (which I now know just doesn’t exist) but also wanting to get my family and friends off my back, I turned to a seemingly healthier but just as toxic way of losing weight. Senior year, most of the girls in my class became “green-juice, salad and gym obsessed”, about the same time when the term “orthorexia” (an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy) started gaining popularity, and I was no different. I drank a green smoothie for breakfast, started working out 11 to 12 times a week and ate straight vegetables and fruits for pretty much every meal up until I came to Middlebury.
Starting school at Middlebury gave me a fresh start. I finally felt freed from all the labels and obsessions that had been holding me back and I wanted to portray the most perfect image of myself. I wanted to be the girl that could get straight As, go to the gym everyday, and still manage to have a social life and lots of friends. I wanted to be the girl that everyone looked at and thought, “wow, how does she have her life so together?” The truth is that I am as much of a mess as anyone, but having other people know that scared me. I am scared of being put in a box. I am scared of having “OCD” and “eating disorder” be the only thing that people see when they see me or the first thing to pop into someone’s mind when they hear my name. I am scared because I know there is a lot more to me than my flaws and I want other people to see that too. However, hiding behind a face of makeup, a cute outfit and a pretty Instagram account hasn’t helped, because, despite what other people see, I still look in the mirror and see a girl who still struggles with body image issues and a mental disorder.
So, to answer the question, What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done? Yes, struggling with OCD is hard. Panic attacks are hard to live with. Feeling like you’ve lost control of your life is hard. Eating disorders are hard. Starving yourself is hard, and throwing up is even harder. However, the hardest thing I’ve ever done is sharing my story. As cliché as that sounds, it’s true. Admitting to myself that I have flaws and that my life has not been and will not be perfect is something I dealt with a long time ago, but admitting it to others and speaking up is easier said than done.
Middlebury College, ’18