Hi there, I’m Allison, the daughter part of the “mother-daughter team on a mission” to find health. I wanted to share my story with you because it is the reason we started writing this blog, and it’s why we are so passionate about sharing with others what we have learned about healthy living!
When I was growing up, I thought vomiting every day was normal.
Sometimes it would happen every day, sometimes it would only happen every six months. I had no explanation for why it was randomly happening, and doctors couldn’t find anything “real” that was wrong with me, so it just became a part of my schedule in elementary school.
Wake up…..eat breakfast…..vomit…..get dressed…….go to school.
Aside from this one symptom I felt perfectly fine, so I would just get it over with and move on with my day. When I hit middle school the vomiting went away, but only to be replaced with a new problem. I was so nauseated, all day every day. It was such an integral part of my life that I was eventually known for being “the girl who is always sick.” It didn’t really stop me from seeing friends or joining extracurricular activities, so I wasn’t that worried. I was able to develop coping skills, and I believed I could go on like this forever.
Until I reached high school. One day – right in the middle of a play performance – I suddenly had to run off stage and throw up. I ran back on stage and finished my scene (the show must go on) and assumed it was just a one time thing. But the next day I threw up again. And the next day. And the next day. And the next day. But this was time everything was different. Unlike elementary school, the symptoms lingered and were more severe, so I couldn’t just move on with my day like nothing had happened.
I had no one else left to go to, everyone had told me that I was not actually sick. Between the doctors telling me I was fine, and all of my severe anxiety issues, I seriously started to question if I had made the entire thing up for the past couple of years. Maybe I was just a crazy person and none of my symptoms were real. I wondered why my brain decided to make me sick and how it had managed to do so behind my back. I tried to figure out what could trouble my subconscious so deeply, but I couldn’t think of anything to “forgive myself” for. I started to struggle with guilt over all the trouble “the illness I created” had caused everyone around me. I was told that I was being selfish, and if I really cared about others I would just stop being sick.
So I did. Or at least, I pretended to. I was resigned to defeat, and I decided that I was going to live my life to the fullest, no matter how I felt. I didn’t really have any other options.
Until one day I woke up one day feeling especially weak. The next day it got worse, and by the end of the week I couldn’t stand up or walk anymore. My parents took me to the emergency room, where they gave me an IV and then sent me home. The next day we went to the doctor again, and they said nothing was wrong and sent me home. Finally we tried one last doctor, a new one who was farther away.
This visit went no differently than the previous ones. We had the usual discussions about my symptoms, and he scribbled down lots of notes. Near the end of my appointment he requested that my mom leave the room so he could ask me the routine “do you feel safe at home” questions. I have no idea why, but as soon as the door shut I started sobbing, I just couldn’t pretend that this was all okay anymore. I told the doctor that I didn’t have an eating disorder and pleaded with him to believe me. I said that I was so scared and I needed someone to help me find out what was wrong with my body. He looked me right in the eyes and told me that he believed me, and that he was going to help me. He started making plans to refer me to a nice doctor that would take care of me at a local hospital.
I was so relieved, and the next day we made the drive out to the hospital. But when I got there and met the “nice doctor,” I realized that I had been lied to. The doctor he had referred me to was actually an eating disorder specialist.
Before I was forced to join their eating disorder program, I needed to have a full body checkup. When the doctors had finished running all their tests, and there was still nothing “real” that was wrong with me (besides strep throat which explained why I felt worse than usual), they refocused their attention towards treating my supposed mental disease. They gave me a new anxiety medication that was supposed to help balance out my emotions. Instead, the pills stripped me of feeling any emotions at all (I hated that medication, I remember feeling like my personality had been erased and I had turned into a robot.) They started preparing me for the eating disorder program and asked me if there were any foods I didn’t like. I told them I wanted to try avoiding gluten and dairy, because through recent experimentation we had seen some improvements in my health when avoiding them. They informed me that it was not possible for food to affect my health in any way. They said that my aversion to certain foods was simply part of my eating disorder, and that my mom was an enabler.
During my time at the hosptial I couldn’t believe how weak I felt. The only way I can describe it is it feels like there is an elephant sitting on your chest – every ounce of energy you have is devoted only to breathing, you have NOTHING left to spare. But it’s so hard to breathe that you are worried each breath will be your last, because you have no idea how you’re going to muster up enough strength to take the next one. I couldn’t walk, use the bathroom, or bathe without help anymore – all I could do was lie there and breathe.
