Marissa’s Story

My name is Marissa and I am fully recovered from an eating disorder. But I wasn’t always this way. I have been dancing ever since I was three years old, I started competition dance when I was in fifth grade and have had a love for dance since I started. So, the summer before I started my first year of high school, I didn’t want to go back to dance I knew deep down that something was going on. I didn’t want to admit that negative thoughts were creeping their way into my brain so I went around acting as if nothing was wrong. When the first day of ninth grade came around I was so excited to see what the future would hold for me; this was a new chapter of my life! I started out the school year joining my school’s cross-country team, and throwing a fit every time I had to go to dance practice. About half way through the cross-country season I started having excruciating pain in my foot/ankle. I went to an orthopedic doctor where they later said I had a stress fracture and couldn’t finish the cross-country season, and that I would have to take some time off from dance. I didn’t even know what to think. At that time, I was also in an unhealthy relationship with a boy who always talked about not eating and wanted to get “skinnier”. I would have to say that’s when I first really started to picture myself in an unhealthy way. Thankfully that relationship ended; but I never realized how much I absorbed of what he talked about and never realized that it stuck with me.

For about a month I had to keep a boot on my bad foot to prevent further injuries. I had to drop out of dance because I was missing to much of the material and wouldn’t be ready for competition. I was mad at myself because I thought that it was all my fault that I couldn’t participate in any of my sports and work to be the best. Finally, when I got my boot off it was pretty much time for spring track and field. I was ready to work hard and be the best that I could be. Throughout the season I was in more pain than I thought I would be in. I started seeing a trainer that would help my form when running so it wouldn’t hurt as much. I still beat myself up over every little thing no matter what though. One person on the track team that really helped me try and stay positive was one of the captains named Andrew. He was so good at running and I admired him. By the end of the track season we had realized that we liked each other and decided to go out. Everything seemed as if they were perfect; until they weren’t. As freshmen year came to an end I wanted to start sophomore year being the best runner on the cross-country team. I saw all the celebrities on social media doing all sorts of diets and I figured that I would try one to be “healthier”. At first it wasn’t anything harmless. As the summer went on I kept seeing all these advertisements about how “this food is bad” or “this food will help you lose weight” before I knew it I was cutting important nutrients out of my life. I ran everyday thinking that I was helping myself. By the end of the summer my parents started to get really concerned about my eating habits and my excessive exercising. I remember at the end of the summer my mom said to me “I think you have an eating disorder”. I thought that she was crazy; there was no way I could have an eating disorder. Andrew and I hadn’t seen each other pretty much all summer because I was to busy focusing on my “healthy lifestyle”. When he voiced his concerns I finally told him that my mom thought I had an eating disorder. But I quickly replied by saying “its not true though, I’m fine”. A few weeks after Andrews and I’s conversation I didn’t really speak with him just because he was trying to help me and I didn’t think I needed any help. One afternoon I was at practice and it was the day before one of our meets. We started practice and I wasn’t feeling that great. I couldn’t even run a lap without getting tired. My coach saw that I was upset and asked if I was okay; it was then and only then I admitted to someone that I had an eating disorder. Because I didn’t finish practice I thought I wasn’t deserving of nourishment that night so I went to bed early. The next day we headed to a meet at Upper Cape Regional Technical School. I remember this day vividly for the reason being it would be my last meet for that season. I got to the point where I was stressing myself out so much I would have panic attacks and start balling my eyes out before each meet. This one was different. I was nervous but saved the tears till after that god-awful gun went off to begin the meet. As I started running I felt lonely and anxious I started having a panic attack trying to run my fastest. I was almost half way done with the meet when my teammate clasped to the ground I remember stopping and trying to help her. She was on the ground crying and I didn’t know what to do. I ran my fastest to get my coach who was a good distance away. Needless to say, I never finished the race and she had to be rushed to the hospital where she was later said to be okay. Because of all the commotion my coach decided that he would cancel practice. The next day would forever be the day that changed my life for the better.

