I am twenty four years old and I am supposed to be graduating from college this spring, yet instead I am laying in a hospital bed, hoping and praying that this essay will be acceptable enough for my professors to allow me to pass spring semester (we'll get more into that later, though).
It all started my freshman year of high school. Well, technically it started before then with the self esteem abuse and all, but the physical symptoms didn't start until then. My brother was "the big man on campus". Everyone knew him. He was and still remains a legend at Dewey High School. So, when I entered the school a year later, I was known as "Mike's sister". Even worse than that was when the teacher's took attendance the first day of class. When they'd call out, "Seaver, Carol…" he or she would pause, glare at me, sigh, and say, "Are you by any chance related to Michael Seaver?" I'd nod weakly, knowing what was coming next. They'd then say, "Figures. I guess I have my work cut out for me again this year." But after a few weeks the teachers realized they didn't have their work cut out for them because I was the total opposite of Mike. So, then I became "teacher's pet" and was considered, by the adults of course, "a role model that the youth of today should follow". The freshman class caught on to that pretty quickly, and, with the help of Mike I'm sure, I was labeled, "Princess Nerd". Therefore, I went from having no identity, ("Mike's sister" ), to an identity that no one would want in a matter of weeks. That's when it really started. I didn't like myself. I never had. But high school just made it ten times worse. I was starting to realize I could never be anybody if all anybody ever saw me as was a sister or a nerd. I'd rather be dead.
Home didn't help much either. Of course I had mom. She was always there to lift my spirits-and dad too…well, he tried at least. But the year I start a bunch of new beginnings mom decides that we are all old enough for her to go back to work as a journalist. Umm…excuse me but has she not ever heard of teenage drama and insecurities? Fourteen is the prime for self esteem issues and is when a girl needs her mom the most. I was also the middle child. Even though I never severely suffered from "middle child syndrome" (I got the attention I needed because I was the only girl), I still felt outnumbered. I had an older, wise cracking, brother, and a younger pest of a brother, Ben. They'd gang up on me every chance they got. And the insults would come left and right. "Skunk breath," "Dork face," (I had obnoxiously big red glasses at the time), "Einstein," "Goody Two Shoes Carol," "Grade Grubber,"…okay you get the point. Usually, I'd laugh them off and come up with some clever, witty, remark of my own. I mean that's what siblings are for right-to insult one another? I should have been able to just shrug it off and acknowledge the fact that that was just their way of telling me that they love me, but I couldn't just shrug it off. I'm too sensitive I guess.
So, that's why at dinner one day in late October 1985, when Mike studied my plate and commented, "Carol, are you really going to eat all of that? You're eyes must be bigger than your stomach…oh, wait they are!" (note my big red glasses), I decided that he was right. I did eat like a pig, and maybe I should stop. Not just stop eating like a pig, but just stop eating altogether. I mean, I obviously wasn't in control over anything in my life anymore, so why not take control of the one thing no one else could do a thing about…my body.
Of course, I didn't just stop eating everything right off the bat. No, it took time. I'd sit in my room and make food charts and meal plans. I'd set a "target weight" for each week. Doing these things made me feel good. And for once I was actually excited about something.
I started losing my baby fat, and people were noticing. I also finally convinced my mom that I was old enough to get contacts…and that helped. I was getting compliments on my new look, and the more compliments I got the less I'd eat. I was eating less and less and less and less and Bobby…oh, Bobby.
Bobby came into my world at the right time. My anorexia was just about to take over my life when Bobby entered instead. Yes, I know it is an unrealistic thing for the captain of the football team to date the captain of the chess team, but we really did date. Bobby made me happy and not just about my future, but about myself. I was finally feeling confident. And Mike and Ben's comments didn't seem to bother me all that much anymore. I was gaining popularity at school too…okay, maybe not. I was still Princess Nerd, but Princess Nerd who had a hot boyfriend and became homecoming queen her sophomore year. And just like that I felt that it was okay for me to eat again; all within reason of course.
But like the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and so did my relationship with Bobby.
