This is for you my beautiful daughter, to read and remember that you’re strong, beautiful and perfect the way you are and that you CAN get through anything. This is Mama’s story.
First off a little back story, I moved to Idaho when I was 14 from California. I instantly met a fun group of people to hang out with, but that shortly ended less than a year later. Hurtful things were said, videos made to make fun of me, and lies were told, this bullying behavior from this group lasted until after I graduated high school. But this is just a small part of my story and I don’t feel they deserve to even be recognized as playing a part in my life, but neither do the people I am about to talk about. However, I want this bullying situation to stopand I feel like what I’m about to share is much more vital to my story. So we will start here, about a year and a half later.
I’m 16 and I suffer with bulimia nervosa. I say suffer, because I still struggle with it EVERY single day. I may not compulsively eat and purge on a daily basis anymore, but it is a thought in my mind constantly, a quick solution to all of my problems. This all started the summer before my senior year in high school. I was on the cheer squad the year before, we had just won state, and cheer and high school were my life. Now when I say cheer I don’t mean your typical high school cheer squad. We were extremely dedicated and it was a lot of work, we had personal trainers, practiced every day, sometimes twice a day and whether it was discussed or not, image was everything. Like I said we had personal trainers for crying out loud. I was generally a base or a back spot, which is the girl at the bottom of the pyramid. Sometimes I would fly for fun, we all would, why not try something new every once in a while, but this was only when it wasn’t close to competition time! I thought my life was great, whether the girls were mean or not and I lived in this little world of perfection. I look back now and realize..Jess how dare you let those girls say the things they did and treat you the way they did, why didn’t you stand up for yourself? But then I remember thinking, as long as I fit in and am “popular” what’s the point? I will let them say what they want as long as I am invited over to their house for a sleepover tonight with all the other “cool” girls or a party that weekend. I wanted so badly to be “popular”, but what is popular? It’s definitely not what I thought it was back then, no one in my book that is “popular” today is mean or demeaning towards other people. And does popularity really matter? Now this may sound so silly and a little cliché but this is a vital part of how my eating disorder began and where bullying was a huge part of my life, whether I realized it was bullying behavior or not at the time. This group of “popular” girls constantly said and did mean things whether it was towards me or not, it was bullying and one day a line was crossed–more so than the usual games and backstabbing. I remember we were all playing around with cheer stunts and I wanted so badly to be a flyer for fun, I asked and asked and these girls ignored me for a while (common) but finally after they all got a turn, I was heard! I was so excited! I had flown before and knew exactly what to do! The first time we did just a basic stunt and I was feeling pretty good, I nailed it. Then the girls said why don’t you try a harder stunt? So I thought why not, they’re talking to me, they’re encouraging me, I went up and tried to hit this stunt, we tried this a couple of times and then finally I hit it for half a second or so but then came crumbling down. Well the entire point of the bases and the back spot is to catch the flyer, right? Well my bases tried to catch me, but my entire left side fell right through their arms. This wasn’t a big deal, I wasn’t hurt and I knew it was probably an accident, I had made such accidents before as well, it happens! But here is where it took a turn for the worse, and now looking back I realize how incredibly wrong it was, the girls started whispering, things were said, and the worst thing that was said that I could hear was, “she’s too heavy to fly, I could barely hold her up.” I was a direct target of bullying.