Because of my excessive exercise and lack of eating my mom thought it would be a good idea to get some blood work done at my doctors. As I was in the room waiting for my doctor; I remember being so cold. The doctor came in listened to my heart and tried to take some blood; key-word “tried”. She couldn’t even get the blood out of me. She then called another doctor in to see if he could draw my blood. I remember it hurt so bad as he jabbed the needle in my arm. I remember he was yelling at me saying that I had to eat and that this wasn’t good. I started crying uncontrollably. It was the worst moment of my life. My doctor then said that she wanted me to go to make sure everything was okay. I remember I was so upset and I didn’t even want to go. As I was sitting next to my mom shivering my name was finally called and I thought to myself “good now I can go home soon”. Little did I know that was far from true. The nurse walked out of the room for a few minutes asking me to stay there. She then came back in to my room and I was so malnourished they had me go to the ER. I thought it was so unnecessary. As she wheeled a wheelchair up I looked at her and said “I can walk”. She gave me a look and said I’ll just wheel you down there. I remember getting asked all these questions and getting my hospital wristband. I got my own room which was rare; but I was thankful. I remember the nurses trying to get an IV in my arm; the same spot where my doctor got my blood. I was screaming and crying in pain. I just wanted to go home. The doctor came in and asked me all these questions and I answered them to the best of my ability. After a couple hours in the ER the doctor came in and said that they were going to transfer me another treatment center because there wasn’t much else they could do for me there. I remember the EMT’s coming in and putting me in the ambulance. It wasn’t long before I was awaiting a room at the new treatment center. I remember overhearing the EMT’s giving report to the doctors. They said “Anorexic 15-year-old female…” I didn’t even hear what else they said; I was to caught up on the word “Anorexic” that wasn’t me they were talking about I was fine.

It was at that moment I realized this was serious. I was awaiting a room for 4 hours listening at my heart monitor; I was scared. Eventually I got a room where I would call home for the next week.

When I entered my room, it was about 2:00 in the morning; the room was dark. I had a double room but there didn’t seem to be anyone in the bed next to me. I tried my best to sleep but all I could think about was what was going to happen next. Not knowing was causing me so much anxiety. About 4:30 in the morning someone was transported into my room waking me up. I remember not being able to sleep after that. Finally, the morning came and all these different types of doctors came in. honestly there were so many I didn’t even know which one was which. It was so overwhelming. I remember the nutritionist coming in my room and talking to my mom about a specific meal plan. My mom picked out each meal for each day. it was so overwhelming to even think about food at this point. I was so malnourished I couldn’t even get up to use the bathroom. I was given a commode right next to my bed. It was the most awkward thing; to go to the bathroom with just a certain separating you from this person that you don’t even know. I remember crying almost every two hours just wanting to go home. I remember getting so much food and having to eat it in thirty minutes with a certified nursing assistant sitting there watching me eat. I remember the thirty minutes being a problem because even before my struggle I was a slow eater; always the last one at the dinner table. I remember the looks on my mom and dads faces. They were so sad and I hated it. Not being able to move for an hour after you just stuffed your small stomach with food was the hardest thing to do. I ate for my parents and my eating disorder raged after I was done. I remember getting up to go look out the window of my room. And the nurse came in and said “I can’t let you walk around to much”. She then gave me a heating pad for my stomach pain. After a few days I found myself getting really comfortable in the hospital. Finally, I was able to walk to the bathroom. And they let me take a shower! I thought I would never be that excited to take a shower. But when it was four days I couldn’t wait. I remember the roommates coming in and out in and out; one by one. I felt as if this hospital room was my new home. I remember all my friends came to visit me and I was so excited to see them. I had missed my semi-formal dance that week because of being in the hospital and they wanted to cheer me up. I remember faking a smile and acting like everything was okay. A few of my family members came to visit and it was really good to see them too. One afternoon a special visitor came to visit me; Andrew. I remember him coming in my room with flowers and a new Bruins blanket (my favorite sports team EVER!). The only word that I said to him was “thank you”. That’s it; he was in my room for thirty minutes. What did he do to deserve that kind of treatment? It wasn’t me though; my eating disorder had taken over all my emotions and hid them deep inside me. On the outside I was there but, on the inside, I wasn’t; the happy, outgoing Marissa was gone. My dad had told me that he felt so bad for Andrew. He told me that I should break up with him. My dad even told him personally to just leave. But he wasn’t having it. He knew that it wasn’t me and he was determined to help me through this dark time in my life. On the sixth day of my stay my mom took me outside to a garden and wheeled me around. It was so good to get out of my room! The next day was my discharge day! I already had a treatment plan planned out for me but that wouldn’t start till the next week. I got discharged right after dinner. I remember my dad had to go into work so we were waiting in the lobby for him to come. I was sitting watching my fish in the fish tank and when I looked up I saw my grandmother from Arizona walking towards me with open arms. I remember looking out the window of my mom’s car leaving. I was thinking to myself “how am I going to do this?”. It felt so good to see my house when I finally arrived home; I felt like it had been forever. That night I wanted to relax in the bath so my mom helped me and I remember feeling ashamed of myself; like I had done my eating disorder wrong. My Granma stayed with me that night in my room and we talked for hours. It was refreshing to actually have a conversation with someone that didn’t revolve around my eating disorder. My Granma has always been good at that though; calming me down and making me feel safer and happier.

The following Monday I entered my partial hospitalization program treatment facility. I remember feeling anxious, annoyed, and a part of me still felt as if I didn’t need this. I meant with the head clinician and she took my vital signs and she talked to me about what I would do here. The following day there I was sitting in a treatment room with strangers that I didn’t even know. It didn’t take long though for me to learn their names and become close friends with them. They understood me, and I understood them. The first time I was eating in their dining room I remember I was so nervous I was choking on my snack and I was so embarrassed. I thought to myself “this is hard enough as it is”. For a snack they gave me something I didn’t like and I told them I didn’t like it but I still had to eat it. Nothing got me angrier than that very moment. I thought to myself “you’re not going to eat something you don’t like in life.” A few weeks later we were having our challenge lunch and I was having a challenge food. I guess I didn’t eat it in enough time because I was forced to drink a protein supplement. I really wasn’t a fan of it I thought it tasted like rotten eggs; but that was the last time I ever ran out of time during our challenge meal. The clinicians also told us that protein supplements aren’t the best for our bodies. Our bodies are supposed to chew and swallow food so it can get distributed to all of our cells. Our bodies have a harder time digesting those types of drinks. After learning that, it was another reason to always finish my food; so, I was giving my body the best possible nutrients. Day by day things seemed to get somewhat easier. One day after treatment I was outside. At this point I had been out of school for about two weeks and things weren’t squared away yet. Andrew was nice enough to bring some of my classwork to my house so I could do it. I remember it was the first time my Granma was meeting him, and I wasn’t very nice at all. I ignored him; besides saying thank you. Looking back, I don’t know how I could’ve treated him like that when he was just trying to help. Later that night my Granma and I were talking. She had asked why I was so harsh? I couldn’t even give her an answer because I honestly had no idea why. After a week out of the hospital and my PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program) my Granma went back home to Arizona. She had told me she would text me every day to see how I was doing. That’s the only reason why I let her leave, I was going to miss her.

Treatment was going pretty well within the first month I was there. I was at a point where I said that I was never going to leave and that I just wanted to stay there for the rest of my life. Obviously that it wasn’t realistic. But at that time, I didn’t care; everything that I have ever wanted was just impossible to me at that time. Since I go to a technical high school attendance is very important, and I obviously wasn’t in school for a while. Every day my mom would get a call from my school saying that I was out. after weeks of calling the school and telling them I wasn’t going to be in for a while; they still didn’t get the concept and kept calling. Eventually my therapist finally got through to them explaining that I was in treatment and suffering from Anorexia. They finally starting to excuse my absences and stopped calling my mom every day. I worked with tutors from my school for all of my subjects, they came to my house on the weekends so I could catch up on all of my school work. I also started taking an anti-depression/anxiety medication which after a few weeks helped me to think more clearly, and for once I saw hope in my future.  Another month went by and I was improving. I started coloring mandalas which helped me focus in treatment and really feel in touch with myself. Everything in my life at that moment seemed to be content until; One day I was sitting in treatment and I started to get excruciating pain in a lower abdomen. At first the pain was bearable but five minutes later I was hunched over the table crying in pain. One of the clinicians asked if I was getting my period, and I said that I didn’t think so. Eventually I couldn’t even sit and I started sweating profusely. They asked what it felt like and it felt as if someone was stabbing me from the inside out. I couldn’t even deal with the pain I thought I was going to vomit. One of the other clinicians took me to the bathroom; where I later realized that the pain I was feeling was my bodies way of saying I needed to use the bathroom. My body hadn’t been “normalized” in months. I didn’t even go to the bathroom in weeks. My body had no clue how to react. It was at that moment I realized that I needed to get myself healthier. My body couldn’t handle all this abuse anymore; I couldn’t handle it anymore.

