There are some types of axioms that make up your mental health diagnoses. Probably for health insurance, I don’t really know. But I know my primary is Bipolar 1 Disorder with mania, psychotic-whatever features. And my secondary diagnoses are general anxiety disorder, ADHD and anorexia nervosa. Sometimes depression is thrown in the mix.
Anorexia is something that I have had a weird relationship with for as long as I can remember. I can remember, at a young age that I played a video game called DDR, a game where you dance on a mat connected to the TV and it has a calorie count in the corner. As a child I asked my dad “how many calories are in a pound?” He said, “3,600 calories are in a pound”. He was definitely concerned as to why I cared at such a young age, but life went on. I was astonished as to the large number of calories that equal one pound on my body. I freaked out mentally and wanted to dance forever to get into a calorie deficit.
I remember being in 1st grade. I was 6 years old and my parents had this amazing 3 angle mirror in the hallway of their individual walk-in closets… it was a ridiculously amazing hallway. But I looked at myself and at that young of an age; I determined that I was pregnant. That was the only plausible reason for my stomach being so large. I was 6 years old. I didn’t know where babies came from but I couldn’t believe my body. Looking back, it’s like I thought I was the Virgin Mary but in reality, it was my budding eating disorder and probably a sort of body dysmorphia
Fast-forward to 11 years old and my second major panic moment of, I’m going to be fat for life. I started taking pictures of my body, my love handles, my thighs, and my stomach. I wanted the picture so I could compare progress during dieting. I wanted a before and an after progression. I wasn’t struggling physically, yet, but I was emotionally and mentally.
I went to high school and would binge eat unhealthy food like ice cream sundaes before my 3 hour swim practice. But during the day I was restricted to fruit, oatmeal, turkey and scrambled eggs, I didn’t weigh my food or count how much I ate, but those were my “safe foods” and I could have as much as I wanted. I was a competitive swimmer and I had an average body weight for my height, I wasn’t physically suffering, just yet.
Fast forward, again, to college. It was hard to escape the late night pizzas, long days of tailgating football games to napping to drinking at night and waking up with weird food in my bed. I basically put my diet on “hold”. I ate foods I deemed healthy in an orthorexic way but I never calorie counted. Until I graduated.
I had a weird college time line so my actual graduated of Spring 2015 ended up being Summer 2016 due to being mentally ill. When I had my first manic episode I became extremely anorexic. A glass of juice would constitute as 2 meals, breakfast and lunch. I was convinced that the medications I was put on would make me fat. I was so manic, I had no appetite so it didn’t matter to me much. The “meals” I ate, I would purge. I had no shame about puking in an NYC restaurant bathroom with a line out the door.
After I was stabilized, anorexia followed me right into my core. I moved up to Boston and I had my first manic episode away from my parents. At first, I lost 10 pounds in less than a month. I don’t remember much. I just remember leaving the hospital and being happy with the fact that I looked thin and I wanted to keep myself that way. I remembered that I was once really thin from a manic episode then I let myself go..that wasn’t going to happen this time around.
The mentality of maintaining “thinness” sent me into actual anorexia nervosa. I calorie counted to a T. I had a food scale. I had multiple food calorie counting apps on my phone. I had multiple body weight scales that I hid in my closet from my roommates. I logged EVERYTHING. I hated dinner; I went months without consuming dinner or lunch. I had numerous food rules. I became secretive and a liar. I would plan binges when I needed to breakdown and when I did, I would purge it up in my closet. I would sometimes have garbage bags of vomit in my closet for days. I hated living with roommates because I couldn’t live out anorexia and bulimia.
I moved out. I moved into a studio, closer to work but ultimately I needed it so I could weigh myself in peace, binge eat in peace, starve myself in peace, occasionally exercise (if my energy level allowed) and live out my eating disorder.
Paranoia is already a huge part of being bipolar. But add on anorexia nervosa and paranoia exponentially multiples. Co-workers noticed how thin I became. I would be asked what I had for lunch. I would be asked how I have no body fat yet never work out anymore.
I was the worst version of myself. I was miserable yet I loved trying on a 00 and having it fit poorly. It’s the most twisted knowledge. I would spend more time in a grocery store than you could ever imagine, just taking in nutrition facts, mentally calculating if I could consume it, usually no. Once I got so drunk, at 4am I raided a guys’ fridge I was dating at the time. I was so embarrassed he figured out my ED, he didn’t. I once ordered 5 pizzas, individually, after going out. I was so hungry and so drunk. The delivery man kept showing up in 5 minute intervals and I was so confused as to where these pizzas were coming from.
Eventually, I couldn’t do it. I decided I needed to seek out help. I found a dietician and a therapist who specializes in food and former athletes. Perfect match. They both dumped me because I basically refused to follow what they said. I didn’t want to eat carbs and this and that for breakfast. I loved my controlled diet. I couldn’t eat my fear foods. I couldn’t eat dinner. I couldn’t go to events revolving around food.
I went a long time of eating 600 or less calories a day. But as time went on, I became manic. And with mania came alcohol. Wine slowed down my mind. And wine came calories and eventually, drunk eating happened. I remember specifically, my birthday. I was going to Martha’s Vineyard with my mom. I would be in a bikini the entire weekend. The night beforehand, I was of course drunk and ate an entire dominos pizza. I couldn’t stop asking my mom if I looked fat. In retrospect, I was 25 pounds skinnier than I am now.
I don’t know what happened. Mania took over. I went to the hospital. Thin as a rail but no one cared. Mania and bipolar was my first priority so that’s what was taken care of. It was lithium levels, sleep, mood stabilization, etc. But I left the hospital and ever since, my anorexia has come and gone. I still weigh myself from time to time but what really saved me was running. With running, I’m not able to starve myself. I need fuel in this furnace to complete a half-marathon or just simply commute to work. Sometimes, I’m afraid I’ve turned the “#strongnotskinny” corner but, to be honest, it’s better than the way anorexia took over my life.
The point I want to drive home is that, bipolar, schizophrenia, major mental illnesses that debilitate you, have such a huge impact. But there are so many crossovers with addiction, ADHD, OCD, anxiety and more. It’s tough to my “secondary” illnesses to get the attention they need. I’m still working on bringing them forward with my doctors. It can feel scary to me. But it’s important because sometimes, I can’t help my bipolar recovery if I don’t have my anorexia under control.