By Arati M. Jambotkar / JDSA Intern
This is only a theory, but I think 99.9% of the high school seniors who were part of my graduating class of ‘98 had huge dreams about what the following ten years would hold. I suppose I could have been grouped into that percentage had things happened differently. But as is oftentimes the case, life tests humans in ways that make hell on earth a reality. And that is what anorexia nervosa is: hell on earth. It’s like being trapped in a wrought-iron cage over a pit of lava with the anorexic holding the chains to the pulley – lowering it at will.
I was valedictorian of my high school class. Many past valedictorians may say this to place themselves under a spotlight that screams, “I’m special!” Here, the irony of this achievement is that I wouldn’t attend college until ten years later – beginning my freshman year at the age of twenty-eight. Instead of final exams, glee club recitals, and sorority pledging on a snow-filled campus, the ten years between my high school graduation and my matriculation to college were filled with the following:
Obsessing over a 200-calorie per day diet, a discrepancy between 80 and 80.5 pounds on a scale, hospital gowns sliding off emaciated shoulders, 3,000-calorie per day meal-plans in inpatient programs, regular trips to the ICU, feeding tubes that would make my nose bleed, hauling monstrous contraptions attached to these feeding tubes, individual therapy, group therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, art therapy, questions about whether my medications had side effects of weight gain, and doctors – always doctors everywhere.
To this day, despite hours of recovery activities, I don’t know how it began. Several eating disorder specialists have theories based on Type-A personalities, overachieving, traits of perfectionism, overbearing mothers, emotionally absent fathers, competition among siblings, and so forth. All of these factors were part of my life and provided the catalyst for the disease, but as to the onset of it all, I’m baffled.
The abnormal eating and lack of eating started in the summer of 1998 – a time that served as the transitional period between the safe haven of high school and the cold reality of the adult world. My weight had dropped from 130 to 110 pounds by the beginning of fall. And despite my secret self-praise at this “victory,” my parents were concerned. After unsuccessful trips to a long line of therapists – followed by a couple years of chronic depression, physical isolation, and general agoraphobia – in 2002, I was admitted to the Eating Disorders unit of a hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I would spend a full year of my life.
Throughout the next twelve months, I teetered – one day knowing that complete abstinence from eating disordered behavior was the only answer to live, and the next day believing I would die if I was not thin. What was thin? I was 5’6” and 80 pounds, but I swore I could still see the accumulation of fat between my protruding ribs and hipbones. Regardless, I was finally released with a diagnosis of “adequate recovery,” also known as “what happens when one’s health insurance runs out.” This was followed by a serious, yet failed suicide attempt involving Lithium and sleeping pills. Intensive Care became my second home.
Years of suffering ensued – years that were marked by intermittent periods of healthy eating, but more often, marked by hideous bouts with the disorder. I learned I was enmeshed in a downward spiral that seemed to have no bottom, although I knew in my heart there was a bottom: death. That fact is what finally removed my rose-colored, “thin-is-in” glasses and shot reality straight through my veins.
What is it like to have recovered? I don’t know personally, but I would gladly ask the anorexic who thinks she has completely recovered. The nature of the disease is that no full recovery is ever possible, but I can thankfully report I have not engaged in any anorexic behavior for over five years. What I can also say is how I have grown and changed: my self-worth is no longer measured by the pounds I shed, nor is it marked by the achievements with which I have been blessed. It’s now defined by the inner strength I possess, by the confidence in knowing I am a worthwhile individual, regardless of my character defects, and by the ways in which I contribute to bettering a world I once thought had dealt me an inferior hand. It is defined by knowing that if I find myself skipping a meal or counting grams of saturated fat in a less-than-indifferent way, I am only depriving myself of a life that is no longer hell on earth, but that is something much more wondrous than anything I ever thought it could be.
Diversity in the world can only be marked by individuals who have led a life in which change is not absent – a life through which the continuum has been altered somehow. I know I have lived hell as I define hell, and I know I have experienced psychological battles for which there once seemed no purpose, but which I now see as opportunities for renewal and never-ending rebirth. I am worthy. I am strong. I am alive today – in the physical, the metaphorical, and the spiritual sense. Regardless of whether my story changes the lives of many eating disorder sufferers, just one, or none at all, I shall always be worthy and strong and alive. For it is never achievement that is the motivation for change, but always the change itself that is the motivation for accomplishment.
JDSA Lead Intern, Arati Jambotkar, is the latest addition to JDSA’s movement!
Currently, A.J. attends Northwestern State University – pursuing her M.A. in English. Previously, she earned a UMass Lowell B.L.A. in English and Women’s Studies Degree, Summa Cum Laude. She’s a private English tutor and writer extraordinaire!
Be on the lookout for more on her series of personal stories – they’re raw, thought provoking, emotional, and really, REALLY GOOD!