Towards the end of my Partial Hospitalization Program all the friends I had made where starting to move up to the IOP program which is a night program that’s three nights a week. They all had their own ceremony’s where they were given a stone with their choice word on it. One by one they left until it was only me left. I hated being the only one there; it was very lonely. The curriculum was starting over again too. So, I was learning the same things that I had before. Eventually after three months in the Partial Hospitalization Program I got my own moving up ceremony with my own stone. I decided to put the word “Courage” on it. My reasoning for putting “Courage” on my stone was because it took a lot to finish every meal, and challenge snack. It took a lot to fight through the negativity in my head each and every day. And at that point I had gotten better but I still wasn’t where I needed to be. So, I figured that whenever I looked at my stone I would remember everything that I have accomplished so far, and it will help me to focus on the future.

Since I was moving up to the outpatient treatment program I would only have to go three days a week. And I was in the process of returning back to school. I meant with my guidance counselor to make sure the transition went as smooth as possible. I was never so nervous in my life to go back to school. I didn’t want anyone to know about my eating disorder, I didn’t want my friends to act differently around me. They said that I could ease into school by starting during a shop week. I would leave at eleven O’clock every day to eat lunch with my mom. I did that for about a week. Walking into my first IOP night it was refreshing to see my friends once again, and to meet some new people that were in the program. After my first week in IOP Andrew and I had a breaking point in our relationship. We had hit our sixth month anniversary. I invited him over for dinner; which was a HUGE step for me and my recovery. I remember being extremely happy that night; happier than I had ever been in a long time. Getting back to school was easier than I had ever anticipated. Until academics started. Of course, I haven’t been in school for about five months and nobody really knew where I was. When I was sitting in my first block class I felt so out of place; like I didn’t belong. There were so many rumors going around as to where I had been. The rumor that probably upset me the most was that people thought I was pregnant and that’s why I was out. Some of the things people were saying were so unnecessary and untrue it hurt me. I spent nights upstairs crying in my room feeling so alone. One night I was sitting in the kitchen with my parents and I got a text from one of my aunts which said “I heard you gained weight, congratulations!” when I read that I think a part of me fell apart. Here I was trying to recover and I get a text like that. I got so upset, my dad called her and explained that saying things like that hurt me rather than help me. She felt so bad but looking back today I know she was just trying to encourage me and show her love and support. But at that time, I honestly thought my life was over.

For the first month of IOP things seemed to be getting a lot better for me and my recovery process. I had good times and some bad times but I felt as if the light at the end of the tunnel was getting closer and closer to me day by day. one afternoon I was sitting in school when I got called down the cafeteria. I was confused but really didn’t think anything of it. As I walked in there were a few administration staff standing there. A few other students and I sat at the lunch table as a few more people walked in; what could this be about? Then the administrator started saying “all of you are here because you need to make up academic days.” So many emotions ran through my mind when I heard those words come out of her mouth. Make up days? I thought my absences were excused? I didn’t even know what to feel, sad mad, defensive? I think at that time I was a little of everything. When I got home I showed my mom the paper. My mom then showed my therapist and she called the school. She explained everything to them. After phone call after phone call my mom, therapist, and the school made an agreement. I would attend every Saturday school offered and I would have to go to school over February break. Little did I know that my Granma had paid for me to fly out to Arizona to visit her and my Pops over February vacation. When my mom tried explaining that to my principal she tried to tell my mom that it would be better if I canceled the trip to stay and make up school. My mom was beside herself. This trip was going to be so good for my recovery and well-being especially with everything that happened that past year. After so many phone calls and fights. I finally got to go see my Granma in Arizona and they moved my make-up-days to April vacation.

After a few months in the IOP program I started to find myself almost getting tired of it. I wanted to be done. All my friends were once again leaving and there I was still sitting in treatment. my last night of IOP I was sitting there and none of my friends were there it was someone new who didn’t even know me. It was kind of hard because I wanted to leave when all of my friends did. But I needed those few extra weeks to better myself and to feel strong enough to go out on my own.