Finally it was time to go to my first scheduled meal. Their meal plan to cure me from “making too many rules and being too stressed out” when I eat was: First of all, completely ignore that I have strep throat and that it negatively affects my appetite. Feed me only the foods I suspect I am intolerant to so I am more likely to throw up afterwards. Each meal includes an impossibly huge main dish, two to three massive side dishes, and a cup of jello. With the meal you must drink a full glass of juice, anda full glass of water with vitamin powder. While you eat you will have a psychiatrist intensely staring at you and clapping every time you take a bite. And there’s a time limit, you only have fifteen minutes – GO! If you don’t finish 100% of your meal within the designated 15 minutes, even if you really want to keep trying, you’re not allowed to. Instead you have to have your wheelchair pushed out into the hallway and have a nurse watch you chug a massive meal replacement shake. But if you can’t finish the shake within ten minutes (even if you want to keep trying), you get wheeled to your hospital room to get a long lecture about how if you don’t cooperate more your brain will rot away and your organs will shut down and you’ll die a long horrific painful death. Then you get wheeled back to the eating disorder room to do arts and crafts. Repeat this three times a day.
I was so stressed out during these mealtimes that I could hardly get down more than a few bites, meaning that I had to go hungry for the rest of the day. Because when I would ask for food afterwards they would tell me no – I was only allowed to eat during their designated meal times and had to wait for the next one. They weren’t happy with how I was doing in the program, because it was designed to help someone with a whole different set of problems than I had. And soon they weren’t happy with my parents either. The doctors started to withhold information from them, which made them wonder if they would be part of my treatment plan at all much longer. During my stay they would regularly tell me about their plans to enroll me in their 90 day eating disorder program, but never mentioned it to my parents. And whenever my mom would walk down the hallway and pass a group of my doctors talking, she would hear them say “Shhh!! it’s the mother!” before they all suddenly fell silent. This concerned my parents, and they convinced the doctors to let me go home. We had gotten my strep medication, and they weren’t going to do any further tests, so there was no reason to stay anymore. Our excuse was that I needed to finish my finals (which was true) but we were also just a little bit afraid. As I was going home I ran into one of my doctors by the elevator and she said to me, “Goodbye…you WILL be back.”
We never did go back though. The next month or so was the hardest of my life. I was devastated every morning when I woke up, because I felt so sick that I didn’t want to exist anymore. We immediately started incorporating a couple important changes into my life. I decided to stop taking my anxiety medication and as soon as I did I felt like I had woken up from a dream, all of my emotions being suppressed from the drugs came back, and I felt like a human being again. I stopped taking my antacid medication too, because we found out (a few years too late) that one of the side effects is anxiety and panic attacks. We started getting rid of the harsh chemicals in our home and replacing them with natural alternatives. Most importantly, we started experimenting with using food to heal my body. Every day I saw a little bit of improvement, and I started being able to leave my bed more and more often.
We decided to give finding the root cause of my symptoms one last shot by visiting Mayo Clinic. There they diagnosed me with Lupus, which explained all of my symptoms over the past few years and even explained why they got better and worse at different times. (I was having “flares”)
I’m not telling this story to give anyone medical advice, I don’t recommend that you stop taking your medications, and I continually visit new doctors because they are incredibly important for everyone’s health journey. I also don’t have anything against people struggling with eating disorders, I feel so much empathy for the people who actually have them.
The reason I am telling this story, is in case there is a little girl out there, just like I used to be, who has no hope for her future. I suspect I am not the only teenage girl out there who was misdiagnosed with an eating disorder, and as a result has to go through life being told her physical symptoms are all in her head.
My health journey lasted five long years, from ages 14-19, and its still not completely over yet. But I am now a strong believer in all things “real” and “good” because of the results I have seen in my own life. That’s why my mom and I are writing this blog. This is my place to save every tip and tool I have used to change my life. Every article I post is about something that has personally helped me in my attempt to find health, both physically and mentally. Looking back I am so grateful to God for letting me have these experiences, and I feel so blessed that He decided to give me the gift of health again. He is the reason I had the strength to make it through those hard times. I hope to honor him with everything I write on this blog, and I hope that by reading it you might find some helpful tools for your health journey too!
Matthew 11:28 Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest