forced hunger

The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was this past Thanksgiving, when I told my parents that I had a thought of killing myself.

My life had slowly been spiraling downhill for some time. After I went to Spain in the fall of 2013 to study abroad, I lost ten pounds due to more daily walking, hard training in the pool in preparation for the swim season, and a lack of sufficient food (not to mention the odd Spanish eating hours). Most people would have been elated with such weight loss. However, as a swimmer intent on being a force for the swim team upon my return, this was bad news. I was sapped of much of the strength I had previously enjoyed in the pool. On the other hand, I was also the leanest I had ever been. As someone who has always taken pride in trying to do the right thing, I knew I had to bulk back up, but I wanted to do it right and stay lean. I knew this meant eating the right foods, and not just going crazy on pizza and ice cream for the sake of gaining weight.

This desire to watch my diet as I bulked back up wound up growing into an obsession. I eventually began to fret over every calorie I put into my body, and whether it was healthy enough. As such, my weight continued to drop. I grew weaker and weaker as I pushed myself harder and harder in the pool, and ate less and less calories. The result was a miserable end of the season, as I had no strength left to be able to swim to the best of my ability. With swimming over, I knew I had a chance to bulk up, and hope to come back strong for my senior season.

However, things only continued to snowball. I began to feel fat whenever I ate, no matter what I ate or how much I ate. I felt like I had to compensate for it by pushing myself harder with exercise, whether it was cardio, pushups, ab work, whatever. I continued to lose even more weight, and grow weaker and weaker. This persisted throughout the summer, until I had dropped to a weight roughly 15 pounds less than what I had weighed in high school.

This did not stop when I returned to school. I could not control the negative spiral I had put myself in. I obsessed about meals to the point where I would wake up in the middle of the night worrying about what I would eat the next day. It consumed my every thought, and distracted me from my class work. I felt fat unless I was working out about 2.5 hours a day, every day. My weight continued to drop. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to swim with any sort of effectiveness, so I quit the team, prematurely ending my competitive swimming career. By the time I hit Thanksgiving, I was down to 146 pounds when I had weighed 165 in high school. I was weak, constantly cold, and miserable. I hated myself for being unable to pull myself out of the spiral.

My parents knew about my problem since the summer. They tried to help me as best they could, but there was only so much they could do. I went to the counseling center in October in order to seek help to break the mental rut I was in. It helped, but not a lot. And when I was at my grandmother’s over Thanksgiving break, sitting on the couch after another day of driving myself into the ground in the pool and the weight room. I had a terrible thought that I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t know any more if I cared whether or not I was slowly killing myself.

I was horrified. I knew I really didn’t want to kill myself, but the thought that there was even a question of whether or not I cared that I was driving myself into oblivion terrified me. I lay there for a long time, contemplating how to deal with this, how to pull myself out of my funk, and how to get my life back on track. I suppose I knew all along that I would have to tell my parents, somehow, that they would have to help me through it. However, admitting such weakness to them, or to anyone, has always been a problem for me. I’ve always wanted to seem cool, calm, and totally in control of everything; a hard worker in everything I do, and someone who was in complete control of their life. The reality was that now, I was anything but what I wanted to be. And despite the fact that I cherish self-reliance, I knew I had to suck it up and admit that this time I really, truly, couldn’t do it alone.

So I told them about the thought, and everything else that came with it. I told them about how I was feeling disconnected from those around me, that music and other previous interests no longer gave me a thrill, and, most painful of all, I admitted to them that I had not felt sexually aroused in nearly a year. I told them that I felt guilty about all of this, and that I knew I should be better, and that I needed to find a way to regain control of my life. Lastly, I admitted that this was not possible if I tried to do it alone. I knew I needed help, and I figured if I couldn’t turn to them, I couldn’t turn to anyone.

They responded with the greatest sympathy imaginable. My father, a doctor, told me I had the classic symptoms of depression. I believed him, and told my counselor about everything that happened. Finally, it seemed like there was a reason behind everything: behind my negative feelings, weight loss, and general misery. It seemed like for the first time, I had somewhere to begin in overcoming all that ailed me.

Now, I am on the recovery trail. I have not gained much weight, but I am no longer afraid of eating and am eating a lot more. I continue to work out, but allow my body to rest when it tells me to. And I am learning to be more open with myself and with others, and to acknowledge when I am weak and need help. I am hopeful that, over the course of several months, I will eventually gain my old strength and happiness back, and be able to get back on the right track in life.

I share this because I hope it helps someone out there. I hope that anyone out there who needs help and has been silent realizes from this that admitting a problem and seeking out help is not a sign of weakness; it is anything but. It is one of the most mature and responsible things you can do, and people will not reject you or spurn you for it. On the contrary, they will step up and be willing to drop everything to help you come out of the darkness and back into the light.

So please, learn from me and ask for help before things get too out of control. Sometimes it’s just impossible to fight all of life’s battles alone.


-Middlebury College