Once I ended my treatment it was the end of winter and a new season was on it’s way. Spring track would be starting up and I was extremely nervous to start running again. Since running was one of the things I did excessively before I was in treatment. just when I thought that everything was going to go well the rest of this year I got called down to the cafeteria once again. They literally told me the same exact thing from the last time; this time talking about my shop days. I obviously was upset and when I talked to my mom she called the school livid because she had told them not to go through me but to just call her about the makeup days because it made me upset. Well my school didn’t listen because there I was crying; again. Every Thursday I had to go to the front desk and ask to fill out a paper to sign up for Saturday school. They started to recognize me so much the literally had the paper ready for me to sign every week. It became a new routine for me go to school all week, then Saturday school, and get one day off. On a nice day in early April I decided to wear a dress to school. This dress came to my knees and had quarter sleeves. It was cute and not tight at all. I was in shop on this specific week and I got a hall pass in homeroom saying I needed to be in the lecture hall at 8:00 a.m. I had no clue what it was about but I went. And sure, enough there I was sitting in the lecture hall listening to the faculty say how many days I had to make up. I tried not to let it bother me but that seemed impossible since I was doing the best that I could to make up all the school I had missed. As I was walking out of the lecture hall angrily I heard a voice from behind me say “excuse me” I didn’t really think anything of it until I heard “excuse me” again. I turned around to see this grumpy lady walking towards me. I was already mad as it was so I replied in an annoyed voice “yes” and she said “your dress is a little to short, come with me to the discipline office”. I rolled my eyes and thought to myself this cannot be happening right now. As I walked into the discipline office the lady left me with the head of discipline. I couldn’t take it anymore I broke down in tears. I finally had the courage to wear something that made me feel good about myself and here I am getting dress coded for it! The school psychiatrist had to come down to talk to me. They had a “new” pair of sweatpants waiting for me. I told them I wasn’t putting them on. They said that the package wasn’t even open yet. And I said that I didn’t care I’m not wearing them. They called my mom and my mom was so upset given that there was nothing wrong with my outfit. My mom came with some new clothes and I put them on hoping that it would meet my school’s approval; thankfully it did. The next few months I just made up school. When April vacation came there, I was making up school. Even after school ended there I was making up school in the summer. It was hard to overcome the negative thoughts. Every time I wanted to think positive something would happen that would just knock me down once again. Ever since that year I have been terrified to even miss a day of school. I never want to make it up again. Every week I would talk to my therapist and we would come up strategies on how I can have a healthier mind set when I’m in school since it just didn’t make me happy anymore.

Eventually my body began to heal on its own. I didn’t have as much reliance on medication. I learned coping skills that taught me whenever those negative thoughts come into my head to talk about them and reassure myself. I started feeling stronger and more balanced. Sometimes if I ever feel down about myself I take a break from social media for about a week. And I reflect on my life and how I’m living it. I always try to live in each moment and reflect often.

My eating disorder created a world of isolation and shame. The isolation was the food that fed my depression. But as I continued with therapy and continued to be mindful I started coming out of my shell. I connected with my friend group again. A hard time for me was being able to exercise freely again. Being able to participate in my sports again made me feel anxious. But after I returned I enjoyed hanging out with my team and they always helped me to feel comfortable and safe. Little by little things got somewhat easier. Months of eating my lunch in the guidance department slowly turned into lunch in the cafeteria with my friends. I started letting myself have fun and laugh again. I deserved it; we deserve it.

Not listening to my eating disorder voice was hard. But I talked with my therapist about them and together we came up with ways to lower that voice. Living in the moment, meditating and reflecting on my actions. Doing whatever makes me happy. I have a different perspective on life; its precious.

I have been recovered for almost two years now. I’ve made it through my junior year and I’m almost done with my senior year of high school. I started dancing again and I’m so happy to be with my dance team again; laughing and smiling. Everyday I’m so thankful for my family and close friends who have helped me each step of the way. Especially my mom and my Granma who sat with me through each and every meal and encouraged me to keep going. I can’t wait to start a new chapter in my life. I will be attending Curry College in the fall and majoring in Nursing which has been a dream of mine ever since I was a little girl. in my two years of recovery the one major thing I learned was to always talk to someone. I used to bottle up all my emotions until I just couldn’t handle it anymore and I would break down. Even though I still struggle talking about my feelings sometimes I have learned to talk and get it off my chest. I try each and every day to live in the moment and enjoy every little piece of what life has given me. My journey has been a roller coaster with its ups and downs and I still sometimes get those negative thoughts but life is too short to listen to them. Follow your dreams and live life to the fullest; that’s my motto.

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