That was the worst time of my life. Mike did became a little more understanding and a little more relaxed on the insults during this time. Needless to say, my anorexia came back in full force. Loss of control is a MAJOR trigger of anorexia. And Mike soon forgot about his sympathetic act, and not long after the insults came back full force as well. Unfortunately, while I was dating Bobby I gained some weight. Not a lot, but enough to notice. What can I say? We went on a lot of dinner dates, okay? So, now my brother's insults transferred from "Princess Nerd" to "Porky Pig Face". You just don't call an anorexic that. But Mike and Ben didn't know, and I wasn't about to tell them. The truth of it is, is that I kind of liked their insults, in a weird twisted sort of way. I mean it gave me an excuse to feel sorry for myself; an excuse to hate myself; an excuse to starve myself.
I was exercising all the time. If I wasn't at school or studying I was exercising. One afternoon I was up in my room exercising to some music, just minding my own business, when BOOM! I feel through the floor. Yes, I, Carol Seaver, can honestly say that I feel through a floor. Don't worry I wasn't that fat. We had termites. But I made myself believe that tiny bugs couldn't cause the floor to collapse, but a fat, clumsy, girl surely could. Until my family found out about my disease I never lived it down. Every day someone would make a comment on the "Carol's Big Fall" incident.
I think, or I would like to think, that my parents knew what was going on. They'd make comments like, "Carol, your father and I are concerned you aren't eating enough." Or, "Carol, please stop exercising so excessively. It's scaring your mother and me." Lucky for me (or lucky for me at the time), concerns for me were brushed off by the birth of my baby sister, Chrissy. They were preoccupied with her…and Mike. Mike was secretly getting involved with Chrissy's nanny, Julie, and when they found out there was drama galore.
It seemed like whenever I thought I had my anorexia under control something would come up and make it worse…and I didn't think it could get worse than what it already was. I had met an older college guy named Sandy. He was smart, cute, and funny…and he liked me! I was so happy to be in a relationship again. I wanted to eat…notice a pattern here? We went out once or twice or three times….who's counting? He was known to drink a bit too much at times. Inevitably, he ended up in a car accident. I went to visit him in the hospital and everything seemed fine. He was joking around and it seemed like all would be okay. But, that same day I came home to find Mike all shaken up. He said that he just received a phone call that Sandy had died. At first I thought it was some sick joke, but it wasn't. Life just got more screwy from there. I didn't get into Columbia my first semester of college and it wasn't because of academics; it was because of lack of dorm space. I got a job as an proof reader and liked it. I did my job so well that shortly after I started I was made manager. I wanted to stay. Forget Columbia. Forget law. I mean, they obviously didn't want me, so why would I want them? My parent's thought otherwise and convinced me to give Columbia a try. Can't you see the lack of control in my life?
I was losing weight rapidly. My dad, a psychiatrist, was starting to recognize what was going on. My moods were out of control; I was barely functioning. He sat me down with my mother and told me he wanted me to start seeing a psychiatrist. I reluctantly agreed just to get him off my back, but I swore I would continue my ways no matter what my shrink suggested. My shrink decided that I needed to enter a rehab center for awhile, so I could gain a few pounds under "24 hour supervision". Umm…excuse me but making an anorexic gain a few pounds under care then sending them out into the world again does not rid them of their anorexia. If anything it makes them worse. Which is what happened to me. Or, what would have happened to me if I decided to stay. I was over eighteen and not about to stay there. After a week (it was a six week program) I decided I had had enough. I checked myself out and was on my way back to my old destructive ways. Personally, I don't want to go into great lengths about my first hospital stay because it was one of the worst experiences of my life, and the memories of it just make me sick.
I somehow convinced my parents that I was on the road to recovery. They believed me, but I think in their heart of hearts they knew I wasn't better. They just wanted to believe it so bad.
