Dying for a Crown
- Tuesday, February 21, 2006
I could sense the frustration in the young doctor's stern voice.
"You look like a prisoner in a Nazi death camp! You are starving, Sharon. You have to start eating." Dr. Fenton had been assigned to my case while doing her residency in psychiatry. I was one of her first anorexic patients.
I developed the eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, two months into my first hospitalization for major clinical depression. Having grown up believing I was fat, it pleased me to be losing weight so easily. This is the one good thing to come out of this miserable experience, I thought.
I believed I had the illness under control and planned to return to eating normally once I was thin enough. But anorexics live in a world where normal is not possible, lies become truth, and reality is ignored. This is a place where flesh is fat and bone is beautiful. There is no such thing as "thin enough." Giving in to physical needs is weakness; wasting and withering are signs of strength.
My anorexia was partially a response to living an existence that always seemed frighteningly out of control. With my depression, life had become completely unmanageable. My body became my kingdom, the only thing I could rule. The treasures of the land were hollow cheeks and stick legs. My crown was made of bones.
Although I was a believer in Christ and knew God loved me, I always sensed I was, in some way, flawed, substandard, inferior. I desperately tried to hide this "truth" from others. By carefully controlling my behavior, my performance, and even my emotions, I believed I might be able to control what others thought about me. I didn't understand God's depth of love for me just as I was.
I worked very hard and managed to make people believe I was a bright, talented, decent person. The more praise I received, the better I felt about myself. I began gauging my value by my achievements and deeds.
I burned out at the age of twenty-six. Exhausted, I no longer had the energy to do anything. I couldn't concentrate on the simplest of tasks and lost interest in all the activities I had previously enjoyed. I withdrew from others, just wanting to be alone, quiet, and still. I had everything to live for--a loving husband and two beautiful daughters--but I began to long for death. I felt like a failure as a mother and a wife.
My first admission to the psychiatric ward came just days after my baby, Jenna's, first birthday. As the door to the unit closed behind me, I thought, What is someone like me doing in a place like this? I felt defeated and confused. My days of achieving had ended; my greatest accomplishments became getting showered and dressed in the morning.
My need to succeed at something, and my lifelong dissatisfaction with my body, made me vulnerable to anorexia nervosa. The quest for thinness became my new focus in life, something to fill the void, and I worked hard at it. My thoughts became consumed with calories, my weight, and ways to avoid eating. As I reached weight-loss goals I had set for myself, I was still dissatisfied with my appearance. "Just five more pounds" became my mantra.
The illness progressed and I became increasingly weak. While someone else cared for my children, I slept eighteen hours a day.
I grew battle-weary. I longed for a normal life and knew my first step would have to be to give up the quest for "thin enough." I resolved to start eating healthy meals again, but soon discovered it would not be easy.
I always felt terribly guilty, defeated, and angry with myself after I ate. One evening after finishing a meal, I was leaving the hospital dining room when I heard a hideous voice inside my head. Full of loathing, it screamed at me, You fat pig! Why did you eat that? You've ruined everything! I had never heard anything like it before. It was very frightening. My doctor knew I was struggling, but I never told her about the enemy in my head.
The harder I worked to get well, the more vocal the hateful being became. No, no, no was all I could hear. I felt like two people in one body, one who wanted to live and another who wanted me dead. I realized I was no longer in control. Someone, or something, had seized my throne and it appeared I was now at its mercy. Each day I became weaker. I tried to eat but often was too tired to even chew.
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