I still think back to that day and constantly replay it in my head even though it was years ago. At the time I was a 5’3” girl weighing about 105 pounds and I was called heavy. (Heavy! Really?!) From that moment it was instilled in my head that I was fat, that one little comment put me over the edge. And then as the weeks went by it got worse, they got meaner, and I shut down. Obviously other things contributed to my eating disorder, I felt like I didn’t fit in, I had the idea of thin instilled in my head since I was a child. I did gymnastics for a long time, from about age 3 until age 14, it was extremely competitive and I loved every second of it. But as many of you may know you have to be small in order to be a gymnast. I remember having weigh ins once a week, this constant feeling that I needed to be perfect, which meant small in my eyes, and constant physical training and practices even worse and more often than my cheerleading days. It was already this idea in my head that you had to be a certain weight, a certain size from the age of three. Now I want to make this clear before I go any further, I do NOT blame my parents for this in anyway; it’s not their fault at all. In fact I begged my Mom and Dad to do gymnastics and cheerleading, there were no pressures of my parents at all, just love and support. Now getting back on topic, since I already had this mindset that thin and small was better these comments, this group of girls, pushed those thoughts too far, pushed me over the edge. When I was seventeen years old I began my first eating disorder, anorexia. At first I just toyed with the idea, I would try to eat as little as possible, but couldn’t always get myself to do it, I mean I was hungry (who wouldn’t be?!) Then after awhile of practice I was able to starve myself for days upon days, or eat the bare minimum so that my parents didn’t suspect anything. This is something I was proud of, I felt like I had accomplished something huge, looking back now, it disgusts me, that’s definitely not anything to be proud of. There were days that I could barely get out of bed. This was my security blanket though, my safe haven, and my biggest secret. After months and months more of experiencing extreme bullying, I finally decided to let go of cheerleading and quit before my senior year. And well, things just went downhill from here. My entire summer and first semester of my senior year I struggled with anorexia off and on. There were days that I did better than others, but for the most part I didn’t eat and I didn’t want to eat. I compared myself to everyone and everything. I didn’t talk much to the girls that had bullied me and if I did it was the fakest conversation ever and I knew it, but I still felt that glimpse of “coolness” when one of them said hi to me. But no one knew about my secret and I liked that, I felt like I had this control and could do anything I wanted, it gave me confidence. The way I looked at it everyone had a better life than me, people weren’t nice to me and I was miserable and wallowing in self-pity. I decided to graduate a semester early, I wanted out. I hated high school at this point and had no reason to stay, people weren’t nice. As mentioned briefly at the beginning of my story, there was another group of kids at school who had been pretty mean to me since I was a freshman and now this—I was DONE. I was accepted into a university in Eastern Idaho and worked at a local fast food place in Boise until the fall when I headed off to college. I did my own thing; I was distant from pretty much everyone and especially my parents and eventually only confided in one person, my best friend, who is still to this day one of my best friends. She helped me with a lot; she eventually helped me break this habit of anorexia and pushed me forward each day. I remember her threatening to tell my parents, which at the time scared me to death. I was always hanging out with her so I couldn’t hide anything from her and I know she watched my like a hawk, which was a good thing I realize now. Finally it was January; I was done with high school and ready for the next step of my life. Things were starting to turn around, I had new friends, a couple of GOOD old ones, and had decided to walk with my graduating class in June and put aside my hurt feelings, plus my best friend was going to be there so there was nothing to worry about! Now my life was getting back on track and I wasn’t letting this bullying control me.
