By Maggie Dunning
It’s how they dealt with difficulty, and they will never be fully recovered. The most important thing they have learned from having an eating disorder is that they have a voice and can use it.
Here are their stories.
“A few of my friends were watching me for a while at school. They were concerned about me and I kept telling them I was fine, and that I didn’t have any problems,” said Caitlin Smith, class of 2010.
Smith was diagnosed with bulimia during the spring semester of her freshman year at Southwestern.
“I had struggled for years and years and years without really admitting it to myself or anyone else,” said Smith.
Smith’s eating disorder developed from when she was a freshman in high school. She used it as a way to deal with her emotions about her parents’ divorce.
After years of counseling Smith knows that her bulimia was the result of trying to purge emotions through her eating habits.
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported 25 percent of college aged women use binging or purging as weight control techniques
Smith used the purging method to deal with her emotions while she was ill. Her purging technique was to exercise in excess and have a restricted diet as a way to manage her weight.
Anad.org reported that 95 percent of all the people who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25
Kate Givan, former student said, “My eating disorder really began when I was 12 or 13.”
Givan was bullied throughout elementary, middle and high school. She says that bullying was her trigger.
“When I was at school, I was simply trying to survive,” said Givan.
Givan was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. “The eating disorder became a way to numb everything out. When you are starving, you can’t feel any emotions. You can only really feel hunger,” said Givan.
Givan said she hit rock bottom with her illness in the middle of her sophomore year at Southwestern. At that point, she had stopped eating completely and could no longer walk up the 77 steps.
Givan remembers her friends were concerned about her, but they didn’t know what to do. In the end, one of her professors sent her home two weeks before the end of her sophomore year.
The professor told Givan she was too sick to be in school. She had to leave, that she needed professional help. Givan said that it sounds harsh, but those were the things she needed to hear.
Givan came back her junior year sicker than before and only lasted two weeks. The school asked her to leave to get treatment. She did.
She spent a total of 15 months in two hospitals receiving intense therapy, and says she has been in recovery for three years.
Anad.org reported anorexia as the third most common chronic illness among adolescents, “The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old.”
Sharon Shepard, licensed specialist clinical social worker, said, “More females than males have eating disorders, and the largest group is probably high school to college aged.”
Shepard said the media plays a part in the rising number of people being diagnosed with eating disorders. “All generations have someone they look up to. Someone they see as perfect, but they aren’t,” said Shepard.
Smith said, “My issues stemmed from emotional issues instead of the typical body image issues that you hear of girls having a lot of times.”
Givan said, “My eating disorder was never about looks. It was never about being thin or anything like that, which very few are.”
While Smith and Givan were suffered from their eating disorders, many things ran through their heads.
Smith said whatever was stressing her that day was what she focused on as she purged herself of everything she had eaten.
Whenever she felt uncomfortable, she turned to her eating disorder for comfort.
For Givan it was a number on a scale. That number was one that would never be good enough. No matter how many times she made her weight goal, it was never enough.
By the time she sought treatment she weighed as much as she did when she was two years old.
Smith wants people to ask for help. If anyone needs it for any reason, she encourages students to ask for it.
“They shouldn’t be embarrassed about it,” Smith said, “It’s something that you can’t control. People might tell you that you have a choice to control it or not. But most of the time, it gets to the point where you physically can’t control it anymore.”
Both women said that if it hadn’t been for people at Southwestern, they would not have gone to get treatment when they did.
Givan said, “For me, unfortunately I was what we call, ‘so far down the rabbit hole’ that I had to have someone pull me up out of that. I was very fortunate to have people at Southwestern… to do that for me.”
Smith said, “Once they were talking to me about it and pushing me to get help, I had to accept the fact that I did have a problem. I went to Student Life and had them help me find the necessary treatment that I needed.”
Givan said, “If I would have continued the way I was, my heart would probably have stopped. They saved my life.”
Maggie Dunning is a sophomore majoring in communication. You may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.