By: Rachel Sheidler
In middle school I was the quiet girl in the corner. Naturally, because I was moving on to high school I didn’t want to be known as that girl anymore, so I turned to something I could be in control of: losing weight.
Little did I know that it would lead me down a path of anorexia. I can’t pinpoint the exact cause of my disease but I would venture to say it was the media bombarding young girls with pictures of beautiful, skinny women. I felt in order to be accepted by others I needed to be beautiful, meaning thin, but somehow when I looked into the mirror that wasn’t what I saw. I saw fat and ugly. I began to starve myself and exercise to the point of exhaustion. I was obsessed with counting calories. Social situations were hard for me. I wouldn’t go out to eat and would avoid going to parties because of the junk food I knew would be there. People would beg me to eat, if only it were that simple. I didn’t choose anorexia; it chose me. A little voice inside my head ruled my life. I even gave him a name, Ed (for eating disorder). I wasn’t myself because I was influenced by everything Ed told me: “You’re so fat” or “Don’t eat that, you’ll gain twenty pounds.” He controlled me similar to the way the devil manipulates people. He became so real I could physically hear him inside of me. He became my kryptonite to my superpower, controlling food.
By eighth grade, I had hit my lowest point, my rock bottom. I was a skeleton, I was cold all the time, I grew fine hair on my body, had no energy, and if not turned around quickly, my organs would start failing. I knew this, but Ed was so strong that I didn’t care. I wanted, no needed, to be thinner. Needless to say it was obvious I was anorexic, my family, teachers, and friends were concerned and I was dragged to countless doctors, counselors, and dietitians. I wanted to get better; I was tired of being known as the anorexic girl.
On August 6, 2010, right before my sophomore year of high school, I went to a doctor’s appointment for a regular weigh in. The doctor listened to my heart and found some irregularities in my heartbeat. They did an EKG and sent me to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital emergency room for further evaluation. I hated the doctor for making that decision but when I look back I realize that I wasn’t my own superhero, she was my superhero. She saved my life. When I arrived at the emergency room I was hooked up to machines for what seemed like hours. I remember gripping my mom’s hand, looking her in the eyes and asking, “Am I going to die?” I will never forget her three worded response that turned my world upside-down. “I don’t know.” Her uncertainty scared me more than anything, and at that moment I realized how serious this had gotten.
Later that day I was admitted to the hospital for what they said would only be a few days. Being my first time in a hospital, I was petrified, but my struggle was just beginning. The rules were endless. I had to be watched every minute of every day by a nurse, even when I slept, and had to eat everything on my plate in under half an hour or else they would resort to tube feedings. The bathroom door had to stay open at all times and showers were to be five minutes long. I was on complete bed rest. I cried myself to sleep feeling isolated and frustrated. The bed was uncomfortable and I was jerked awake every few hours by a nurse or beeping machine. Throughout the day I would either read, watch TV, or awkwardly chat with whatever nurse was sitting in my room at the time. Everyday a group of medical students would make their rounds to observe the patients and ask questions. They would gather around me and ask me personal questions and observe my condition like I was some type of science experiment, it was dehumanizing to say the least. I missed my family and friends more than anything, sometimes my parents would spend the night, but of course my brother had to be taken care of and my parents had their jobs. Everyday I asked when I would go home but the doctors just said they didn’t know.
After a while I learned to accept defeat. I’ve never been so angry and I took it out on anyone and everyone around me, which I regret more than anything. They were trying to help me; they didn’t deserve to be treated that way. My prayer life suffered. My mom told me to give my struggles up to God but how could God let something like this happen? Two of my best friends at the time were able to visit me, it meant so much knowing they cared enough to spend a summer day with me. Through their prayers they showed me the power of love and support. I was finally released on the 20th, thrilled that God gave me a second chance at life. Leaving the hospital gave me confidence because I know in my heart if I could make it through those two weeks I could make it through anything and I’m thankful to God for helping me realize that. My parents told me later that when they went to mass back at home, parishioners and acquaintances would come up to them and tell them they were praying for me while I was in the hospital. To this day I don’t know how those people knew. Perhaps a friend told them, but I like to believe it was the Holy Spirit working within them because I needed those prayers. When I left the hospital I felt free, taking that first breath of fresh air was exhilarating. Since my activity was greatly limited in the hospital being able to walk took some getting used to but being back at home with my family was priceless. I still had to travel to Cincinnati once a month to see the team of doctors, counselors, and dietitians and had to continue to eat on a meal plan, meaning my dietitian would tell me what to eat, when, and the amount. My weight has been fluctuating over the past few years but I’m healthy and food is no longer the enemy. I now eat what I want, how much I want, and when I want, and am more in tune with my body and have learned to appreciate it rather than criticize it. I haven’t seen my weight since then. I imagine that for the rest of my life when I go to doctor’s appointments I’ll step on the scale backwards, not because I have to, but because I want to. Why should a number on a scale matter? A number on a scale can’t determine your worth, your skills, your accomplishments, your dreams. All that matters is that I’m healthy, I’m happy, and that I’m myself again.
Looking back I’m angry at Ed for all of the years he stole from me. I wonder how I would have spent those years if anorexia had not consumed me. How would I be different? What could I have accomplished over those four years? What wonderful memories could I have made? Even though this thought crosses my mind from time to time, I wouldn’t change my experience because it made me who I am, a happy young woman who is content and proud of her body, which is something I never thought I’d be able to say. If only the team of doctors could see me now. When people ask me how I made it through recovery I tell them it was because of God. There isn’t any other explanation. I don’t know how I recovered so it must have been the work of God because His works don’t need explaining. You may be wondering to yourself “what does this story have to do with me?” Well, close your eyes and quiet your mind. Now place a hand over your heart. Do you feel that beating? It’s called a purpose. Throughout my journey I realized everyone has one because I believe I wouldn’t be here today if that wasn’t true. We are made in God’s image and He has a plan for everyone so I hope you realize that what you look like doesn’t matter to Him so it shouldn’t matter to others.
Psalm 193:14 says, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
As humans we try to squeeze ourselves into what society thinks is the perfect standard but that won’t get you into heaven, fulfilling your purpose will. The time to start fulfilling the purpose God has for you is now. We can start by enlarging our heart, widening our soul, and strengthening our spirit.
I would like to end with a quote by Kailee Favaro. This is hanging on my bulletin board at home and gives me inspiration to continue on, “Living in perfection isn’t really living at all. To enjoy life and to take in happiness around you, you need to let go of the perfection and hold on to what really matters. Maybe then, the pain will subside and the constant thoughts of weight and food won’t always be with you. Maybe you can be happy.”
I sincerely hope and pray that all men and women struggling with an eating disorder come to this realization some day. People have asked me why I’m so open with my struggle. I realize that people may stigmatize me because of my past but if I’m silent I’m letting the disorder win. If I’m silent how can others be helped?
In the words of Jon Acuff, “sometimes God redeems your story by surrounding you with people who need to hear your past so it doesn’t become their future.”
I want to be an inspiration to others. Please know that there is hope. Recovery is possible. Beauty, after all, is a feeling, not something that can be seen. YOU are and can feel beautiful. YOU can take back control of your life. YOU have a purpose. YOU can rise above and recover.