The months passed and I kept living with this secret struggle. Our family took in a homeless boy named Luke. I never got to know him very well, because the semester he came I got accepted into an academic program to go study in London. Very exciting. I missed my family a lot, but I also felt an extreme relief that I didn't have to hide my eating habits while I was away. I couldn't help but miss Chrissy the most though. She was now four and a mini Mike (but with her big sister's intellect). She was such a comic relief to my dramatic nightmare. As sad as it may sound, she was my best friend. Yep, my four year old sister was my best friend.
In 1992, my mom got a job offer in Washington D.C. So, I watched my family drive off to start a new adventure. Mike and I stayed in New York. I was in my second year of college and not about to leave. I mean, this change was bad enough, and starting off in a new city would just make it ten times worse.
I visited often. Perhaps, that wasn't a good idea. My sister idolized me and copied everything I did…including my eating. I didn't recognize it then, but last summer when I was visiting I did.
We had just finished supper. I actually ate. And since I ate, I was headed to the bathroom to throw it up. But, when I walked by the door I saw my seven year old sister leaning over the toilet.
"Chrissy, are you sick?" I asked.
She looked at me confused. "No."
"Then why did you just throw up."
"I'm trying to lose weight."
I laughed, nervously. "Chrissy, you're seven. You don't need to lose weight."
"Well, look at you Carol. You're skinnier than me, but you're dieting all the time."
"Where did you learn to throw your meals up?" I asked, hoping the answer wouldn't be '"from you, Carol."'
"From you, Carol. I've seen you do it ever since we've lived on Long Island. At first I thought it was gross, but once we moved and you were far away from me, I felt connected to you by doing this. I want to be just like you; even if it means throwing up and being super tiny."
Great. I turned my seven year old sister into an anorexic Now I really needed to throw up, and not because I wanted to. "Chrissy, this is dangerous. Promise me you will never do this again."
"Only if you promise me you will never do this gain."
I was disgusted with myself. I went downstairs and found Mike sitting on the deck. I explained to him what had just happened.
"Then you need to stop." He said.
"Mike, I can't. It's not that simple."
"If you care about Chrissy then you will."
"Mike, I can't just stop like that. Don't you realize I've been this way for years? I can't just stop."
Mike looked at me with sympathetic eyes. "Carol, have you really been that sick?"
Tears started to flood down my face. "Yes, Mike, for years…"
"Carol, how could we not have noticed?"
"I hid it well. And you all did notice. Just no one wanted to believe."
"You need to get help."
"Mike! I don't want to." At this time I was in full blown tears.
He grabbed my shoulders, and for the first time ever, I saw him cry. "Carol, we love you. You need help. If you don't want to do it for yourself, then do it for Chrissy."
Do it for Chrissy. I did it for Chrissy. That's why I am here now fighting off this paralyzing disease. I don't want to watch my sister go through the same hell I went through. I am getting better. It's a slow process. My family has been great. They have been supportive every step of the way. We go to family therapy. The doctor said if I keep up the progress I can leave the hospital in June, as long as I promise to attend therapy everyday for one year.
Anorexia is always going to be with me. It's something that will never fully go away. But with the support of my family and friends I know I can make it through. You know, I always feared that if I stopped being anorexic I would lose total control and everything would become very stressful, and overwhelming, but the truth of it is, is that releasing anorexia is the biggest stress reliever. I feel more relaxed and more in control over my body then I have since I was fourteen years old.
Because I was top in my class and my professors didn't want me to miss graduating because I was sick, they decided that it would be acceptable for me to write a paper recapping my journey with anorexia. I also agreed to head up a program at Columbia to inform people about the dangers of eating disorders. I hope I was able to explain myself well enough. I hope you all can understand me a little better. I hope you all weren't expecting a more dramatic twist. I'm sorry if this was disappointing or boring, but this was my true account, and I can't make it any better or worse. It is what it is. My biggest wish is that someone who reads this will be able to relate in some way, shape, or form and will seek help; whether it be from me, a teacher, a doctor, a friend, or family member. Seek help before it's too late. Before you find your little sister throwing up because she saw you do it and thinks it's cool. It's not cool.