Today, I am reflecting upon the day that I consider the worst day of my life with anorexia. It was September 27, 2013. Even though my brain was not able to function at its full capacity at the time, I remember that day far more clearly than I would like to. I remember the dress I wore, the food I ate, and the terrible, hopeless pain of The Worst Day.
The nonprofit I worked for in Indiana hosted a grief seminar every fall. At this point last year, I had decided that I needed to move home, but I told my boss that I would stay through the grief seminar to help with all of the planning that goes into such an event. We decided that my last day of work would be the seminar itself, which was hosted at my alma mater.
The morning of the seminar, I woke up especially early to go for my hour-long bike ride before I had to be at work. By this point in the fall, it was frigidly cold in the mornings, and when I returned from my bike rides I wouldn’t be able to use my hands for at least half an hour. This meant that I couldn’t do my hair that morning, so I threw it into a ponytail. I hated the way my hair looked in a ponytail. It emphasized my pointy collar bones and sharp, starving features, but I didn’t have a choice with nonfunctioning fingers. Besides, my hair was so destroyed at this point that styling it wouldn’t have made much difference, anyway. I ate my meticulously measured breakfast: oatmeal, light yogurt, and four almonds. I ate it slowly, obsessively savoring each bite.
I rode my bike to the seminar. The trail on which I rode was gorgeous, but I rarely looked up from the path to notice it. My brain was filled to the brim with anxiety. I don’t know how to explain the anxiety I felt at that time in my life, except to say that I felt simultaneously numb and panic-stricken at any given moment. I couldn’t sit still, but I was too tired to move. My brain was racing, but everything seemed to be happening around me, not to me, and nothing made sense. A once beloved place to ride my bike had turned into a trail of cold abuse.
When I arrived at the seminar, I didn’t want to see anybody. I was the face of the nonprofit for which I worked, but I wanted to crawl in a hole and never come out. During the day’s presentations, my brain was tangled in a thick cloud of fog. I sat at the back of the room and held my Splenda-filled cup of coffee in my hands. When the coffee was gone, I replaced it with a cup of hot water simply for the heat radiating from the cup. My fingers had not yet come back to life. I sat at the back of the room and looked at the life I was leaving behind. I sat at the back of the room and remembered sitting in the seminar as a student the year before, hope-filled as I embarked on the diet that might finally give me the life I thought I wanted. One year and one hundred pounds later, I realized how wrong I was. I sat at the back of the room and, for maybe the second time since anorexia had taken over my life, the hollow shell of a girl that I had become cried. I cried because I couldn’t believe what was happening. I cried because I felt helpless and alone. I cried because I didn’t know what else to do.
The rest of the day was surreal. It felt like the world was moving around me, but I was standing still. At this point, I had almost entirely lost the ability to sleep at night and I was so exhausted that I found a place to sneak off and take a nap in the middle of the seminar. Although I was still cold, I awoke from my nap covered in sweat, just in time for lunch. Despite my exhaustion, I created an excuse to walk for half an hour on the seminar’s lunch break. I used this time to call my landlord and tell her that I would have to move out for medical reasons. Gradually, the life I had tried to establish in Indiana was crumbling under my feet.
As the day drew to a close, I started saying my goodbyes. Goodbye to my social work professors, who were attending the seminar. Goodbye to my boss. Goodbye to my coworkers, to my college, to Indiana. Before I left the seminar, one of my best friends who was still a student came to say goodbye to me. She was on her way to a cross-country meet but wanted to see me before I left, so she snuck in the back of the seminar and hugged me. I remember wondering if I would ever see her again, thinking that I needed to make that hug count. As the day ended, I was left with the deep, raw grief of anorexia. I was left with the remains of a life that had fallen around me.
It has taken a year and a lot of hard work, but I have started building that life back up again. I have plans for the future. I have things to be excited about. I eat food. Real food. A lot of it. I can feel feelings. I can think clearly. I can feel my fingers even on cold mornings. And that friend who I didn’t know if I would see again? She’s the one who visited me this summer.
Getting my life back has happened gradually. One day, I caught myself whistling at work. Another, I noticed that I was laughing genuinely with friends. I observed that my skin was less dry, that my hair no longer fell out. Just as I observed my world ripping apart at the seams a year ago, I have seen it stitching together once again.
If given the chance, anorexia can and will take everything from you. It will leave you with the feeling that there is absolutely nothing to live for. My last day in Indiana was the most challenging day of my life, but it gave me an opportunity to see how anorexia had mercilessly torn my life out of my hands. I left Indiana with immense grief and anger, which I am able to use to propel me forward in recovery when times get tough. Thinking about The Worst Day from this vantage point is still difficult for me. I can’t help but feel pain for the girl I was a year ago, cold, afraid, confused, and starving. When I feel like I can’t go farther, when I am tempted to settle for less than fully recovered, I remember this day. I remember how much was taken from me. I get angry, I get motivated, and I keep going.