Finally June was here, it was graduation day, I got ready with a couple of my friends and was on my way to the ceremony to officially walk and graduate high school, nothing could stand in my way, not even those girls who had made my life, for a lack of better words, hell. Well the day turned out to actually be pretty good, I ignored the negativity and surrounded my self with the positives, I was happy! I spent the next few months before going off to college with my closest friends and stayed generally pretty happy, minus the typical teenage drama here and there. I was close with my parents and even better honest, I had nothing that I was hiding. I worked out every day in order to keep physically fit the smart way and worked to save money before college started. Life couldn’t have seemed better! And the saying that everyone had told me, “That minus the grades and getting into college, high school was just a stepping stone and you’re not going to care about what happened there” actually seemed to become true! After what seemed like such an amazing summer the next thing I knew August was here. My best friend was headed her own way for college and it was time for me to start the drive to Rexburg, Idaho. I remember being so excited for college in January, but now at this point, I wasn’t excited to go, I was leaving my friends that I had made and grown close to and my boyfriend, whom at the time I thought was just the greatest thing ever! I now dreaded this day, I didn’t want to go, and I hated every part of it. I pulled up to my new apartment with my parents and started carrying all of my stuff upstairs. My parents helped me unpack and try to make my new place as home-y as possible and before I knew it my mom was crying and they were back in the car on their way to Boise. I was devastated. I knew this was going to be hard, being in a new place all alone, but I thought it would be better than this. My roommates were nice and they really put forth an effort to include me, but I was still sad and lonely. I wanted to go home so badly, I would call my mom in tears every single night, and she would always tell me how much she loved me and that I didn’t have to stay there, but just to try and finish the semester out. I continued to push forward and it continued to get worse every day. I decided to find a distraction, I turned to working out, I worked out every single day, twice a day, sometimes three times a day. My roommates called me the work-out-aholic and to be honest I loved every second of it and the attention I was getting. Well this turned into more than just a working out obsession; I started obsessing over every single aspect of my body, my self-image and especially my weight again, all because I remembered I had already been down this path because I was told I was fat before–I knew exactly how to make myself feel better. I turned to the Internet, started looking up ways to lose weight quickly. Well let me tell you that the Internet is probably the worst place to turn for a search like this. The next thing I know I was researching how to make myself throw up “quietly”, how to be better at being bulimic, and so on and so forth. It’s so extremely sad how many sites they have that explain how to be bulimic and support groups that tell you to keep pushing forward and that purging is the answer to everything. Well, I bought into it, I bought into what society was telling me, thin was the answer, to not only beauty, but to happiness. I let the world get under my skin, the people around me and I fell into false happiness.
The next month of my life was one I will never forget. I know my roommates knew what I was doing, at least a couple of them. I didn’t eat in front of them, I would go out and binge like crazy to only purge and get rid of my mistake later. I would constantly talk about being skinny and how skinny I was, I am sure I was annoying to everyone around me. I liked to point out how my clothes were too big for me, it was an accomplishment in my eyes, I didn’t hide my skinniness, just how I achieved it. This was my control. I felt like I had no control elsewhere, I couldn’t go home without disappointing myself and my family, I had no friends there, mainly because I was too stubborn and lonely to really try and make any and with my track record it didn’t prove to be very successful and to be honest I was sad. I would wallow in self-pity, and reflect back on my past and how people were never nice, so why try now. I felt like I had no control in my life whatsoever and this was my sanction. It was my one place I could go and feel like I had control, like I could do whatever I wanted and at the time, it made me my absolute happiest. Well, then the day came, the day where I passed out for the first time. I scared my roommates half to death and well myself as well. I was 19, I weighed 98 pounds at a height of 5’4”.
