The last time Riley committed to starting over was August 8, 2018, at 3:48pm. Riley’s very first e-mail to Tracy. Hours of staring at the e-mail and putting Tracy’s phone number in her cell phone to dial but never hitting send as she felt her heart beat faster and faster. Her brain shouting yes and no at the same time; the sick and wise parts fighting. The wise part won at 3:48pm.
It’s Going to Get Worse Before it Gets Better
Riley knew before she walked into the office that this was going to be the case for her. She knew before she made the initial phone call seeking help that she would not – no, could not – get better until she reached her goal weight first. She had yelled at herself for far too long to give it up so quickly. But something in her whispered, seek help. She needed a witness.
Riley arrived at Tracy’s office. Deeply entrenched in the numbers game. How many calories did I eat? Check. Check again. How many calories did I burn? Check. Check again. How much space am I taking up? Step on the scale. Again. Again. Again. Again.
It’s only ten pounds and ten pounds is not enough to be sick. I’m not sick enough. Definitely not sick enough, Riley thought. Everybody wants to lose ten pounds. And nobody else is spiraling down Eating Disorder Alley. I just need to lose five more pounds. Well, seven. I just need to lose seven more pounds. And then I’ll be done. Then, I will be fine. Negotiating even as she parked and walked in fear into the therapist’s lobby.
This is why she made the phone call, she reminded herself, taking a deep breath and trying to prepare for whoever opened the door to the office. Riley sat on the couch nervously and mindlessly scrolling through apps on her iPhone waiting for the therapist to open her office door. She was so nervous at this point she could barely breathe. The room felt like it was closing in on her and she became suddenly nauseous. This would be the third time in six weeks she admitted her problem to a professional, a new stranger each time. A primary care doctor during an annual physical. Then the in-office counselor the doctor referred her to. Finally, she found herself here, in the office of an eating disorder specialist.
Tracy opened the door to her office, “Riley?” she said as she entered the lobby with a smile, and introduced herself. Riley barely managed to confirm her name with a quiet, “yup, hi.” and worried she didn’t belong there. She wanted to run out the door, but instead chose the middle chair, crossed her legs and arms, and anxiously pressed her lips together as if it would stop her from talking. Her hands squeezed the sides of her arms so tight, that when she finally released them, her skin bore her fingerprints. She felt like a teenager. But she was decades older. Too old to be here, she thought. Too fat to be here.
Riley answered questions about her family, history of disordered eating, height, and weight.
“You meet the criteria for anorexia. You actually meet the criteria to be admitted to the hospital, though I am not recommending that by any means.” Tracy said.
Riley froze. The words repeated in her head, and reality seemed distant. She cannot possibly see what I see. There is no way I am anywhere near the criteria for anorexia. I have not lost enough weight, Riley thought.
The room began to get darker and Riley could barely see. Feeling as though she was about to pass out, she grasped for every trick she knew to attempt to focus and avoid something embarrassing. Deep breath. I am fine. I am fine. I am fine, she repeated.
And then Tracy says, “it might get worse before it gets better.”