It only got worse from here on out and I wish I could say I learned my lesson, but I didn’t. After I passed out the first time, it continued, I passed out again and again, and finally after the third time of passing out in one day and my second trip to the emergency room, my parents headed up to the small town I was living in. You see, when I say small town, I mean SMALL town; they didn’t have a cardiologist on staff at that time and my parents decided it was best if they drove me to the local hospital in Boise through the night. I slept the entire way there and before I knew it was in a hospital room in downtown Boise hooked up to a number of machines. I had a feeling what was causing all of this, but no way was I about to break that news to my parents or the doctors. The hospital continued to monitor me and I continued to go downhill, at this point I was having seizures, anywhere from 4 to 10 a day, obviously this wasn’t normal. Many tests were performed and yet no answers received. I was small, they knew that, but no one ever questioned why, I had always been pretty small so it didn’t raise any concerns. Finally after spending about a week at the hospital, which is still to this day such a blur, I was given a medication that stopped the seizing and was sent home under my parent’s observation. After about a month of resting at home, not eating much and purging when I could, I maintained my, at this point PROUD 98 pounds, that I had worked so hard to get to. Finally I was doing better, and when I say better, I mean no more seizures or passing out and had kept my secret, my secret. Now “better”, home from school and back to my hometown I started going out and making new friends and hanging out with old ones as well. This was good for me, I still kept my secret, but slowly I was finding “happiness” in my life again. Oh but things weren’t perfect yet. I reconnected with an old friend and we became pretty close again, sharing secrets and always together. Well we had one BIG secret in common, bulimia. Bulimia isn’t a good thing alone, and it’s definitely not a good thing in a pack of two. I became even more obsessed. Instead of binge eating and purging, I would purge after every single thing that I ate. Constantly carrying my toothbrush around, and finding somewhere private, in some cases that even meant a bag in my car. I was unstoppable and felt like I was on top of the world. At this point my Mom could definitely tell something was going on, but I would layer up and wear lots of baggy clothes unless I was out of the house, that way I could show off this skinny body I had worked so hard for and no questions were asked. Now that the seizures had stopped and I wasn’t passing out anymore I thought, that’s all I had to handle and I got through it, my body is use to it now. Until I woke up the next morning with several broken blood vessels in my eye. My eyes had been a yellow color for a couple of months now, but from what I had read, that was normal from making yourself throw up so much. But this, this blood vessel thing was definitely new, I had three clear popped blood vessels in my eyes. I didn’t know what to do, this was definitely noticeable, how was I going to hide this? (Come to find out this was caused from the stress of making myself throw up it strained my eyes) I had a sore throat all the time, constant aching pain in my stomach, and my teeth were beyond sensitive, but these were all things I could hide, no one could see them and it wasn’t anything a Popsicle and some tums wouldn’t fix, minus the sensitive teeth, I still suffer with those to this day. Well this was it; this was again, my breaking point. Now, now I am about to make a confession.
I don’t know why this is what broke me, I still don’t understand it to this day. But something clicked. I had this plan to go back to school (one closer to home) and I wanted to go so badly, I was supposed to start in March, which happened to be just a couple months away. I was passionate about it and wanted to pursue that goal. But that morning when I woke up and saw blood in my eyes, I realized I couldn’t accomplish anything if I was dead. That’s what this was leading to, my body was attacking itself. I had read about this as well, but then I made a connection, that was generally the last that I had read from many of those sites. What happened after that? I didn’t want to find out, and I needed help, I realized that I wanted an out. My life wasn’t as bad as I was making it. This wasn’t going to be easy though, this was a habit, a bad one, and I loved it so much I didn’t know how I was going to break it. Then came the confession, I remember this day like it was yesterday, I was folding laundry in my room when my mom came in. I said Mom; I have something to tell you. This was so hard for me, my Mom and I were so close, we were getting along and I had this awful secret haunting our relationship. I looked at her, my stomach turning and my hands shaking then I said it, I said sometimes when I eat I don’t keep it down. I was still in denial, obviously because looking back that little “sometimes” I threw in there, definitely wasn’t the truth. My mom started to tear up and she had me further explain, I told her I wanted help, I didn’t want to get sick again, I was tired of always going to the doctors and being so weak, I wanted so badly to go to back to school and to finish. We talked for a little while longer and she was nothing but kind and supportive our entire conversation. Then, at the end she hugged me and told me she loved me. I FINALLY got the help that I so badly needed.
It was a long process, full of doctors appointments, meetings with nutritionists, and therapy many times a week, but I did it and I overcame it. Bullying was the lead cause of a drastic change in my life, that almost killed me. But it didn’t, I turned it around and now I’m going to do everything in my power to spread the word about bullying prevention and promote kindness.
Blake, I want you to know that you’re perfect. I want you to know that if ANYONE ever says anything mean to you, you let it roll right off and look in the mirror to remind yourself that God created you to be the most precious girl out there. Help others, make a difference and follow your dreams. Don’t let anyone push you around and remember to always be kind to those around you. I love you sweet girl, always remember that.
*You can read more of Jess’s blogs on her website, www.positivelyoakes.com